(man) It's difficult to control Mother Nature.
(2nd man) Everybody's very cautiously optimistic.
(3rd man) Seems like we're receiving the bad things
and not getting a lot of help with it.
(4th man) You can't blame people for being really upset
by what was happening to their farms, their roads,
their communities, their way of life up there.
(woman) Funding for "Mother Nature in Charge:
Devils Lake, the Dilemma"
is provided in part by a grant from
Ramsey National Bank and Trust Company, Devils Lake
with branches in Fargo, Esmond,
Maddock, Rugby, Cando, and Cavalier,
Bergstrom Cars with Lake Chevy,
Marketplace Ford, and Lake Toyota in Devils Lake;
Nodak Electric Cooperative, Grand Forks, and by...
..."On for You."
(Matt Olien, narrator) The residents of the Devils Lake Basin
have been dealing with water issues since 1993,
when strong rains drastically raised the level of Devils Lake.
The issue reached a crisis in the spring of 2011
after a very snowy winter and wet spring.
The potential solution-- a new East End Outlet
to be built near Tolna.
We have a lot of issues and a lot of differences of opinion,
but we've had a lot of financial help
from the federal government.
(man) We were told for years don't even think about the east end.
And then we started thinking about it.
The challenge of this whole situation
is to remove as much water from Devils Lake as you possibly can,
without having any serious harmful effects
on the Sheyenne River.
So we're in this balancing act, where we're trying to release
as much as we can without having
an adverse effect on the environment.
(narrator) Governor Dalrymple's direction to state engineers,
hydrologists, and construction crews
was aggressive to say the least.
While Devils Lake already had an existing West End Outlet,
engineers and officials determined a new outlet
on the east side of Devils Lake
was the only way to move water quickly off the lake
and alleviate what had become a crisis situation
that had been going on since the early 1990s.
Working feverishly through the mild winter and spring,
construction of the crucial new 63-million dollar
East End Outlet and control structure
was completed in June 2012, under budget.
The mild winter was good in a lot of ways.
First of all, no big snowpack to deal with,
but we were very pleased because I made the decision
that we were going to go forward full bore a year ago,
with the construction of the control structure
and the East Devils Lake Outlet.
And the engineers told me that they thought
they could have all that done within two years.
I told them, I said, "No, two years is not fast enough.
"We need these facilities done in one year."
And they set their minds to it, put it on a fast track,
and we had the East Devils Lake Outlet operating this spring,
and we also had a control structure in place
in case things had really gone bad.
(Todd Sando) Having an open winter and lack
of a major flood this spring really made a difference.
Last year at this time we started construction
on a second outlet called East Devils Lake Outlet,
and we basically built that
in 9 months and had it operational this past June.
And we went through a testing period,
testing the pipes and the pumps and worked our way through that,
and it's been running really well since.
So our goal is to blend west end water with east end water
'cause we had to worry about downstream to deal with
the concerns in the Sheyenne River and the receiving Red River.
So far the water quality, we're doing a good job balancing it,
staying within water quality constraints that we have
and right now, water coming out of Baldhill Dam
we're around 600 sulphate levels, so we're
really getting a lot of water out of East Devils Lake end,
the West End Outlet.
We've hired engineering firms to help, I mean because
it's such a bubble of work in our state too,
so our engineering firm that helped design the project,
our contractors to build an outlet in 9 months,
$75 million outlet in 9 months is incredible.
(narrator) The outlet and the dry conditions
have coupled to reduce the level of Devils Lake
from a dangerous 1454 feet in summer of 2011
to nearly 1451 feet by the winter of 2012 and 2013.
That's why we designed our outlets;
we could take the water down to 46 on the east end,
45 on the west end, so yeah, that's kind of the numbers
that we're shooting for.
We'd definitely like to get the lake below 1450
and keep trying to get it lower.
This is just what the doctor ordered.
This dry year that we've had this year,
our estimates, about 12 inches of net evaporation,
and that means the evaporation that comes off the lake
minus the precipitation that falls on it.
In the past 20 years, that's averaged about 6 inches a year.
I think it worked out relatively well, as good as can be expected.
I think the state was true to their word
and it was pumping water at 350 cubic feet per second
or close to it for most of the summer,
and it worked out, worked out as good as could be expected.
(narrator) But the engineering marvel was and is not without controversy.
And many Devils Lake officials and farmers
were not convinced back in 2011.
