BISMARCK, N.D. – The fate of the Sheyenne and Red River Valleys are in one man’s hands: State Engineer Todd Sando.
On Friday, Richard Betting of the People to Save the Sheyenne and Valley City City Commissioner Madeline Luke of the Ad Hoc Downstream Group presented testimony to Sando at a hearing on the permit that would allow the newly constructed outlet on the east end of Devils Lake to operate. The outlet would drain into the Sheyenne River, which feeds into the Red River of the North and runs into Canada.
Prior to the meeting, Luke told the Times-Record “We have no chance of stopping operation of the east end outlet since it has already been built.”
At the hearing, Betting pointed out several instances where the project had violated state law by being fast-tracked forward, mainly that investigation into downstream impacts had not been done by the state.
Bruce Engelhardt, Director of the State Water Commission’s Water Development Division and the SWC’s representative at the hearing, sat with his eyes closed 97 minutes into the hearing at 11:37 a.m.
Engelhardt gave opening statements that Devils Lake has been rising since the 1940s, but really shot up since 1993 and the following years. In 2009 and 2011, the lake saw record inflows which also resulted in the biggest floods in history in Valley City.
Engelhardt also pointed out the danger of a catastrophic overflow of Stump Lake, one of the lakes in the Devils Lake chain, would demolish everything downstream. Betting said independent research has shown that the probability of an overflow is one in 70,000.
“To claim that an uncontrolled release from Stump Lake could spill 15,000 cubic feet per second into the Sheyenne River is based on a scenario that has virtually no relevance to reality,” Betting said.
“Using the threat of an uncontrolled discharge... a practical impossibility.... Continuing to use that as a threat is dangerous, misleading.”
The downstream representatives also presented a video at the hearing that contained testimony from nearly a dozen downstream representatives, including Valley City State University Biology Professor Andre DeLorme.
DeLorme who said the Sheyenne River is unlike any other body of water in North Dakota, having the most, and most diverse, species of wildlife in the state. One major factor he pointed out is the several different species of mussels in the river, which eliminate the waste and keep the Sheyenne from smelling bad. He said there are no mussels in East Devils Lake, which speaks to that lake’s water quality.
“I’m a biologist and I think those things have worth,” he said in the video.
Sando, whose jaw dropped as he listened to testimony as to how state law was violated in the fast tracking of the Devils Lake project, has 30 days from last Friday to make a final decision on allowing the permit to go through.
However, in a meeting with Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Sando and the Barnes County Commission in spring of 2011, Dalrymple, a Republican, had joked that Sando would be out of a job if the outlet didn’t go through. While many truths are said in jest, the Devils Lake region is home to several wealthy campaign contributors, who in 2010 alone, donated several thousand dollars to the North Dakota Republican Party.