Dave Kolpack, Associated Press, Published April 06 2012
Hoeven says Devils Lake is close to stabilityFARGO — The flood fight continues on a northeastern North Dakota lake that has been described as a slow-growing monster, but one of the state's U.S. senators says a series of remedies are making a difference.
Republican Sen. John Hoeven, who appeared with Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad at a field hearing in the city of Devils Lake earlier this week, said Friday he's “guardedly optimistic” the state's largest natural lake will soon stop growing.
“I think we're getting to the point where we can stabilize the lake for the long term,” Hoeven said. “That's what we've been working so hard to accomplish. I really think we're getting close to that point.”
Conrad began the Senate hearing by displaying a headline from a North Dakota newspaper editorial that read, “The Flood That Never Goes Away.” The lake has risen nearly 31 feet since 1993 and reached a record level last summer. It has swallowed up more than 160,000 acres of prime farm and pasture land.
One resident last summer could only get to his farm house by driving a 4-wheeled ATV for 3½ miles, taking a duck boat guided by rope for 300 feet, and then walking a quarter of a mile to a vehicle that took him the rest of the way.
Dennis Anderson, 68, grew up in a lakeside area known as Lakewood and now lives on the south side of the city. The area's dry streets this spring are quite a contrast with the scene this time last year, he said, when state roads were nearly submerged.
But his optimism is tempered.
“We're a little relieved because it was such a dry winter and dry spring. The lake hasn't risen this spring,” he said. “Who knows what'll happen next spring. They say it'll be better, but if you've got really big snowfalls — heavy, wet snowfalls — we're not really out of the woods. It's one of those ‘Who knows?’”
While plans are in place to relocate an entire town, Hoeven said the three-pronged approach of storing water, building up roads and dikes, and adding a second outlet should help turn the lake “from the problem it is to the real asset it should be.” The levee construction is nearing completion and the east-end outlet should go online this summer, Hoeven said.
The tough stuff is being finished with no time — and perhaps no money — to spare.
More than $1 billion has poured into the Devils Lake area from federal, state and local agencies. Conrad said some members of Congress have reached their limit. A House conference committee last fall capped North Dakota's funding in an emergency flood relief program.
“This federal help has been critical in mitigating the flooding,” Conrad said. “However, it is clear in these tough budget times that securing continued assistance will be increasingly more difficult.”
The most recent pool of flood money looks toward the future, primarily for farmers. Hoeven announced Friday that the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conversation Service is making $7 million available to compensate flooded landowners in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota through short-term conservation leases.
The program is meant to help producers who hope to bring flooded lands back into production when the lake level goes down, Hoeven said.
“The real impact here is to the farmers,” Hoeven said. “We're giving this a try and we'll see how it goes this year.”
Amber Hunt in Sioux Falls, S.D., contributed.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
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