I think the East End Outlet's going to work fine,
but I believe it was a lot of unnecessary money spent.
And they could have had the outlet right where
the control structure is and worked it together,
rather than spend the 90 million bucks.
And we're lucky the State of North Dakota's got the money.
The concept of an east end outlet was unheard of.
I mean, you brought the subject up around certain officials,
they had to leave the room.
To actually go from that level to an operating East End Outlet,
yeah, there's a lot of critics that say
it doesn't move enough water,
that it's too expensive to operate electricity,
and those are all valid points.
But just to be moving water out of the east end
is a huge step forward for Devils Lake.
Gravity would be the preferred method
of moving water out of here.
We're very appreciative to the state for the work that they've
done on the state outlets, but they had their limitations.
And everybody understand those limitations
and we would certainly like to see a gravity-based outlet
for the long-term solution to Devils Lake.
It's on a back burner, set to low.
(narrator) But with the initial success of the East End Outlet,
Devils Lake officials are, for now, no longer jointly proposing
and pushing for the once popular gravity outlet,
which critics say brought with it the potential issues
of releasing too much water downstream
and water that may be too high in sulfates.
Gravity flow outlet is attractive
in the sense that longer term
you don't have these tremendous pumping costs
and the maintenance and all the costs of that.
But as of now,
we're having great success with our two outlets.
I never had any trouble understanding
why people were upset.
I'm a farmer myself, and all I could think about
was, you know, if my farm went completely underwater,
how would I feel about that?
(narrator) And downstream in the Valley City area,
opposition to the East End Outlet remains.
The Sheyenne River is a class IA stream, which should accord it
the highest level of protection for beneficial uses.
With the East Devils Lake Outlet,
I don't think that that was done.
You know, there are specific provisions,
things like easements need to be done.
There were no easements given.
Biota water quality has to be addressed.
Well, the state engineers' comment was that
we addressed it but that doesn't mean
we have to do anything about it, basically.
(narrator) One challenge facing engineers and state officials
is the North Dakota climate.
While the winter of 2011-2012 was very mild,
it's too early to tell if this represents a new drier trend,
and the pumps releasing water out of the East End Outlet
and its sister West End Outlet cannot run in the winter.
Just because we have a dry year this year,
does not mean that the future is going to be dry.
It's a large basin; it depends on what happens
over a very large number of years to dry the system.
(narrator) And if there is a return to a snowy winter and wet spring,
everyone will watch in anticipation
if the pumps and the new outlet
can keep up when faced with a bigger challenge.
We've made so much headway this year
that we can probably handle,
we can handle the '11 event or the '09 event.
If we can get one more good year like we've had this year,
another year of pumping and not have a major event,
there's a good chance we can win this battle.
Devils Lake is either going up or it's going down,
it never stays the same.
It's, it's, and that depends on what we get for weather.
What a difference a year can make.
It was really remarkable, 2011 we had
such a significant amount of water flow into Devils Lake--
we set a record for inflow as you know,
just about 600,000 acre-feet.
2012 we had a relatively dry year, and you know,
we had virtually no spring runoff,
we didn't go up any in the lake,
we continued to come back down from the high that we set
in June of 2011, we were no longer losing roads
or losing homes and having another farmstead go underwater
and different things like that.
We're actually gaining land back.
We ended up gaining about 30,000 acres back this year.
(narrator) The mood in the Devils Lake Basin in 2012 compared to 2011,
is like night and day.
A nearly 3-foot drop in the lake in over a year, due to
a mild winter, a summer drought, and the new East End Outlet,
has farmers in particular reclaiming lost acres.
This spring we did get a couple hundred acres seeded
more than we did last year.
We still have about a half a cropland that we can farm
that did not get seeded this year.
But I'm an eternal optimist and always have been, and if we can
have another good winter like we did this past one,
and when Mother Nature helps and we can gradually
move things off with the outlet water
and not damage our friends to the south,
and still get water off Devils Lake, it's a plus for everyone.
We've gotten 700 acres more seeded this year
than we did last year, and that was due
to the dry fall and dry winter.
Now basically, out of my house over there,
I could look west and I could see an ocean last summer.
This year, there's startin' to be some land out there.
We've got one that's an island that we built a road to,
and we seeded this spring; we got across and seeded it.
And yeah, that's a pretty high corridor.
