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Published September 10 2010

Forum editorial: New Devils Lake report promising

Few North Dakota bodies of water have been studied more than Devils Lake. The lake has risen some 30 feet since the early 1990s and today is at a near-record modern-day elevation. It has tripled its surface area to near 200,000 acres. The latest report on the status of the lake and possible solutions to the rising water is a multi-jurisdictional effort that can be the blueprint for managing the lake’s level.

Completed last month by the North Dakota Water Commission, state Department of Emergency Services and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the “Report of the Devils Lake Basin Technical Review Team” details possible steps for minimizing the flood threat from the rising lake. The report suggests strategies to address emergencies and longer-term solutions.

Nothing about the Devils Lake situation is simple. The complexities range from multi-jurisdictional responsibilities/conflicts to water quality concerns and the risk of downstream flooding on the Sheyenne River should the lake reach its breakout point. The report attempts to assess all of the lake flood’s various elements, many of which have been studied to death. But the report’s broad and specific conclusions and recommendations should make sense to all but those who refuse to accept the science and engineering that is critical to a solution.

Among the more prominent and promising of the conclusions is building more outlet capacity into the Sheyenne in order to lower the water level. The pump-driven outlet on the southwest side of the lake is operating at increased capacity, but not enough to offset huge inflows. A couple of options for additional outlets on the east reach of the lake would add significant capacity and be gravity channels, thus eliminating the expense of pumps and the electricity to power them. Combined with the possibility of winterizing the west outlet pumps so they can run 12 months a year, enough water might be moved out of the lake to prevent a natural breakout into the Tolna Coulee from easternmost Stump Lake, which holds the worst-quality water in the lake system.

The report is more extensive than outlets in its examination of the situation at Devils Lake. It’s a good piece of work, even if it comes a little late. The people of the Devils Lake area and others familiar with the lake have been urging action for years. Now, as the lake rises to crisis elevation, officialdom seems to be moving at more than a snail’s pace.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.