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Dave Kolpack, Associated Press, Published December 22 2010

Group recommends immediate action to keep Devils Lake in check

A federal working group’s report on Devils Lake flooding released Tuesday recommends immediate steps to protect downstream communities from potential disaster and supports the state’s efforts to move more water off the expanding lake.

The 40-page document is meant to promote possible solutions and update the status of federal agencies’ efforts to control flooding on the lake, which has nearly quadrupled in size since the early 1990s. The lake is at the bottom of a closed basin that has no natural river or stream outlet.

North Dakota’s all-Democratic congressional delegation of Sen. Kent Conrad, Sen. Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy said in a joint statement that the report will help define the federal government’s role in the flood fight.

“This report makes some valuable recommendations and clarifications that will allow the state to begin moving more water off of Devils Lake,” the delegation said. “However, there is still a lot of work ahead of us to win the battle against the flood disaster.”

The document calls for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin working with the state on plans for a control structure, which the congressional delegation said is needed to prevent “catastrophic flooding” in Valley City and other downstream communities.

The structure would reduce chances that some of the lowest-quality water from neighboring Stump Lake, to the east, would move into the Sheyenne River.

The Environmental Protection Agency decision should allow for more water to be released through an existing west-end outlet and a planned outlet to be built by the state on the east side of the lake.

Ramsey County Commissioner Joe Belford, who spends much of his time lobbying for money and overseeing ways to control the flooding, said he was happy the report outlined an earlier ruling to relax water-quality standards on the upper Sheyenne. Water in some parts of Devils Lake is high in sulfates, which can taste bitter and act as a laxative.

Belford said he was on his way to a county commission meeting Tuesday and didn’t have time to delve into the details of the working group’s findings.

“Hopefully there are some things in the report that are going to be good for us,” Belford said. “When I went to the meeting of the working group in Washington, I left there very much confused. I will have to see if there’s anything positive in the report.”

The corps also should provide technical assistance on hardening the Tolna Coulee, which is the natural spill point for the lake, and the construction of the east-end outlet, the report said.

The group supports continued efforts to strengthen are levees and roads, improve upper-basin water storage, and help the city of Minnewaukan relocate to higher ground.