Every foot that lake drops is equivalent to probably close to
10,000 acres right now of very productive farmland.
Last year, at the peak tell right now,
the lake has receded and uncovered 27,500 acres of land.
So that's a lot of land that's not underwater
that was underwater at the peak of the flood last year.
I seeded a little over 6,000 acres.
We had an excellent spring, I mean,
because of no snow this winter, and it went really well.
(narrator) But farmers like Dan Marquart,
who lives near Doyon east of Devils Lake,
are not seeing the dramatic beneficial shifts
that farmers west of Devils Lake in the Churchs Ferry
and Minnewaukan areas saw over the past year.
The banks over here on Stump Lake are a lot steeper,
so the water, when the water comes up,
it doesn't spread out like it does up at Cando.
The water, it's got to go down at least 10 feet before we
get anything back, but I don't foresee that in my lifetime.
We have about 1500 acres I used to farm that are underwater.
We're fortunate; I got half of that in the CRP
to help the landlords out, but the other half,
we're not getting any more benefits because it's been
more than 3 years and crop insurance
won't pay for it anymore, so the income off that is lost.
(narrator) Marquart also remains firmly
in the gravity outlet was a better option camp,
citing massive monthly electricity costs
the state is incurring for running the East End Outlet.
I'm a farm kid and my brother farms
some of the worst flooded areas.
He's been spared, luckily, for most of his place.
A lot of my neighbors I grew up with are in tough shape up there.
I hate to talk about how well business has been,
because I know an awful lot of folks have been hurt.
(narrator) One of the main beneficiaries of the high lake levels,
has been the resort fishing and tourism industry.
Kyle Blanchfield's Woodland Resort,
just south of Devils Lake, continues to thrive
and even he notices the upbeat mood in the basin.
It's a nice, nice break; it's been a nice break
from what we've had to deal with for an awful long time.
From us, from a logistic standpoint,
a lot of snow makes our life tough,
because we have a very busy ice-fishing industry here too.
And that took a lot of pressure off us.
Plus, we knew that in the back of our heads,
that we are not going to be in panic mode come springtime.
Originally we were known more as a winter fishery than anything,
but we have a world-class walleye fishery now,
and we bring folks from all over the country out.
And guess what happens also when you have a lot of water?
We have these huge duck numbers.
So we have a lot of roots here; I grew up here
when the lake was coming up through the '70s,
and so it's pretty special to us and my family.
And that's why we kind of dug our heels in,
kinda drew a line on the beach and said this is it,
we're not giving up anymore.
Tourism has, has certainly increased in the lake region.
The number of resorts, and you take a look at the resorts.
They're primarily farmers that have lost
just about everything they've had, and now they've turned
to the little bit of land that they have left,
it's now lakeshore property, and they've turned that
into a resort of some sort, a campground.
(narrator) Another industry that continues to thrive in the basin
is construction, at least for now.
When the construction is completed, sometime in 2013,
and the dike protecting the City of Devils Lake will be completed,
the roads, state highways, federal highways will be completed,
the Amtrak B&S railroad line will be completed,
a lot of that construction was completed by out-of-town,
out-of-state construction workers,
and when they pack up and leave,
when their job is completed, it's going to leave a void
for restaurant, hotel industries within the Devils Lake area.
(narrator) And despite nearly 30,000 acres of reclaimed farmland
and cautious optimism, Jeff Frith is quick to point out
that things are not back to normal
and he worries the rest of the state
will now assume Devils Lake has stabilized.
We still have, you know, 165,000 acres
of deeded farmland underwater, and issued the studies,
the economic studies that NDSU compiles for us
on an annual basis starting in 2011.
This year it was $180 million annual impact
from the loss of agriculture production
because of those 165,000 acres that are underwater.
(narrator) And even a few more dry years and a potential drop
to a 1446 level that some say could be the new normal,
would bring new challenges.
That's going to be quite an interesting
public policy discussion because 1446 is the elevation
in which the water flows from Devils Lake over to Stump Lake.
The folks around Stump Lake are actually getting to where
they kind of like having a little water in Stump Lake.
So as we go below 1450, there will be more and more discussion
about where the elevation belongs.
It's the farmers; it's the landowners that you feel for.
There's been no buyout programs for them,
they lose their land, it goes underwater,
they still pay taxes on it,
but technically they no longer own it.
This is their lives; this is their livelihood.
