ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, Bismarck, column: N.D. works hard to build trust with Canada

By John Hoeven BISMARCK -- I would like to provide some facts and clarify some misunderstandings about the Devils Lake Outlet and the border dike issue recently discussed in Lloyd Omdahl's column ("Time to end the water war with Manitoba," Page A...

By John Hoeven

BISMARCK -- I would like to provide some facts and clarify some misunderstandings about the Devils Lake Outlet and the border dike issue recently discussed in Lloyd Omdahl's column ("Time to end the water war with Manitoba," Page A4, July 13).

First, it needs to be made clear that the state of North Dakota has on many occasions and in many ways worked to build trust and support for the Devils Lake outlet in Manitoba. The state has offered both financial and scientific resources to help allay Canadian concerns about water quality, including installation of a filter and ongoing monitoring for biota and sulfates in both the lake and rivers downstream.

None of the many surveys of biota conducted downstream have ever turned up a single species that Canada has identified as a concern, which is unsurprising since Devils Lake is part of the Hudson Bay drainage. Documented water-to-water transfers already are common, and birds and wildlife that carry biota move freely throughout the watershed. Sulfate levels, moreover, have been kept within limits deemed appropriate by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the North Dakota Department of Health.

Furthermore, the often cited $15 million cost of a reverse osmosis filter for Devils Lake is entirely unrealistic. The North Dakota Water Commission estimates the cost of treatment that Manitoba is calling for on the lake's west end is actually more than $260 million, with operational and maintenance costs of nearly $14 million a year. An east end outlet would cost about $525 million, with annual maintenance and operational costs of more than $27 million.

ADVERTISEMENT

These are tremendous expenditures considering the fact that natural water transfers between Devils Lake and the Hudson Bay watershed occur regularly.

The real concern is the risk of an uncontrolled spill from the east end of the lake, rather than a measured and controlled release from the west end. Since 1993, Devils Lake has risen 28 feet and is now within about 8 feet of an uncontrolled overflow of much higher sulfate water from the lake's east end, which could have serious consequences downstream. By increasing water flow out of the west end outlet, we are working to mitigate the impact to downstream interests and reduce flooding in the Devils Lake Basin.

Similarly, the state has been working to find a solution to the Pembina "road" dike, a 30-mile-long earthen dam built by Canada to hold back water on the North Dakota side of the border during flood conditions.

Canada calls the structure a road, even though it is closed to vehicle traffic. In 2004, the state of North Dakota not only agreed to work with the Canadian government to find a solution but also agreed to provide funding to improve drainage from the area.

The project got underway, paid for by the state of North Dakota, and the initial phase was completed; but the province of Manitoba declined to discuss further mitigation.

At that point, Pembina county officials felt they had no alternative but to take their case to a Canadian court, an effort the state of North Dakota is helping to finance.

This May, while in Washington, I hand-delivered a number of aerial photographs to State Department officials showing the road dike holding back water and flooding North Dakota land. I asked the U.S. State Department to seek removal of the dike, and at the same time, encouraged a plan to build comprehensive drainage that will protect the entire region.

Time and again, North Dakota has sought to resolve these issues amicably. We have worked to share information openly and costs fairly for the mutual benefit of residents on both sides of the border. We will continue those efforts on behalf of our citizens and also in a spirit of fair treatment for our friends in Canada.

ADVERTISEMENT

Hoeven is governor of North Dakota.

Related Topics: DEVILS LAKEPEMBINA
What To Read Next