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DL Outlet Advisory Committee aims to ensure monitoring

DEVILS LAKE -- The Devils Lake Outlet Advisory Committee took steps Tuesday to ensure that both physical and biological data in the Sheyenne River is monitored as water from Devils Lake water flows through an outlet to the Sheyenne.

DEVILS LAKE -- The Devils Lake Outlet Advisory Committee took steps Tuesday to ensure that both physical and biological data in the Sheyenne River is monitored as water from Devils Lake water flows through an outlet to the Sheyenne.

That's part of the process for the State Water Commission to expand the existing $28 million Devils Lake Outlet by June 1, 2010.

While it awaits a decision from the North Dakota Department of Health on increasing the maximum limit of sulfates that can flow through a portion of the Sheyenne River from 450 milligrams to 750 milligrams per liter, officials are proceeding with the project to increase the outlet capacity from 100 cubic feet per second to 250 cfs.

The outlet, which started operating in 2005, has run only sporadically since then because sulfate levels in the Sheyenne have been too high. This year, its operation was delayed because of serious flooding along the Sheyenne, including major floods in the downstream communities of Valley City, N.D., and Lisbon, N.D.

This year, the outlet began operating May 22 and ran for 162 days. In that time, it released about 27,700 acre feet -- or about 2 inches -- of water from Devils Lake, which together with Stump Lake now covers about 162,000 acres of land.

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"Operationally, it was a very good year for us," State Engineer Dale Frink said.

The outlet expansion project, which is estimated between $10 million and $15 million, will consist of larger pumps and an expanded gravel filter to prevent biota transfer from Devils Lake to the Sheyenne and Red rivers.

Once the expanded outlet is operating at 250 cfs, it is estimated that it could draw down Devils Lake by about 7 inches annually, although Frink said it is unlikely that it could run at that pace continually because of downstream sulfate limits and other factors, such as downstream flooding.

The U.S. Geological Survey already has built a model to monitor sulfate levels in Lake Ashtabula, above Bald Hill Dam north of Valley City, N.D.

The Water Commission wants to expand that model or develop a different one to monitor water quality all the way from Devils Lake through the Sheyenne River to the Red River, Frink said.

Meanwhile, a public comment period ended Friday on the proposal to permanently raise the sulfate limits from 450 cfs to 750 cfs between the headwaters of the Sheyenne River to Bald Hill Dam. State Health Department officials it will take at least 30 days to compile, review and to answer all of the comments.

The state raised the limits earlier this year for a six-month emergency period.

At the same time, the Health Department is beginning a separate statewide review of water quality standards.

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