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Ardon L. Herman, Published May 31 2009

Unplug ‘natural’ outlet for Devils Lake

It would be a disaster to allow Devils Lake to rise another 4 or more feet when it has a natural outlet just waiting to be unplugged at low cost. Why lose the city of Minnewaukan, N.D., highways, railroads, etc. and another 100,000 acres of prime farmland?

The city of Devils Lake, N.D., is to be commended on its purchase of the Stump Lake outlet land. A controlled outlet there, together with the west-end outlet, could prevent excessive lake rise with little adverse effect downstream with control for water quality and quantity. Also, flow through the lake to the east would assure future water quality to sustain the important fishery through future dry years.

It is disappointing that the Army Corps Of Engineers, U.S. State Department and our own congressional delegation has prevented this logical solution in deference to a 100-year-old water treaty with Canada. Surely this can be negotiated as Canada has some questionable dikes in the Pembina area. Also, it should be forcefully argued that the east-end natural outlet with a control structure is a safeguard to downstream and Canadian concerns, as is the west-end outlet.

The argument for closing farm drainage in the basin one can observe the abundance of wetlands. Much less farmland drainage has been done here than in the Sheyenne or Red River watersheds or the nation. Also, meteorologists claim that drainage has a minimal effect on lake levels.

Costs and benefits of drainage must be balanced. Feeding the people of the world and economics of agriculture due to increased production and efficiency gained through prudent drainage are vital. These factors are more important than more wetlands for waterfowl.

We have more geese than declining sportsmen can keep in balance. The Arctic nesting habitat is being degraded by overpopulation. However, farmers will and are closing some drains on marginal cropland when remunerated on a voluntary basis.

Operation of dual outlets allows great flexibility to benefit the lake and downstream concerns. The lake should freshen over time to allow a reserve for downstream irrigation and Fargo city use.

The natural shoreline at current levels indicates a historic lake level that would redevelop with the natural erosion of the Tolna Coulee sand plug resulting in catastrophe downstream after the great costs of the flooded Devils Lake at 1,460 feet. All of this can be prevented by the clean out and control structure on the natural outlet.

It is time for state and local governments to join in demanding the east-end outlet. If approved or built promptly, it would cancel the need for the final costly dike raise to 1,468 feet.

Hopefully, the bureaucracies will see the reasonableness of this low-cost, effective and most natural approach to a long-term Devils Lake solution.


Herman farms near Minnewaukan in Benson County.