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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press Writer, Published October 09 2010

North Dakota, Manitoba leaders focus on Devils Lake during water issues discussion

Government officials from the United States and Canada agreed Friday that the rising waters of North Dakota’s Devils Lake could be devastating to residents on both sides of the border and something must be done.

Beyond that, a two-day meeting in Washington showed “there’s much yet to be done” to resolve flood control and water disputes between North Dakota and Manitoba, said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

“It’s the first time we’ve had these kind of round-table open discussions about the issues that have been dividing us over these years,” Dorgan said in a phone interview. “It didn’t mean there was agreement on everything, but I think there were some understandings that were important.”

Sen. Kent Conrad, Rep. Earl Pomeroy and Gov. John Hoeven – all from North Dakota – attended the talks with Dorgan and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Gary Doer, and U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson.

“Both sides hope that future discussions will lead to agreements that will find resolution to the issues on the table in a way that protects both countries’ interests,” Dorgan and Selinger said in a joint statement.

Devils Lake has nearly quadrupled in size since 1993 because of a series of wet years, flooding surrounding areas and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. The cost to the federal government for fixing roads, building dikes and other improvements is approaching $1 billion.

“This lake has gone up about 30 feet since 1993, and we’re 6 to 7 feet from an overflow,” Hoeven said in a phone interview. “And an uncontrolled overflow from the east end is in no one’s best interest, including Canada. I think they understand that.”

Canadian officials are worried about the quantity and quality of water that would flow into their country if more water is pumped from the lake.

The parties agreed Friday to establish a plan to improve the quality of water coming from the lake, Dorgan and Selinger said. Joe Belford, a longtime Devils Lake resident and Ramsey County commissioner, said he’s worried that such a plan could require an expensive filtration system that residents cannot afford.

“I am discouraged by that comment,” Belford said.

The officials also talked about Canadian fears about water from a Missouri River pipeline project and complaints by North Dakota officials that a road on the Manitoba side of the border is actually a dike that backs up water into the state.

The group plans to meet again in November.

“Until now, we’ve had a lot of discussions back and forth with engineers and scientists and others, and not very much progress has been made,” Dorgan said. “I think these discussions were very encouraging and very productive.”

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