Canada, U.S. Agree Ways to Drain North Dakota Lake
TORONTO Canada and the United States announced a deal on Saturday that could end years of bickering over plans to drain a North Dakota lake into rivers that end up in Canada, and said there would be safeguards to prevent pollution and minimize risk from "nuisance species" of fish.
A statement from the two countries said they had made progress in deciding how to drain Devils Lake, a low-lying area of water that flooded farms, schools and villages as it spread from 70 square miles to 200 square miles during extended periods of wet weather.
North Dakota has built channels to let some of the water from the lake drain into rivers that flow to the Red River and then on to Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, the world's 10th largest freshwater lake.
Canadian officials had said draining the lake could pollute Canadian waters and introduce nonnative fish stocks, threatening commercial fishing at the lake -- a C$25 million ($20 million) a year industry.
The joint statement said some of these concerns had now been addressed. It gave no date when draining the lake, once scheduled for July 1 and then delayed, would start.
"Important progress has been made toward addressing flooding in Devils Lake while protecting aquatic resources throughout the Red River Basin," the two sides said.
"The participants have a higher level of confidence that the outlet can be operated in a manner that will not pose an unreasonable risk to the other parts of the (Red River) Basin."
The agreement provides for new rock and gravel filters at the start of the new drainage system as well as extensive monitoring of the water in the basin to be sure that pollution levels are not rising and that species from the lake do not get into the other water systems and crowd out existing fish.
North Dakota says its system of pumps, pipes and canals will stabilize Devils Lake at current levels, channeling excess water to the Sheyenne River, and on to the Red River and then over the Canadian border.
Although its water quality has not been extensively studied, critics say landlocked Devils Lake has especially high concentrations of pollutants because runoff from farms and populated areas accumulates there.
North Dakota denies that, pointing to thriving local leisure and fishing sectors.