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Bruce Seelig, Published November 29 2009

Irrigation test wasted $1.5 million

Sweet vindication was my initial reaction to the article “Engineers to explore other Devils Lake basin options” in the Monday, Nov. 23, Forum. We did not need to spend $1.5 million to conclude that the application of Devils Lake water is not a viable solution to rising lake levels.

In 2003, I reviewed the irrigation reconnaissance report for this North Dakota project and concluded that the analysis regarding the extent of irrigable soils was flawed. In my opinion as a professional soil scientist, it significantly over-estimated the extent of irrigable soils in the proposed project area. Thus, the report’s conclusions were overly optimistic regarding significant reduction in the water level in Devils Lake through successful application of irrigation water. It was obvious to me that any money allocated to this project would not be well-spent.

My opinion was conveyed to the State Water Commission, State Board of Professional Soil Classifiers, Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board and Garrison Conservancy District Technical Committee.

Many soils professionals, including the chairman of the Department of Soil Science at North Dakota State University, warned the promoters of this project that it was doomed to failure. Based on years of soil studies and soil survey work, it is now, and was then, common knowledge that the majority of soils in the Devils Lake region are prone to salinization problems that are exacerbated by irrigation. Despite the general lack of support by most soil and water professionals, money was politically pork-barreled for this project. Five years later, $1.5 million in taxes has been spent to tell us something we already knew.

I realize that the $1.5 million is just a drop in the bucket. However, I shudder to think of the implications for wasted tax dollars related to climate change and health care legislation. I am afraid that sweet vindication turns sour rather quickly. Hold on to your wallets, folks.

Seelig, Ph.D., is a professional soil scientist with more than 30 years of experience.