By Richard Peterson
The daily newspapers have been carrying front page headlines about the Devils Lake Outlet finally beginning to operate. It ran at 10 cubic feet per second for just a few days in 2005 before it was shut down due to sulfate levels in the Sheyenne. Yes, it’s operating, but don’t let your flood insurance lapse just yet.
As far as alleviating the flood in the Devils Lake Basin, the outlet will have virtually no effect. None.
That’s why I opposed this boondoggle from the beginning. It will never be cost-effective. We will get little or no relief for the $28 million spent.
There’s nothing wrong with the outlet. It’s an engineering marvel that works just fine. The problem is the constraints placed upon it by the State Health Department. And make no mistake about it, the constraints are necessary to keep from polluting the Sheyenne River.
To make it simple, the water in Devils Lake is heavily laden with sulfates. The further east one goes in the lake the higher the sulfates. I don’t have current suflate levels, but in 1998 the water near Round Lake where the outlet gets its water was about 500 milligrams of dissolved sulfates per liter. East Devils Lake contained about 3,000 mg/l. The best quality water is on the west side of the lake. But that water’s quality is still not very good.
According to the State Health Department’s permit, water in the Sheyenne River has to be less than 450 milligrams per liter before the outlet can operate. The Sheyenne never got down to that level during 2006. Recent rains have freshened the Sheyenne to below that level, allowing the outlet to operate.
People talk about an east end outlet. That’s totally out of the question. With sulfate levels in the 3,000 range, that water is a pollutant. The state has laws against polluting and would, by law, have to put a stop to any east end outlet. If for some reason the state doesn’t act, the feds will, because allowing polluted water into the Sheyenne and then into the Red and then into Canada would violate the Boundary Waters Treaty. You can absolutely forget about an east end outlet. It ain’t gonna happen.
Theoretically the outlet can remove about four inches of water per year from the lake if it operates at capacity. Because of the sulfate restrictions, the 14-mile long outlet will never operate at capacity.
As it is, the outlet is operating maybe four hours at a time at 50 cubic feet per second. Because of the restrictions on sulfates, the canal is being filled, the pumps are shut off and then the gate is opened to let the water flow into the Sheyenne by gravity. As long as the sulfate levels remain below 450 in the Sheyenne, the pumps can start up again and the canal filled.
So it isn’t as though the outlet is pumping water all the time. It’s operating sporadically and only a very small amount of water is being discharged. Certainly not enough to alleviate any flooding.
As I said before, I was opposed to this outlet from the start because it is not cost-effective. However, now that the money has been wasted, we might as well operate the outlet as much as possible. It’s probable some good scientific information can be gained from operating it.
Of course, opportunistic politicians like Gary Doer, premier of Manitoba, cry wolf and the sky is falling. He plays on the emotions and prejudices of his constituents by automatic opposition to the outlet.
Devils Lake is in the Hudson Bay drainage system. Birds travel between the Sheyenne River, the Red River and Devils Lake, so it’s highly unlikely Devils Lake has some terrible fish or terrible disease that isn’t already in the Red River, which flows north to Canada. Doer has no scientific reason to oppose the outlet. The political reason is enough for him. He’s a demagogue, plain and simple.
Word came out last week that there are minnows in the canal. It is unlikely that minnows would be sucked up by the pumps, filtered through rocks and deposited in the canal. If there are minnows in the canal, I think it’s probable they were "planted" there by outlet opponents.
I was amazed to read a story in the Traill County Tribune at Mayville about a Mayville man who broke the world weightlifting record of 440 pounds three times in one day. He lifted 445 lbs., then 462 lbs. and topped off the day with 479.5 lbs. That’s a lot of weight for anyone to lift, but this guy, Bob Andre, is 68 years old!
And I thought I was doing something by lifting 10 cases of beer. One can at a time, of course.