Joint board discusses Devils Lake outlets

CARRINGTON, N.D. – Tuesday marked an important moment in the history of Valley City and its neighbor to the north, Devils Lake.

“This is a joint meeting of the Devils Lake Outlet Management Advisory Committee and also the Devils Lake Outlet Advisory Committee,” said Gov. Jack Dalrymple. “If that’s confusing you, you’re not the only one.”

Dalrymple formed the joint committee by executive order to include additional voices in the discussion of the state’s plan to drain water from Devils Lake into the Sheyenne River. The most vocal of the new voices was Barnes County Commissioner Cindy Schwehr, who represented the county alongside Valley City representative Mary Lee Nielson.

“It’s very heart-wrenching,” Schwehr said of the losses suffered by Devils Lake area residents. “I think we’re all well aware that the water needs to come (downstream). It needs to come, but it needs to come with control.”

Devils Lake has grown tremendously over the last 20 years, increasing in surface area from 120 square miles in 1991 to 819 square miles last year. The level of the lake was at approximately 1,453 feet above mean sea level on the day of the meeting. At 1,458 feet, the lake will naturally overflow causing catastrophic damage to areas downstream.

Construction of a pump outlet on East Devils Lake is nearly complete and it will start pumping water through approximately five miles of 96-inch pipe next month. An existing outlet on the west end has been expanded to pump 250 cubic feet per second which will blend with the 350 cfs coming out of the new outlet. The aim of the outlets is to lower the lake to an elevation of 1,446 feet above msl.

“Where we are heading is that in June, at some point, we will declare an emergency situation and we will begin to operate our outlets and begin to move water to the Sheyenne, and we will begin a very careful monitoring process so we know week by week exactly what inputs we’re having on the Sheyenne River Valley,” Dalrymple said. “We will then probably just wait until we see what the actual impacts are. We can speculate and we can guess pretty well, but nothing will matter until we can actually see what’s happening.”

On Wednesday, Schwehr said she felt the meeting went well and it was a learning experience for her.

“We, meaning downstream, were listened to and I think they’re open to our feelings and how we think things ought to be,” Schwehr said.