LAKE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE
524 4th Avenue #12
Devils Lake ND 58301
VERN THOMPSON, JOE BELFORD CO-CHAIRS
October 23, 1997 Testimony on Devils Lake Outlet

Chairman Chafee, and members of the authorization committee on Senate Environmental and Public Works: For the record my name is Joe Belford. I am a Ramsey County Commissioner in North Dakota. I Co-chair the Lake Emergency Management Committee, which includes elected officials from the Devils Lake Basin. I also am Vice-Chairman and the North Dakota representative of the Red River Basin Board, which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Manitoba.

With me to answer any questions are two elected officials. Fred Bott is the Mayor of Devils Lake and a member of the Lake Emergency Management Committee. Vern Thompson is a State Senator and Mayor of Minnewaukan. Mayor Thompson is also Co-chair of the Lake Emergency Management Committee with me.

Emergency Today -- Started In 1993

Thank you for the opportunity to testify before your committee. We have a serious emergency flood on our hands in the Devils Lake Basin. The flooding started in June of 1993. At the time, the lake was at an elevation of 1422.6 mean sea level (msl). Devils Lake continues to be one of the most important lakes in North Dakota for milking walleye and northern pike eggs to reproduce and stock fish across the state. The low elevation caused concern for a fish kill potentially impacting the whole state's fishery.

About the same time flooding started in the Missouri and Mississippi River regions, we began to receive heavy rains. The summer of "93" we received about 45 inches of rain in the upper part of the Devils Lake Basin. Since that time, we continue to receive heavy precipitation through rain or snow. A Presidential disaster declaration has been signed for our area every year since 1993. The lake started out covering about 40,000 acres of land in 1993. Since then, the lake has risen over 20 feet. The lake has more than doubled in size, and tripled in volume. Devils Lake peaked this summer just under 1443 msl. The lake now covers about 105,000 acres. In 1993 there was 500,000 cubic feet of water in Devils Lake. The lake raised 5 feet just this summer, increasing the volume of water in it as much as it had in 1993 (500,000 more cubic feet).

Unlike A River Flood -- No End To Damages

This flood is unlike any river flood, such as you saw this spring in Grand Forks. A river flood will crest by a certain date and elevation. The flooding in Devils Lake continues to grow like a cancer, with no end. To date, estimated damages are over $200 million dollars. The question we must answer is, do we want to manage the water, or let the water manage us? If we continue to let the water manage us, we are looking at another $260 million dollars in damages, before the lake rises to an elevation of 1457 msl and overflows uncontrollable into the Sheyenne River.

Lake Moves 8 Miles -- Flooding Thousands of Acres

To illustrate how the lake has grown, the town of Minnewaukan which Mayor Thompson represents, was located 8 miles from the shores of Devils Lake. The lake moved to the town's edge causing them to move their lagoon system. Included in the 8 miles of new lake bottom are thousands of acres of deeded agricultural land under 20 feet of water. Farmers and ranchers, who contribute heavily to the $350 to $500 million dollar annual economic impact to the state, are being driven off the land and are losing their livelihood.

City Levee Raised 10 Feet -- $51 Million Cost

Mayor Bott and the city of Devils Lake are in the process of building an extension to the levee system. It protects the lagoon system and a major portion of the town. This is the second 5 foot levee raise in two years. The cost of the levee raises will total $51 million dollars. The city is the economic hub of this region of the state, providing airport and hospital care facilities.

County And Township Disasters

As a county commissioner we are in the process of trying to deal with over 200 homes being moved or destroyed because of the rising water. A number of homes had to be burned on site because there are not enough movers to relocate the homes fast enough. This is causing catastrophic impacts to our local government. Property owners are asking for abatements, in fact on Tuesday night the commission acted on 105 property abatements on their property taxes. This affects schools, townships, city, county, and eventually state government services. If the lake continues to rise as much last year as it did this year another 50 homes in Ramsey County will be affected valued at another $3 to $4 million dollars.

