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View the Devils Lake Water Diversion Project Timeline

The Devils Lake Outlet Project

Devils lake barrier The Devils Lake outlet is a US$28 million project to pump excess water from Devils Lake into the Sheyenne River, which flows into the Red River, across the border into Canada, and then to Lake Winnipeg and Hudson's Bay.

The Government of Manitoba, in particular Premier Gary Doer, has made this issue a primary focus and a great deal of attention has been generated in the media. Manitoba is concerned about the possible ecological and economic risks of transferring water into Manitoba's Red River system from a lake that is land-locked and polluted. North Dakota sees the outlet as a solution to the flooding caused by the rising lake.

The Devils Lake outlet is scheduled to become operational early in August 2005.

downloadDownload Water Issue Fact Sheet #2 - The Devils Lake Outlet Project mwl owl (PDF)
View Manitoba Wildlands news items on Devils Lake:
Great Lakes Mayor Back Manitoba - May 31, 2005 mwl owl
Citizen Action on Proposed Devils Lake Outlet - May 12, 2005 mwl owl
Devils Lake Outlet Hangs in the Balance - April 28, 2005 mwl owl

Devils Lake Deal?

Devil's LakePoliticians on both sides of the border are praising an 'agreement' reached Friday August 5, 2005 that allows North Dakota to proceed with its plan to divert water from Devils Lake into the Sheyenne River and into the Red River. Critics of the Devils Lake Outlet project are not convinced that the deal is a good one for Canada and Manitoba.

In the interim, the water from Devils Lake will begin to flow through an existing rock and gravel filter, but the 'agreement' includes co-operation on a downstream monitoring program and a commitment to build a more sophisticated filtration system for the outlet. Officials from the governments of North Dakota, Minnesota, Manitoba, the United States and Canada say they will also explore ways to ensure harmful water organisms aren't transferred to Canada.

The water in Devils Lake contains high levels of salts, arsenic, boron, mercury and phosphorus.

In an interview, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, who has crusaded to halt the Devils Lake project and secure a referral of the project to the International Joint Commission for review, conceded that "It's not 100 per cent perfect, but it's a lot of improvement from where we were a few months ago when we had nothing. We've got major, major improvements to keep our water as safe as we can."

However, those non-governmental groups that have been pushing for the environmental concerns about the project to be addressed, as well as some politicians, have outright criticized the deal or at least conceded its weaknesses.

Beatrice Olivastri, chief executive of Friends of the Earth (FOE), questioned how the deal will be enforced and how disagreements will be handled. FOE has campaigned for a referral to the IJC. While indicating that any project should be subject to the polluter pays principal, she said that on the threat to Canadian waters and fishers the 'deal' does nothing to safeguard Manitoba and Canada's environment today.

Frank McKenna, Canada's ambassador to the United States, who handled Canada - US negotiations last week, has admitted that the 'agreement' is not "legally binding" and will require more negotiation before it is completed.

downloadDownload Manitoba Wildlands' Summary and Critique - Devils Lake 'Agreement' mwl owl (PDF)
View August 5, 2005 Government of Manitoba press release
View Office of the Governor of North Dakota's August 3, 2005 statement and August 5, 2005 press release
View Grand Forks Herald articles on Devils Lake: August 6 &, August 9, 2005
View previous Manitoba Wildlands news items regarding Devils Lake by going to our News Archives page and selecting WATER

Devils Lake Study Released

The joint study agreed to by North Dakota to allay Canadian concerns regarding invasive species and foreign biota flowing from Devils Lake north to Lake Winnipeg was released on November 15, 2005.

The study indicates that none of the 12 invasive species Manitoba identified as being of concern were found in Devils Lake.

Terry Aislin cartoon
By Terry Aislin, Montreal Gazette
Large Image
The tests did, however reveal biota of potential concern that have not been previously found in Lake Winnipeg. Four types of blue-green algae not found in Lake Winnipeg were identified in Devils Lake. These algae are potential species of concern to Manitoba as they are capable of producing toxins. Three fish parasites were found that are potential species of concern for Manitoba as they are not known to be present in Lake Winnipeg or the Hudson Bay basin and all have the capability to impact fish. Two of the parasites (Gyrodactylus hoffmani and Epistylis) had been found previously in Devils Lake while a third (Trichodina) was discovered during this study.

The multi-agency study was overseen by the White House's Council on Environmental Quality. Manitoba also produced its own report on the study. The study also included additional work on fish pathogens and parasites as well as a study of the phytoplankton, zooplankton and the bottom-dwelling invertebrate community in Devils and Stump lakes.

View November 15, 2005 Manitoba Water Stewardship press release
View November 16, 2005 Governor of North Dakota press release
downloadDownload White House's Council on Environmental Quality report Survey of Specific Fish Pathogens in Free-Ranging Fish from Devils Lake (PDF)
downloadDownload November 15, 2005 Winnipeg Free Press article (DOC)
downloadDownload November 16, 2005 Winnipeg Free Press article (DOC)
Sources: Government of Manitoba, Governor of North Dakota, Winnipeg Free Press

Devils Lake Appeal Heard in Court

scales of justice image On March 2, 2007, North Dakota's District Court heard arguments in Manitoba's challenge of the North Dakota Department of Health decision to modify the Devils Lake outlet operating permit.

