Longterm solution?

Richard Betting, Valley City

What are the reasons for the rise of Devils Lake over the past 20 years?

That should be one of the questions asked in any discussion of Devils Lake water issues.

But those who listened to Prairie Public’s “Main Street” radio program July 23 were disappointed if they were hoping to get an answer to the question about causes of Devils Lake flooding. By the end of Doug Hamilton’s interview with Devils Lake mayor Richard Johnson the words “wetland drainage” and “thousands of drained acres” had not even been uttered.

Rather, mayor Johnson stated that their goal was to “get water off the lake.”

At a meeting in Cooperstown in 2010, Col. Michael Price, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul District commander, stated that there are only two ways to deal with water on Devils Lake: “Either you work to get water off the lake or you prevent water from getting to the lake in the first place.”

In the past 20 years almost all of the effort to deal with water on the lake has focused on sending it downstream rather than prevention in the first place. As mayor Johnson stated in his interview, over $1.6 billion has been spent dealing with results of water on the lake. Almost none has been spent on storage.

So the “Main Street” program failed to mention that more than 350,000 acres of upper Devils Lake basin wetlands have been drained, helping over 600,000 acre-feet of water flow into the lake in both 2009 and 2011, for example. When the results of drainage continue to be the focus, the actual problems will never be dealt with effectively. The situation will only get worse.

One of the worst results could be the erosion of the Tolna Coulee and the lowering of the entire Devils Lake system 12 feet, from 1,458 feet above mean sea level to 1,446 feet msl. Over 2 million acre-feet of water would flow into the Sheyenne River as a result. Worse, perhaps, the control structure would not be rebuilt, and continual downstream flooding would result.

Instead, an Environmental Impact Statement should be done in order to get the facts about drainage and runoff. Then plans could be modified to include wetland restoration. Contrary to what some say about the upper basin being flooded, drained wetlands don’t hold water. Storage needs to be part of any long-term water control plan.