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Published August 15, 2013, 03:43 PM

Canadian official tours Devils Lake

DEVILS LAKE — Canada’s top diplomat in the Upper Midwest spent Thursday in the Lake Region learning first-hand about the 20-year flood that’s covered thousands of acres of farmlands cost more than $1.5 billion to mitigate.

By: Adam Ladwig, WDAZ

DEVILS LAKE — Canada’s top diplomat in the Upper Midwest spent Thursday in the Lake Region learning first-hand about the 20-year flood that’s covered thousands of acres of farmlands cost more than $1.5 billion to mitigate.

Counsel General Jamshed Merchant, who was named to his post in Minneapolis in October, said he wants to learn as much as he can about problems caused by the lake. “Physical, environmental side, the economic side of it, and of course the social impacts.”

“I’m looking forward to, well, seeing the lake,” he said.

Canadians have good reason to be interested in the water. It will end up in the Red River, which flows into Manitoba.

The North Dakota State Water Commission gave Merchant a day-long tour, with stops all around Devils Lake. They visited the new Minnewaukan school, built on higher ground after waters threatened the old school, and the two Devils Lake outlets.

Water quality

North Dakota’s effort to build the outlets, which release water into the Sheyenne River, a tributary of the Red, was initially met with outrage in Manitoba. The provincial government worried that invasive species, salts and other contaminants would flow across the border.

By end of 2010, though, Devils Lake had risen high enough that both governments were more concerned that untreated lake water would spill in an uncontrolled manner into the Sheyenne.

Both sides agreed to work closer together to prevent such a catastrophic flood.

Since then, Manitoba’s worries about ecological damage have eased.

“The outlets that drain Devils Lake into the Red River watershed raise barely a peep, and most of the feared effects have been modest — so far,” the Winnipeg Free Press reported earlier this month.

Still, the newspaper reported that water quality remains a concern. When the two outlets began operating at full volume last summer, Manitoba officials saw the level of sulfates, a kind of salt, rise, though not enough to require the outlets to be throttled back.

“Regardless of where you are, you want to make sure the water you’re getting is of a sufficient quality,” Merchant said.

Showing damage

On Thursday, North Dakota officials hope showing the extent of the water damage will highlight the importance of pumping water from the lake.

“They’ve gotten a better understanding,” said Bruce Engelhardt, a water commission official. “In 2011 when the risk of it got so high, I think that really opened their eyes.”

Devils Lake reached its record elevation of 1,454.3 feet above sea level that year. The lake is currently at about 1,453.15 feet.

Merchant said it’s important to keep the two nations’ partnership strong to prevent damage on both sides of the border. “The whole relationship, managing water across the Canada-U.S. border, and how to do it through conversation, negotiation and dialogue, has been a very longstanding peace.”

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