The legal challenge was filed September 2006 by the Manitoba government, People to Save the Sheyenne River, the Peterson Coulee Outlet Association, and the US National Wildlife Federation.

In August 2006, North Dakota's Department of Health modified the Devils Lake operating permit to allow higher levels of sulfates to be discharged from the lake to the Sheyenne River and expanded the time period each year during which the outlet can be operated. The Devils Lake outlet did not operate in 2006 because sulphate levels in the adjacent Sheyenne River were above state guidelines.

Raising the allowable limit for sulphate, and extending the operating period, will increase the amount of water discharged from Devils Lake. Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick says this increases the risk that foreign biota will be transferred into Manitoba.

Manitoba's legal challenge is based on the assertion that North Dakota failed to demonstrate adequate cause for the permit modifications and failed to conduct an anti-degradation review as required for a major permit modification.

A decision by the Court regarding Manitoba's appeal is expected by the end of April 2007.

View March 2, 2007 Government of Manitoba press release
Source: Government of Manitoba

Devils Lake Update - June 2007 Outlet Operation,
ND Supreme Court Appeal, House of Commons Motion

North Dakota opened the Devils Lake outlet gates for the first time in 2007 June 11, 2007, at 2:00pm. Water began flowing, despite the promised new, sophisticated filter not being installed, and the first year of International Joint Commission (IJC) testing results not being public. The Manitoba government is taking its appeal of the decision to weaken the outlets environmental standards to the North Dakota Supreme Court.

An account from a local farmer who investigated the outlet June 13th suggests the 'temporary' filter - a rudimentary rock and gravel barrier - put in place in 2005 - is allowing fish to move through the outlet. The 2005 agreement between Canada and the United States includes installing an advanced filter that would filter out pollutants and organisms in the water.

FOE, law books, Canada logo Friends of the Earth Canada has written an open letter to Prime Minister Harper, President George Bush, Premier Gary Doer, Manitoba, North Dakota Governor John Hoeven and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, calling the leaders to account for their commitments to make public first year IJC testing results, and to report on installation of the advanced filter or disinfection system.

Rejection of its March 2007 challenge in North Dakota's District Court of the ND Department of Health decision to modify the Devils Lake outlet operating permit caused Manitoba to launch a further appeal. Along with several US environmental organizations, Manitoba announced its appeal of the North Dakota Supreme Court June 13th, 2007.

In 2006, the North Dakota Health Department made a decision that weakened the sulphate standards of the outlet's original operating permit, allowing for Devils Lake waters to be discharged into the Sheyenne River. Sulphate levels are estimated to be 10 times higher in Devils Lake than in Lake Winnipeg.

Manitoba is also concerned about alien species being transferred from Devils Lake downstream into the Sheyenne River and Hudson Bay basin, which includes Lake Winnipeg.

Canadian Members of Parliament rallied support for resolving the Devils Lake issue. Led by Winnipeg North MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis, fifty federal politicians voted unanimously in favour of a motion calling on Ottawa to pressure the United States and North Dakota to close the controversial Devils Lake outlet.

The Manitoba government asked the Canadian government to press U.S. federal government to remove North Dakota's delegated authority under sections of the U.S. Clean Water Act. The decision to delegate this authority to North Dakota allowed the state to unilaterally change the outlet's operating permit.

View June 15, 2007 CBC article
View June 13, 2007 Manitoba Government press release
View June 13, 2007 FOE Canada open letter to US and Canadian politicians
View June 14, 2007 letter to FOE Canada from Farmer, Leo Walker
Sources: CBC, Government of Manitoba, Friends of the Earth Canada

Auditor General Petitioned on Devils Lake Outlet

MB Chambers of Commerce logo Friends of the Earth Canada and the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce have joined together to petition the Auditor General of Canada to ensure Canadian politicians and officials protect Canadian waters against the impacts associated with the Devils Lake Outlet.

The Petition submitted June 12, 2008 calls for public disclosure by Canada's Ministers of the Environment and Foreign Affairs on matters agreed to by Canada and the US in the August 2005 Multi-layered Safeguard Agreement.

Under the 2005 Agreement, Canada and the US were expected to work together on the construction of an advanced filtration/disinfection system, a monitoring system for water quality and aquatic nuisance species and take immediate measures to prevent the spread of any aquatic nuisance species that pose significant risk to the Basin. Although almost three years have passed, the advanced filtration system is still not operational and there is no firm timetable as to when construction will be complete.

Officials are set to reissue a permit to continue operating the Devils Lake outlet with only a rudimentary gravel filter in place - it will allow unaltered operation of the outlet until 2013.

The Petitioners want a public explanation as to measures being taken to ensure the advanced filtration system is constructed and the 2005 agreement upheld. If the advanced filtration system is not going to be constructed, the Petitioners want to know what consideration is being given to permanently shutting down the Outlet.

View June 12, 2008 Friends of the Earth (FOE) press release
View June 12, 2008 petition to the Auditor General, federal Environment Minister, and Minister of Foreign Affairs by FOE Canada and Manitoba Chambers of Commerce (PDF)
View June 16, 2008 North Dakota News Network article
Source: Friends of the Earth Canada, Manitoba Chamber of Commerce

View the Devils Lake Water Diversion Project Timeline

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