Richard Betting, Valley City
"What's happening with Devils Lake water these days?" someone asked the other day. "Well, the East End and West Bay pumps are shut down for the winter," I said. "Devils Lake is down three feet from last year. The current dry spell suggests we might not have much chance of flooding next spring."
"So what should people along the Sheyenne River be doing? Or is it too late for anything?"
Good question: What can be done before the next serious flood event rises on the river?
First, in spite of the fact that both West Bay and East End outlets already ran this year, the North Dakota State Water Commission should still do a scientific study to determine what the effects of continuing to pump 600 cubic feet per second from Devils Lake into the river will be. We already know that degraded water from Devils Lake will change the ecology of the river.
But how much will erosion increase? How many more trees will die, and what will happen to ground water? Will the National Fish Hatchery north of Valley City be able to raise walleyes using Devils Lake water? Tests show that the sulfate levels in Lake Ashtabula have already risen from about 200 mg/l to over 800 mg/l. Far above the former state maximum of 450 mg/l. Other contaminants have risen similarly. Will fish and mussels reproduce or not? How much is each lost species worth, for example?
Those living downstream on the Sheyenne have not agreed to accept the river's destruction in trade for moving water off Devils Lake. Since the effects have not been determined and publicized, we can only guess at the damage to the river and its riparian residents. The SWC should do the required analysis so that a fair evaluation can be made. Figures published recently indicate that over $1.5 billion has been spent in the Devils Lake area on their water situation.
It might take as much money to repair damages along the Sheyenne River in the future as Devils Lake has taken so far. Consider the following.
The major issue to be addressed by the SWC should be to change the Corps of Engineers Operating Plan for the Tolna Coulee project. The Corps plan calls for leaving the stop logs out of the "Control structure" after the Tolna Coulee erodes.
Erosion of the coulee could mean that the maximum elevation of Devils Lake could fall to 1,446 feet msl.
That would be an impossible situation for those who live along the Sheyenne. It would mean that all of the water draining into Devils Lake would flush straight into the river without any control. Who will pay for the damages from those events?
Many flood events. Because without any control structure, all of the water in Devils Lake will be added to what is in the Sheyenne at the time, spring flood or summer rain event. The Sheyenne River watershed would be literally doubled. The downstream flows could be too. Where are the studies to show the effects of Devils Lake water downstream? How high would the Valley City dikes have to be if we had a flood equal to the 2009 or 2011 floods and another 3,000 cubic feet per second-or more-were added from Devils Lake?
Downstream residents should demand that the SWC do a complete Environmental Impact Statement before any further money is spent on Devils Lake and before any more water is drained into the river. And before the Tolna Coulee washes out.
If necessary, the North Dakota Legislature should require the North Dakota SWC to complete an EIS on the Devils Lake situation, including the effects of drainage on the Sheyenne River.
The so-called "solution" for Devils Lake has so far only shifted their water problems to others.