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5/27/2009 – Editorials

By Richard Peterson

We were swamped with photos this week and some simply will have to be held over until next week. But even then, we can’t run them all. So we’re doing something we’ve never done before. Those photos that don’t fit with the stories in our newspaper will be placed on our Web site at For instance, we’ve got several photos of a trip to Bismarck made by a Minnewaukan class and the class members are duplicated on the photos. We’re publishing one of those photos in the paper and the other photos appear on the Web site. There will be other instances of that situation, as well. The photos on the Web site are also in full color.


The Devils Lake Outlet is now running. There is enough water in the Sheyenne River to blend with the more salty water in Devils Lake. As long as the Sheyenne is not flooding, water from Devils Lake can be blended with the river water and there will be no harm. But the outlet will not provide any protection from flooding. Its impact on the level of the lake is negligible.

There’s more and more talk of an outlet on the east end of the lake.

In fact, the natural outlet to Devils Lake is located on West Stump Lake where it flows into the Tolna Coulee and then into the Sheyenne River.

But the problem of getting rid of Devils Lake water is the water quality issue.

I find the US Geological Survey Web site very difficult to navigate.

The State Water Commission’s site is equally daunting. So I can’t find current sulfate and TDS levels for West and East Stump Lakes.

But here are some figures from August 1, 2000 which will give you a pretty good idea of the water quality in the lake.

Sulfates TDS

West Bay 480 1,140

Main Bay 600 1,350

East Bay 1,060 2,330

East Devils Lake 2,780 5,450

Stump Lake 6,100 11,600

The figures are probably lower today in some cases because more water has flowed in to dilute the poor quality water in Devils Lake.But it varies. Bruce Engelhardt of the State Water Commission was kind enough to e-mail some information on current water quality in Devils Lake. On May 20 and 21, 2008 water samples were taken and the concentration of sulfates in milligrams per liter and total dissolved solids (TDS) were as follows:

Sulfates TDS

Pelican Lake 531 1230

West Bay 643 1450

Six Mile Bay 657 1470

Main Bay 670 1500

East Devils Lake 1140 2420

According to Engelhardt two measurements were taken this year on May

13 and water near the boat ramp south of Minnewaukan in West Bay had a sulfate level of 569. Last year’s level was 643. So water quality in the lake is improving with all the new water that’s run into it.

But it has a long way to go. Water in the Sheyenne River carries a sulfate level of about 100 mg/l and a total dissolved solids level of about 480 mg/l.

It appears West Bay is getting saltier and East Devils Lake’s water quality is improving.

But even so, it would be devastating to Valley City to release water of this poor quality into the river. The Valley City water treatment plant wouldn’t be able to make it safe enough to drink.

The only way we can let water out the east end of the lake is to treat it first. With current technology that would be so expensive it’s just not feasible.

Perhaps a small pipeline could be built from Stump Lake to empty into the Goose River and blend the salty Devils Lake Water with the Red River water, into which the Goose flows. This would improve the water quality in Devils Lake and wouldn’t harm the people in the Red River Valley, but it wouldn’t alleviate the flooding issue on either the lake or the river. Good luck in convincing the people of the Red River Valley that they should have more water.

The thought has been expressed that we could renegotiate the Boundary Waters Treaty with Canada. Again, good luck. But even if Canada, by some unforeseen miracle, agrees to accept this polluted water, what do we do about Valley City? It’s a pipe dream.

So, what is the solution?

The simple fact is that there is no solution. The only thing we can do is keep building dikes to protect the city of Devils Lake and getting out of the way of the lake everywhere else.

If the lake threatens to flow out on the east end, the state will have to stop it. If the state doesn’t the federal government will.

And we’ll have to drink more water in these parts. That will cost the federal government a ton of money, but I don’t see any other alternative. The US government is not going to break the Boundary Waters Treaty.

Devils Lake is now at a level of 1450.3. Will it rise to its overflow level of 1459? Nobody knows.

Devils Lake has flowed into Stump Lake many times in its history, but only on a handful of occasions has the lake risen high enough to flow into the Sheyenne. Maybe the odds are with us and the lake will stop its rise before it gets to that level. Maybe not.

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