Statement of Representative Earl Pomeroy
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
Devils Lake Emergency Outlet
Thursday, October 23, 1997

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing. In my remarks I will discuss three points.

First there is virtually unanimous agreement among those with actual responsibility for dealing with this problem that a controlled measured outlet is an important component of attempting to manage this significant flooding problem.

Second, while this hearing focuses on the outlet, extensive efforts have been made on the other two major lines of response, upper basin storage and infrastructure investment to deal with the flooding levels already experienced.

Third, while this is an emergency and quick response is required, the process underway will involve fiill NEPA review of the outlet prior to its construction.

Think of the most significant water problem being experienced in your state. Given the complexity of water issues and the sharply differing perspectives that inevitably exist across stakeholders, I would be surprised if virtually all agencies and elected officials - local, state, and federal - agree how to deal with it.

That is, however, the case in North Dakota with the Devils Lake outlet. At the state level, the Governor, each member of the Congressional Delegation, the state legislature and State Water Commission, all agree that a controlled outlet is part of the answer. Consensus at the state level is particularly striking in light of the fact that most of the people of North Dakota live downstream.

I was born and raised downstream of Devils Lake, literally on the banks of the Sheyenne River. I used to represent my hometown Valley City in the legislature. Numerically speaking, I represent a lot more downstream North Dakotans than upstream.

Yet, I am for this outlet - like all other public officials - because it can be done in a way compatible with downstream interests and there is no other way to meahingfiilly respond to the significant threat of much more severe flooding from the rising waters of Devils Lake.

I am not saying there aren't opposing views on the outlet. Any tough public problem produces those who hold differing conclusions. Yet among those with actual responsibility for dealing with this problem there is complete agreement. We don't have the luxury of viewing this in an academic light or with the geological perspective covering thousands of years. People are being hurt, farm and businesses are being destroyed and a town is threatened. Those are the needs here, and how we have had to respond to them.

I would add that across the federal agencies involved a strong consensus exists that an outlet is part of the solution.

We do not seek the outlet as a silver bullet answer to this vexing problem - pull the bathtub stopper and the water goes away. If only it was that simple!

Two other lines of attack have been pushed as intensely as possible. These are increasing water storage upstream of the lake and addressing infrastructure and housing needs as the lake continues to rise.

Upper basin storage is very important yet not easily achieved. Most of the potential storage exists on land which has been under active cultivation for many many years. These productive acres are critical to the family farmers making their living off of these lands.

Accordingly, we have pursued a strategy of making maximum use of public lands and building a variety of financial incentive programs to achieve water storage on private land.

As a delegation, at every opportunity we have sought to increase federal support for additional water storage. The most significant result in terms of acreage numbers involves the Conservation Reserve Program.

Local efforts to maintain infrastructure have been significant. More than $17 million has been used to relocate 200 homes and businesses under a National Flood Insurance Program waiver from FEMA. The Federal Highway Administration has spent more than $68 million in the lake region to repair and maintain major roadways. Work to raise the levee protecting the city of Devils Lake is underway. The Corps of Engineers will spend $43 million to protect the city from a lake level of 1450. These are just some of the efforts undertaken to preserve and relocate infrastructure.

Finally, the language in the fiscal year 1998 Energy and Water Appropriations bill passed by Congress requires that the emergency outlet be environmentally acceptable in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). In accordance with the legislation, the NEPA process will be completed. However, the emergency nature of Devils Lake, as declared by the President for the past four years, requires the NEPA process to be expedited. The average NEPA process take two to four years. We cannot wait years to complete the process, but yet we want the impacts to be studied. Under this emergency, the necessary studies will occur concurrently with construction, and in fiill compliance with NEPA.

We have spent more than $210 million in federal aid to Devils Lake. Upper basin storage and infrastructure relocation continue to be successfi1l efforts. The remaining piece of the puzzle is construction of the emergency outlet. The Corps estimates the total cost of the project to be $45 million which would have a 65 percent federal- and 35 percent state- cost share under the 1996 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). Considering the sizeable investment in what has so far been a band-aid approach to the Devils Lake flooding, construction of the outlet is cost-effective, responsible and necessary in order to frilly implement the three-legged response to the disaster.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the emergency outlet with you and the committee.