Sponsored By
An organization or individual has paid for the creation of this work but did not approve or review it.



Valley City residents sound off on Devils Lake outlet

VALLEY CITY, N.D. -- U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad gave residents here a sobering assessment: Wetlands restoration "doesn't come close" to solving a feared spillover of Devils Lake that would flood the Sheyenne River.

Kent Conrad

VALLEY CITY, N.D. -- U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad gave residents here a sobering assessment: Wetlands restoration "doesn't come close" to solving a feared spillover of Devils Lake that would flood the Sheyenne River.

Outspoken residents of the riverside city live downstream from the surging lake and have long advocated restoring drained wetlands -- instead of a lake outlet -- to prevent a catastrophic flood.

"The irony is that they want to destroy the Sheyenne River in order to save it, and they want us to agree to its destruction," said Richard Betting of the "People to Save the Sheyenne" group. "Can outlets solve the problem? We don't think so."

While Conrad stressed to residents that federal, state and local officials haven't ruled out any solutions, he said there is a "staggering" amount of water that has already filled the watershed area.

"Certainly, restoration would help, and it's something we ought to explore," he said in response to Betting. "But it just seems so striking to me that that


doesn't come close to addressing the problem that we confront today.

"We've got to think about more than just that (upper basin storage)," he added.

The exchange came after a two-hour field hearing of the Senate Budget Committee, which Conrad chairs.

More than 100 residents attended to listen to data that's been collected on the rising lake and its impact on downstream communities like Valley City and Lisbon if the lake suddenly spills over.

Since 1992, Devils Lake has risen nearly 30 feet, reaching a record elevation that's about six feet away from overflowing.

An uncontrolled overflow would impact not just Devils Lake, but all of eastern North Dakota - flowing into the Sheyenne River and eventually impacting West Fargo, Fargo and Grand Forks.

"It's no longer an upstream issue; it's no longer a downstream issue," said U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. "We're all in this together."

However, as officials explore options to avoid a catastrophic overflow of Devils Lake, Valley City residents fear an outlet will have adverse effects on the southeastern North Dakota city.


Some worry whether the quality of water drained out of Devils Lake -- which at some parts of the lake is high in sulfates -- would harm fish, other wildlife or even the people who depend on it for drinking water.

Others such as Sharon Buhr fear the amount of water that the river would be forced to take on from Devils Lake.

Living a block away from the Sheyenne River, Buhr said that, if officials end up moving forward with a Devils Lake outlet into the Sheyenne, the Valley City resident may just move.

"It will totally destroy the river," she said.

She, like Betting, advocates exploring wetland restoration, arguing that allowing drained wetlands to refill and not enter the lake would help mitigate the problem.

Conrad -- like other top officials, including Pomeroy and North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven - urged everyone on Friday to collaborate and understand no conclusion has been made yet.

"We've tried to listen and have a range of views and I think we certainly saw that today," Conrad said after the hearing. "It's in everybody's interest to get the best, most accurate assessment of what can be done."

By Sept. 9, the Devils Lake Working Group, which has representatives from several federal agencies, is expected to have a recommendation.


Testimony given at Friday's meeting will be presented to the group among other testimony and data to determine short- and long-term solutions.

Everyone agrees something must be done.

Conrad has described the situation as a "ticking time bomb." He cited research that, in 4,000 years, the lake has overflowed into the Sheyenne three times. Four times in the last 4,000 years the lake has reached levels as high as it is today.

"We're in a historic pattern," he said. "And the odds are sufficiently high that it represents an unacceptable risk for everyone."

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

What To Read Next
Get Local