STATEMENT OF SENATOR BYRON L. DORGAN
BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
OCTOBER 23, 1997

Mr. Chairman, thank you for giving us the opportunity to discuss with the Committee the impact of flooding at Devils Lake in North Dakota and the need for an emergency outlet for its flood waters. Devils Lake, one of only two major lakes in North American with no usual outlet, rises or falls with the weather. Since 1993, the beginning of our current wet cycle, the lake has doubled in surface area and tripled in volume, increasing from 40,000 acres to 105,000 acres today and continued rising is expected. The lake has grown to nearly 200 square miles or an area approximately three times the size of the District of Columbia.

A DEVASTATING PROBLEM WARRANTS ATTENTION

High waters have cut off roads, destroyed houses, flooded farms and devastated the local economy. For example, the area near the lake has sustained over $200 million in damage with another $30 million expected by next spring. Over 300 families have lost their homes with another 50 at risk in the next six months. Residents of the Spirit Lake Nation must travel an additional 40 miles for medical services and the tribe's major source of business income and jobs, a multimillion dollar casino, has been virtually cut off and its patrons are dwindling.

The local, state and federal governments have each spent millions on raising roads and diking flood waters yet their combined efforts will not be enough to stop additional damage. The federal government alone has spent $ 68 million to preserve transportation infrastructure.

North Dakota is suffering from a real emergency -- one that requires emergency measures. We can't afford to do nothing and wait for the waters to recede. It's simply too costly, economically, environmentally and in harm to human lives. To cite just one example, you just saw on the tape how flooding has affected rancher Duane Howard. Because of losses from high water he has been forced to cash in his retirement, insurance and a small inheritance, yet his family will still have troubling making ends meet.

Mr. Chairman, we can't wait the six to ten years a regular Corps flood control project process would require. Each year we wait costs federal taxpayers additional millions in compensation on top of the $210 million already paid out under a variety of federal programs ranging from highway renovations to increased diking.

Doing nothing also risks harm to the environment since, unmanaged, the floodwater will spill out of the lake from an area of poor water quality. Once the lake reaches an elevation of 1457 feet it will overflow sending poor quality water down the Sheyenne River and into the Red River Valley. This highly saline water will not only wreak havoc on downstream drinking water systems, it will also ruin thousands of acres of valuable farmland.

A COMPREHENSIVE SOLUTION IS RECOMMENDED

But this catastrophe can be avoided by a combination of raising levees, relocating property, raising roads, increasing water storage in the upper basin and building an emergency outlet Since no one flood-control strategy can do the whole job, our delegation supports using all of these methods together in a comprehensive water management effort. This is a strategy recommended by a joint federal-state task force which Mike Armstrong headed and about which he will speak.

Mr. Chairman, North Dakota and the federal government are devoting a considerable amount of money and effort to programs promoting upper basin water storage one part of a comprehensive program. In the six counties within the Devils,Lake Basin over 430,000 acres are enrolled in the conservation reserve program (CRP). Much of these CRP acres are either under water or saturated thereby effectively serving as water storage areas. The Devils Lake region is also the location of over $ 1.5 million worth of federal and state water bank contracts for upper basin storage with another $500,000 applied for under the emergency watershed program. Another $3.2 million has been spent on public lands water storage. May I underscore that the North Dakota delegation sought and obtained funding for upper basin storage before we even requested outlet funding. However, these efforts are not enough to prevent future floods. A multi-faceted problem demands a multi-faceted solution - a solution which includes the construction of an emergency outlet.

AN EMERGENCY OUTLET IS NEEDED

I'd like to take a few minutes to address the questions raised about the effects of building an emergency outlet. First, an outlet is not an inlet. It doesn't transfer water and organisms from the Missouri Basin to the Red River Basin and the Hudson Bay watershed. It can't since it is not even connected to the Missouri. The Devils Lake Basin is part of the Red River Basin. The outlet is just a controlled man-made drain preventing uncontrolled overflow that would occur once the lake reaches an elevation of 1457 feet.

An outlet also gives us some control over both the quality and the quantity of water flowing downstream and a chance to avoid the worst effects of unmanaged flows into the Sheyenne and Red Rivers. It releases the best quality water from the western end of the lake and times the releases to take into account downstream interests.

An outlet makes good economic sense and is strongly supported by the Administration whose own Fiscal Year 1997 Disaster Supplemental Appropriations bill included $32.5 million for its construction. Because of the unique nature of flooding in a closed basin, traditional cost/ benefit rules don't really apply to the Devils Lake Outlet. Unlike river floods our high waters.