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Matt Von Pinnon, Published February 27 2011

Forum editorial: ‘Half-full’ conclusion half-witted

The threat of an uncontrolled spill of gigantic Devils Lake into the Sheyenne River grows with every snowstorm. The lake in northeastern North Dakota has been setting modern-day water elevation records for a decade, and another high water record is expected this spring. A

2- to 3-foot rise this spring and summer will put the lake at an elevation never seen in modern times. Moreover, the lake has tripled in surface area to 252 square miles (sections) since 1993. A

3-foot rise would inundate another 50 square miles of farmland, farmsteads, roads, railroad beds and threaten entire towns.

Yet, some people downstream on the Sheyenne River have come up with the astonishingly callous conclusion that the lake is not yet full. It’s only half-full, they say, using the natural outlet elevation as their standard.

The implication in that allegedly scientific declaration is that the lake should be allowed to rise until it’s full, no matter the consequences for North Dakotans who live around and near the lake.

The argument appears to be based in the geological history of the glacial lake. The level has been much higher, the argument goes, because its natural outlet is still several feet above the current water elevation. Ergo, the lake is not full – only about half-full. The absurd extension of the argument is that there is no need for an outlet – no need to protect life and property – because the lake’s natural condition is to rise more and more and more.

It doesn’t get more disdainful or condescending than that. To even suggest, no matter how subtly, that the lake’s steady inundation of hundreds of thousands of acres should be allowed to go unchecked is more than unacceptable. It’s bordering on contemptible.

The half-full scenario is a brand of nonsensical “science” preferred by some people on the Sheyenne. Not many, to be sure. It’s a minority voice. Responsible leaders and individuals along the Sheyenne want to find a solution to the lake flood and the downstream threat that mitigates impacts at the lake and on the river. Serious people at all levels of government are working to achieve that goal.

But the half-full notion is half-witted. It’s not serious. It’s a mean-spirited misuse of science that blithely and purposefully minimizes the effects of the region’s wet cycle and ignores the devastation and heartache visited on people by the rising lake.


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