OUR OPINION -- New panel, same Rx for DL: Act now
The utter seriousness of the situation at Devils Lake is getting harder and harder to deny. On Tuesday, another group of experts added its voice to the chorus calling for fast action to avert a potential catastrophe. As today's Herald reports, th...
The utter seriousness of the situation at Devils Lake is getting harder and harder to deny.
On Tuesday, another group of experts added its voice to the chorus calling for fast action to avert a potential catastrophe.
As today's Herald reports, the Devils Lake Technical Review Team includes representatives from the North Dakota State Water Commission, the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. More about their recommendations in a minute; but first, readers should know that these recommendations aren't being made in a vacuum.
For the review team wasn't assigned to evaluate Devils Lake's rising lake levels from scratch. Instead, it was told to update the findings of an earlier and much bigger panel: the 1995 Devils Lake Basin Interagency Task Force, set up in part by James Lee Witt, the Federal Emergency Management Agency director whom Grand Forks came to know and respect after the 1997 flood.
The review team's new update now will be forwarded to what's likely to be the most important group of all: the White House Working Group on Devils Lake, a high-level, 10-agency panel whose recommendations will carry enormous weight.
A quick look at the 1995 task force that started it all:
The group included representatives of 75 local, state, tribal and federal agencies and organizations.
Its recommendations have been the basis for most flood-control actions since then, including upper-basin storage, building an outlet and improving dikes and other infrastructure. (The upper-basin storage efforts continue, but "with the continued wet cycle and rising lake, many potential storage areas are already holding water," the Technical Review Team's new report notes.)
Today, the reason for review team's new update and the White House's involvement can be summed up in one word: urgency.
Simply put, Devils Lake's level after 1995 could have gone up, gone down or stabilized. It went up -- dramatically so and more than enough to force experts to recalculate the odds.
Here is the Technical Review Team's new restatement of those odds:
"In August 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey determined there is about a 9 percent chance of the lake overflowing ... in the next 20 years.
"From a hydrological standpoint, a 1 percent chance equates to 'high risk' due to the potential magnitude of damages and impacts to such things as downstream communities, transportation networks, and agricultural lands.
"Such a high risk of a natural overflow is not acceptable, and therefore intervention is essential to reduce this risk."
"Not acceptable" is right. "Intervention is essential" is right. Downstream communities in North Dakota, Minnesota and Manitoba must accept both the gravity of the situation and the need for reasonableness and compromise when the talk turns to crafting a Devils Lake fix.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald