STATEMENT OF GARY PEARSON ON BEHALF OF THE DAKOTA PRARIE AUDUBON SOCIETY
PRESENTED AT THE HEARING OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
UNITED STATES SENATE
REGARDING THE PROPOSAL TO CONSTRUCT AN OUTLET FROM DEVILS LAKE TO THE SHEYENNE
RIVER IN NORTH DAKOTA
OCTOBER 23, 1997

Chairman Chafee, Members of the Committee, Senator Conrad, Senator Dorgan, and Congressman Pomeroy, my name is Gary Pearson, and I am appearing here this morning on behalf of the Dakota Prairie Audubon Society at Jamestown, North Dakota. We have already submitted to the Committee our-detailed written statement on the Devils Lake Outlet proposal.

The rising level of Devils Lake in recent years has caused millions of dollars of damage to roads and other developments and has created tremendous hardships for many people living near the lake. The problems are serious, and they require solutions that are effective, are based on sound hydrologic and engineering analyses, and are economically justified and environmentally responsible. Unfortunately, the proposed emergency outlet from Devils Lake to the Sheyenne River fails--and fails dismally--to meet any of these criteria.

In considering the problems created by the high water levels at Devils Lake, it is necessary to recognize that we are dealing with a natural phenomenon, but a man-made disaster.

Devils Lake has never been a stable lake, and over the past 4,000 years, it has been completely dry five times, it has overflowed to the Sheyenne River twice, and it has fluctuated between these extremes another eight times. As the level of the lake continued to decline in the first half of this century, roads, railroads and other developments encroached more and more on the dry lake bed. Simultaneously, agricultural development resulted in extensive drainage of wetlands throughout the watershed. it is now estimated that a minimum of 189,000 acres of wetlands with the capacity to store nearly a million acre-feet of water have been drained in the Devils Lake Basin. With evaporation and seepage, much of this storage was renewable. instead, however, most of that water now finds its way directly into Devils Lake.

In 1994, the Corps of Engineers calculated that an outlet would produce only $0.39 in benefits for each dollar of cost. Since then, well over $100 million have been spent to move over 300 homes and other structures, to raise roads and dikes and implement other measures to minimize the damages resulting from the high water levels, thus reducing further any benefits of an outlet. It is obvious, therefore, that the proposed outlet is devoid of economic justification.

Had the outlet been in operation when the lake began its accelerated rise in 1993, it would-have lowered the level of the lake by only 13 inches by October 1995. However, the lake still would have risen five feet, and it would have risen another five feet since 1995. The fact is, the lake has been rising five times faster than the outlet would have lowered it. in other words, the proposed outlet simply wouldn't work to prevent flooding around the lake.

The Corps' preliminary Emergency Outlet Plan notes specifically that the environmental impacts of-the proposed outlet have not been addressed, but they include destabilization, erosion and remodeling of the stream bed of the Sheyenne River, worsening of low-level situations in Devils Lake, increased mercury in downstream aquatic systems, persistent high sulfate levels in Lake Ashtabula during drought conditions, higher water treatment costs for cities using river water, and increased frequency, duration and magnitude of violations of state and international total dissolved solids standards.

However, just last week, under pressure from our North Dakota Congressional Delegation, President Clinton declared the Devils Lake outlet to be an "emergency requirement," and Senator Conrad now asserts that this somehow compels construction of the outlet without full National Environmental Policy Act compliance. We strongly disagree with this interpretation, which is neither wise policy nor a legal requirement.

Although the Corps' report was intended to "be a common reference for discussions," despite widespread opposition, little factual information has been provided to the public and no forum has been established to permit meaningful public participation in decisions regarding the outlet.

While the North Dakota.Congressional Delegation is telling the Congress that it has abandoned all thoughts of seeking authorization for an inlet and now is interested only in an outlet from Devils Lake, politicians and proponents of the outlet are telling a very different story back in North Dakota. By their own admissions, North Dakota politicians and water development interests are steadfastly pursing a piecemeal strategy to construct an inlet to Devils Lake.

It is important to recognize that effective solutions are available and already are being implemented to deal with the problems at Devils Lake. However, Governor Schafer has said, "We are very intent on getting an outlet and we don't want to reduce the pressure on getting an outlet by making an investment in the infrastructure" (Attachment No. 7 to written statement). There is no question that the real motivation behind North Dakota's pursuit of an ineffective and economically infeasible Devils Lake outlet has little to do with any emergency, but is simply another element of the State's strategy for piecemealing together its plan for a $1.5 billion Garrison Diversion project.

In fact, just this week, the U. S. Geological Survey released a new report indicating that the "[o]dds are Devils Lake will stabilize and then start to slowly fall over the next several years." It is evident, therefore, that the most pressing emergency facing proponents of the Devils Lake Outlet is getting it built before the lake begins to drop.

In view of the many people downstream in North Dakota and in other states and Canada who would be affected by an outlet from Devils Lake but have been deprived of meaningful participation in decisions regarding the proposal, we strongly recommend that this Committee reiterate to the President and the Executive Branch the requirements that the Congress has specified in the FY 1998 Energy and Water Development Appropriations Act must be met before construction may be initiated on a Devils Lake Outlet.