OUR OPINION: Region needs a DL control structure

Now that the Devils Lake flood has moved beyond crisis to threaten catastrophe, all sides must stop arguing and work together to avert the worst-case scenario.

Now that the Devils Lake flood has moved beyond crisis to threaten catastrophe, all sides must stop arguing and work together to avert the worst-case scenario.

That includes Canada and Minnesota, where Devils Lake outlet opponents have been steadfast but are likely to see their arguments rendered moot by the lake's rise.

Devils Lake now stands a 10 percent chance of reaching 1,458 feet in the next 10 years. That's the level at which the lake will spill into the Tolna Coulee, from where it will flow into the Sheyenne and Red rivers.

And once that happens, the Devils Lake flooding problem no longer will be confined to Devils Lake. Suddenly it'll be a downstream problem as the Sheyenne swells and its pumped-up volume adds to the Red River's rise.

Overland flooding is possible as is the flooding of some towns.


Devils Lake now is only 6.5 feet below that spillover stage, Herald staff writer Kevin Bonham reported Monday.

Again, it's time to stop arguing and start working together to head off that potential catastrophe.

The way to do so is with an east-end control structure. That's what Monday's summit of federal, state and local officials at Devils Lake rightly focused on. It's what the governments of Manitoba and Minnesota ought to agree to as well.

The control structure wouldn't be a traditional "outlet." Its purpose wouldn't be to bleed water in order to lower the level of the lake.

Instead, the control structure simply would be meant to take the word "uncontrolled" out of the phrase "uncontrolled release." By starting to release water at, say, a lake level of 1,456 (or two feet below the spillover stage), authorities believe they could regulate the water flow to a fair extent and avoid the spillover's uncontrolled release.

That would be especially important in the spring, when authorities could temporarily decrease the flow through the control structure and so avoid adding to Sheyenne River and Red River flooding problems.

"An uncontrolled release would have major consequences for every downstream city and town," Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., told Bonham last week.

Those problems would be in addition to the Devils Lake area's ongoing problems, which include -- among other things -- the need to raise dikes to protect against the lake's rise, the need to raise roads in the region and the terrible flooding threat now being faced by cities such as Minnewaukan, N.D.


"What we really need is something that deals with all of the elements," Conrad said. "There simply has to be a coordinated plan. My hope is that this administration will learn and respond, and do it in a coordinated fashion. A control structure is part of that."

Canada and Minnesota should recognize the good sense in Conrad's words and accept that the time for arguing has passed. Devils Lake's rise is such that its uncontrolled release into the Tolna Coulee may loom, and it's only prudent to plan for that outcome.

The region now badly needs a structure to keep that possible release of water under control. And the best way to ensure the quick construction of that structure is to win the OK of every downstream town, city, state, province and nation.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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