By Richard Peterson
I see that the North Dakota Supreme Court has scheduled an April 18 hearing on the state’s Devils Lake outlet. Minnesota and Manitoba are suing to stop construction of the outlet which is expected to be finished in July.
I don’t think this is going to be much of an impediment to operation of the outlet. I expect the Supreme Court to dismiss the suit.
Why? Because the court will rule on procedure and nothing more. The court will not address the question of whether the outlet is necessary, whether it will be effective or whether this is a good use of taxpayer funds. Those are political questions the court cannot decide. The politicians have made the decision on the outlet. Now we will have to live with that decision.
Is it a good decision to spend $27 million plus $1 million or more additional annually to operate the outlet? Certainly not! It is a total waste of taxpayer funds. At the very most, the outlet will remove only a couple inches a year from the lake.
The State Water Commission cannot operate the outlet if the Devils Lake water mixed with the Sheyenne River water exceeds 300 milligrams per liter
(mgl) of sulfates. This water quality constraint will allow the outlet to operate only a few weeks a year because the Sheyenne does not normally have enough water flowing through it to blend with the more salty Devils Lake water.
It will be able to carry 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) only a few days per year. If it is able to operate, it will operate at much less capacity than the 100 cfs maximum.
I’m not a hydrologist, so I don’t know how to put these figures together to provide some meaningful statement.
In the years 1995, 1996 and 1997 (the latest data I could find) the average streamflow at Warwick was 331 cfs in May, 85.4 cfs in June, 83 cfs in July,
40.5 cfs in August and 14.6 cfs in September. To meet that 300 mgl standard, only a trickle will be able to leave the lake, certainly nowhere near 100 cfs. But just looking at the figures tell me the outlet cannot be effective.
The water in the Sheyenne River is about 100 mgl of sulfates. The water in West Bay of Devils Lake is about 500 mgl of sulfates. The average annual streamflow of the Sheyenne River at Warwick is 62.4 cfs. This varies, of course, depending on how much rain we get. In 1990 the Sheyenne River flowed less than 50 cfs all year long. How much Devils Lake water can be let out when the river flows at 50 cfs? None. In 1997 the river ran above 500 cfs for 39 days and ran above 200 cfs for an additional 18 days. When the river runs at 500 cfs, no water can be let out of the outlet. At 200 cfs the outlet could operate, but I doubt it would be able to operate at capacity because of the 300 mgl sulfate limit.
Simply put, the outlet will not help alleviate flooding problems if the wet cycle continues. It is completely ineffective.
And on the other hand, if the wet cycle ends, that is no time to be removing water from Devils Lake. Not even an inch.
Nevertheless, the politicians press forward with this project because it looks like they are doing something. The politicians have the people in the city of Devils Lake thinking this outlet is the greatest thing in the world. What a disappointment it’s going to be!
It’s already a disappointment to those of us in Benson County. A good deal of farmland has been ruined constructing the outlet. For environmental reasons, the outlet is being constructed beside the natural coulee, at great additional cost.
It’s a boondoggle.
A long time ago I said in this column that the greatest threat to the state’s outlet will come from our own federal government. I still think that’s true. I doubt that there are any scientific reasons why the outlet should not go forward because of the water quality constraints the state must abide by.
But there are political reasons that could bring the outlet to a screeching halt. The Canadian government can turn up the political heat and get our State Department to intervene by calling for an International Joint Commission (IJC) review. The IJC is made up of people from Canada and the US who make rulings on water disputes between the two nations. If the IJC review is agreed upon by our State Department, it could mean a delay of years for the outlet to operate.
My position now is that as long as the outlet is almost ready to be operated and the money has been spent, we might as well operate it.
Once it’s in operation, the Canadians will cease their opposition because they’ll come to the realization that the outlet is going to do nothing more than waste the money of the taxpayers of North Dakota.
A precious little girl walks into a pet shop and asks in the sweetest little lisp between two missing teeth, "Excuthe me, mithter, do you keep widdle wabbits?"
As the shopkeeper’s heart melts, he gets down on his knees so he’s on her level and asks, "Do you want a widdle white wabbit, or a thoft and fuwwy bwack wabbit, or maybe one like that cute widdle bwown wabbit over there?"
She, in turn, blushes, rocks on her heels, puts her hands on her knees, leans forward and says, in a quiet voice, "I don’t think my python weally gives a thit."