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2/24/2010 – Editorials

By Richard Peterson


The National Weather Service’s (NWS) forecast of the expected level of Devils Lake this year was good news. It appears Minnewaukan will be here another year, at least, if the forecast proves accurate. It has been accurate in the past, but one weather event can throw everything out the window. For instance, a big rain between Leeds and Edmore would probably wipe us out.

We just have to hope the NWS forecast remains on the mark, that we have a warm summer so evaporation can take some moisture off the lake and that the outlet can remove a few inches from the lake.

I was a critic of the outlet all along until the sulfate level maximums in the Sheyenne River were relaxed. With these new rules that will be put in place by the State Health Department, the outlet can do some good. Removing even inches could be the difference between Minnewaukan’s survival or its demise.

But it isn’t only Minnewaukan. Every foot of rise takes 10,000 acres of farmland out of production. Those farmers who lose that land get no compensation whatsoever. They just lose it.

Read the letter to the editor by Bob Blegen in this issue of the Farmers Press. He’s lost a good portion of his farm and will lose more. The road to his farm is probably going to go under this spring. If the Brinsmade Road bridge goes out, he and his family will have no choice but to abandon their farmstead. He’s not alone out there, either. Other farmers will be in a similar situation.

He points out that this is an emergency and lives are being disrupted and some people are only concerned with sulfates in the river.

Another tiresome letter from Richard Betting also appears in this issue.

He calls for studies. In the meantime we drown. He doesn’t care.

He calls for plugging all the drains north of the lake and time-consuming studies. It’s true that plugging the drains would help the flooding problem, at least temporarily. But the reality is that we would only succeed in spreading the flood to that area. Instead of producing grain on that land, farmers would be ponding water. And what happens when water ponds on farmland? Salt leaches from the soil and comes to the surface. So farmers would be ponding increasingly salty water.

In the 10,000 year history of the lake since it was carved out by a glacier, geologists have discovered the lake overflowed into the Sheyenne on several occasions. That was long before one drain was dug north of the lake. That is proof that drainage is not the cause of the lake’s flooding. If the wet cycle continues, even those plugged drains would eventually overflow and send increasingly salty water into the lake.

Plugging those drains and stopping all drainage, would, as I said earlier, help slow down the rise of the lake. You might think that putting a few farmers out of business to benefit everyone else around the lake is a small price to pay.

In reality, he’s calling for us to bear an enormous economic price.

Betting says there are 350,000 acres of drained sloughs north of the lake. He thinks they should be filled with water instead of being farmed. What would that mean as far as the economy of the area is concerned?

According to NDSU the average wheat yield for this area is about 37 bushels per acre. At a price of $6.21 per bushel that brings in a gross income of $230 per acre. Multiply $230 by 350,000 acres and you get $80,500,000 in lost revenue per year. Every year.

There’s a multiplier effect as well. According to NDSU, farmers in the northern basin will spend $7,000,000 less on seed, $4,725,000 less on herbicides, $1,750,000 less on fungicides, $16,863,000 less on fertilizer, $5,355,000 less on crop insurance, $5,540,500 less on fuel and lubricants, $3,983,000 less on repairs, $1,711,500 less on interest and $525,000 less on miscellaneous expenses. They won’t be spending money on machinery, either. And they won’t be getting their estimated net income of $10,780,000. I didn’t figure in the cost of the land, miscellaneous overhead (including taxes) or machinery investment and depreciation. When all those items are included, the NDSU Farm Management Planning Guide reveals an economic loss of $80,500,000 annually. Betting doesn’t care.

Plus some governmental body would have to hire an army of people to make certain the drains remain plugged. Taxes to the counties in the basin would be reduced severely. It would be very, very expensive and disruptive to every machinery dealer in the area, to say nothing of losses to those who sell seed, fertilizer, fuel, insurance, chemicals, etc. Betting doesn’t care.

Of course those losses are piling up right now as a result of farmers being flooded by the Mauvais Coulee, which is now, in reality, a part of Devils Lake. Ditto for the farmers around Lake Irvine, Lake Alice and Dry Lake. Their land is fast becoming part of Devils Lake. Betting doesn’t care.

An east end outlet is simply not feasible because of water quality issues. A west end outlet can help a little if it is able to operate at an increased capacity of 250 cubic feet per second.

I have said repeatedly that there is no solution to the Devils Lake problem. Every solution brings its own unique problems that make it difficult, if not impossible, to implement.

I have said repeatedly that the best we can do is to protect the city of Devils Lake with dikes and get out of the way of the lake everywhere else. It’s not a solution, but it’s the best we can do.

If the wet cycle continues and the lake threatens to flow out naturally, I think Betting might care then. I think the state and federal governments will halt that and we’ll be forced to drink more water.

Minnewaukan will be gone well before that time. There will be water everywhere from a few miles north of Tolna to a few miles south of Cando.

If the lake rises to an elevation above 1460 there will be so many places it can flow out that even the federal government probably won’t be able to stop it. Look out, Valley City and short-sighted, selfish people like Richard Betting.

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