Hundreds of county and township roads are inundated by the rising lake. This is causing severe health and safety concerns. Emergency services for health and safety are at risk because of the closed roads. State and US highways are closed at times because of the wave action flowing across the roads makes them unsafe.

Spirit Lake Nation Emergencies

The Spirit Lake Nation Indian Reservation is experiencing economic disaster because of road closings to the $14 million dollar resort and casino. The roads closed cause emergency vehicles to travel up to 55 miles, when normally it is a 6 mile drive to the local hospital. It will cost in excess of $15 million to build a bridge across the lake to provide emergency access. About 83 homes are in the process of being moved on the reservation, and thousands of acres of tribal trust lands are being affected.

Comprehensive Solutions

We are trying to come up with a comprehensive solution to our flooding problems. They include a partnership of federal, state, and local governments working together towards a holistic approach. The 3 legged stool approach we talk about includes;

1. management of water in the upper basin

2. protection and moving of infrastructure

3. an emergency outlet

No leg can stand on its' own!

Upper Basin Management

To manage water in the upper basin, we are encouraging farmers to sign-up for various programs. Some of these programs include; Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Wetlands Reverse Program (WRP), State Water Bank Program, Available Storage Acreage Program (ASAP) and other federal or state programs.

Last springs' CRP sign-up had 1 out of every 5 farmers sign up. A new sign-up is taking place this fall. We anticipate a record sign-up, taking more land out of production and producing new wetland areas. We expect nearly all the available State Water Bank moneys to be spent in the Devils Lake Basin. The ASAP program is providing valuable returns for additional wetlands storage. Agriculture is the main economy of our region and the state. It is a challenge to convince farmers, who at one time were subsidized by the government to create drains, to get them to plug the same dredged channels. We recognize this is not the total answer. As our state Geologist Dr. John Blumlie says, agriculture practices have little to do with the flooding of Devils Lake. Since the glacier period the lake has risen and overflowed to the Sheyenne different times before man ever settled the area. We continue diligently in our efforts in this area.

Emergency Infrastructure Response

To protect the infrastructure we move and relocate threatened structures, raise essential roads, and build dikes and levees to protect other infrastructure. Over 5 million cubic yards of dirt have been added to the state roads to raise them out of the water. About $62 million has been spent on state and US road raises in our area. The cost escalates dramatically as the lake raises higher.

Emergency Outlet Tool

The emergency outlet is a management tool that will allow us to release a controlled quantity and quality of water without harming our downstream neighbors. We believe it is an environmentally and economically smart project. A controlled emergency outlet can prevent a possible environmental and economic disaster down the road. The proposed west end outlet, uses the best quality of water in Devils Lake. This water is very similar to what is in the Sheyenne presently. It would be released into the Sheyenne River during non- flooding or flood potential times. We are confident that a properly managed outlet will meet water quality standards in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Manitoba. In our view, it would be irresponsible to do nothing and let the waters continue to rise uncontrollable.

House On Fire -- Livelihoods At Risk

Our homes, schools, churches, communities, and livelihoods are at risk. Quite frankly our house is on fire and we need tools to work with to put out the fire. In our view, we need to move forward with authorization and funding, so downstream people in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Manitoba do not have to suffer the pain and heartache we have been going through the last 5 precipitation seasons.

We thank you for your support to date, and plead for your continued help as we deal with this monster of a problem. If you have any questions Mayor Bott, Sen. Thompson, or I would be happy to try and answer them.

Vern Thompson, Mayor of Minnewaukan, State Senator

Joe Belford, Ramsey Co. Commissioner, Red River Basin Board

Fred Bott, Mayor of Devils Lake, Member LEMC

Lake Emergency Management Committee consists of elected officials from the Devils Lake Basin

Mission Statement

"Solve short-term emergency needs that are in harmony with the long-term goals of the Devils Lake Basin. Seek implementation of a project that considers the social and environmental needs of our residents, and residents of downstream communities."