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Published August 11, 2011, 03:10 PM

In Valley City, Governor Quizzed About Proposed Devils Lake Gravity-fed Outlet

City and county leaders in this flood-weary community peppered Gov. Jack Dalrymple with questions about a proposed third Devils Lake outlet today, while two groups opposed to new outlets said they’ve hired a law firm in response to the state’s plans.

By: Mike Nowatzki, Forum Communications

SCROLL DOWN FOR COMPLETE VIDEO OF MEETING

VALLEY CITY, N.D. – City and county leaders in this flood-weary community peppered Gov. Jack Dalrymple with questions about a proposed third Devils Lake outlet today, while two groups opposed to new outlets said they’ve hired a law firm in response to the state’s plans.

The governor acknowledged that pitching Devils Lake outlet projects in Valley City when the Sheyenne River here is experiencing a rare August flood was a tough sell.

“I should have my head examined,” he joked during the standing-room-only meeting at City Hall.

More than 50 people packed the City Commission room to hear about the newly proposed gravity-flow outlet that would drain water from Stump Lake, which is connected to Devils Lake, into the Tolna Coulee and eventually the Sheyenne River.

Dalrymple promoted the gravity-flow outlet as a tool for downstream communities to deal with Devils Lake water in a manageable fashion, as opposed to an uncontrolled and potentially catastrophic release that could occur if the lake rises another 3.7 feet to its natural spillover elevation of 1,458 feet. Devils Lake has risen more than 30 feet and quadrupled in size since 1993.

“We have reached a point where we are so close to an overflow situation that pumps are almost irrelevant,” Dalrymple said.

The prospect of additional water coming down the Sheyenne River didn’t sit well with some city and county leaders.

Barnes County Commission Cindy Schwehr said flooding has inundated county roads, turned four sloughs into lakes and swallowed tens of thousands of acres of farmland.

“It’s just as painful here as it is for the folks in Devils Lake,” she said.

Others raised concerns about the high sulfate levels in Stump Lake water and whether the state would provide funds to cover the extra cost of treating the water.

State Water Engineer Todd Sando said the gravity-flow outlet would consist of a one-mile-long, 40-foot-wide channel connecting west Stump Lake to Tolna Coulee. The channel bottom would have an elevation of 1,452 feet, he said.

At the lake’s current level of about 1,453 feet, the channel would drain 27 cubic feet of water per second from Stump Lake. Flows would increase to 90 cfs at 1,454 feet and 668 cfs at 1,458 feet, the natural spillover elevation.

An existing west-end outlet on Devils Lake can pump 250 cfs into the Sheyenne River. Construction bids will be let Friday for an east-end outlet capable of pumping 350 cfs, which state officials hope will be online by June.

Two grassroots groups, People to Save the Sheyenne and the Ad Hoc Downstream Group, announced today they have retained Minneapolis law firm Lindquist & Vennum to help them in their request for an independent environmental impact statement before any more outlet projects are built.

The Ad Hoc group also presented Dalrymple with a petition that it said was signed by more than 900 area residents. The petition asks that the Tolna Coulee be armored to 1,458 feet with no control structure, that no more outlets be built, that a moratorium be placed on future drainage in the upper basin of Devils Lake and that a mitigation plan for downstream damage be in place and funded before work begins on any new project.

Mary Ann Sheets-Hanson, a member of the Ad Hoc group, said members understand the difficulties faced by farmers losing land in the Devils Lake area, and they should be compensated for their losses.

“We cannot, however, agree that the Sheyenne should become the drainage ditch for the worst-quality water as the solution for the Devils Lake flooding,” she said.

Nowatzki is a reporter at the Forum in Fargo

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