(narrator) For now, farmers and concerned officials and citizens, are
just happy Mother Nature took her foot off the pedal in 2012,
which brings a beacon of hope, if not overconfidence.
That's happened so often when we've had this lull
in the flood, that we've had it a number of different years,
and we say oh well, we're probably through it,
we actually, when we take a look at it,
we are one major rainfall away from the disaster again.
This farm has been pretty darn good to us,
when you can keep it dry, keep the water off,
you can raise some pretty good crops in here.
It's an extremely interesting system scientifically.
Very large lake, flat basin, large basin draining into it,
and because of the location and the climate of the area,
this lake periodically over a long period of time
dries up or spills over.
It's been very difficult.
The main difficulty is this system,
the climate, the hydrology,
is extremely variable and essentially unpredictable.
So we can't tell ahead of time what's going to happen.
(narrator) The water problems of the Devils Lake Basin
that began in 1993 with heavy rains have continued unabated.
And even with the reprieve, the winter of 2012
and the follow-up drought of 2012 brought with them,
the lake remains a volatile animal.
It's a flat basin; it's very difficult to hold water.
When that system gets overwhelmed,
it's like a tabletop with depressions on it
that's just slightly tilted, and once there's so much water,
it's going to come off and it's very difficult
to hold it on that basin.
The lake itself then comes into existence
at the end of the last Ice Age.
And the ice has been as far south as Iowa
and now it's retreated back up into North Dakota
and the ice margin is around the Devils Lake area.
Very interesting set of processes occur, whereby
the ground in front of the glacier on the margin is frozen
and the groundwater that's under that becomes pressurized
and is able to hydraulically lift
huge block of bedrock out of the ground,
push it to the southwest, becomes Sullys Hill,
leaves a big hollow behind in the ground there
that fills with the meltwater and starts Devils Lake.
It's in this glacial terrain
and so it's a very complicated mixture
of bouldery deposits and then sand deposits.
As the glacier retreats, it deposits a series of moraines,
and those moraines then are low hills.
And those low hills then basically surround the lake.
They're to the south of it, they are to the west of it,
they're to the north of it, they're to the east of it as well.
So it's a closed basin essentially.
It's only when it gets to a certain level
that it can escape those moraines
and then escape into the Red River drainage.
Also part of that glacial history is the sand bodies
that underlie the lake, and they connect into
and further south into the Sheyenne River.
These are aquifers, and they actually hold as much
or more water in them than Devils Lake itself.
They feed in a subsurface then, they actually feed Devils Lake.
It's sort of the unknown quantity
in some ways to Devils Lake.
For the most part we can then consider that Devils Lake
is a closed basin and where the water has accumulated
in Devils Lake, that represents the lowest portion of the basin.
So as precipitation occurs elsewhere within the basin,
it's just a drainage event, and eventually over time,
it's going to seek to find lowest, its lowest elevation,
or it's lowest point, and that's the lake itself.
But with the continuation of precipitation
in the upper portion of the basin, eventually
the wetlands filled up, we started to see
some of the lakes themselves in the upper basin
started to fill up,
and as they started to overflow, they would flow again,
take their natural course into Devils Lake proper.
I do follow what Leon does.
One of the papers Leon was a co-author in,
we felt that the wet conditions would last at least until 2015,
and we're 3 years away, and so far that's right.
The lake has filled up; they call it a bowl and a saucer.
And the initial part about that was the bowl
and when that filled up, those deeper sides,
and now it's spreading out further around the basin
and through that saucer, if you would.
It takes a lot more water to get that significant of a rise.
(narrator) Then there's another feature of the lake called inertia.
With river flooding for example,
when the flood is over and water recedes,
the river levels go down rather quickly.
That isn't the case with Devils Lake.
Some lay people have wondered with a winter like 2012,
when at times there was basically no snow on the ground,
and 50 degree temperatures, coupled with a summer drought,
why wouldn't the lake drop more than 2 to 3 feet?
Inertia is the tendency
for an object in motion to stay in motion.
But basically, for something to continue on the way it's going,
this is a very large lake.
This basin has a very large amount of water stored in it,
in the soil, in the lakes.
The upstream lakes that feed Devils Lake are still full.
So it takes a number of years to dry that out.
There's groundwater flow, there's base flow,
there's inner flow, there's water moving in--
there was lakes actually that came up this year in our state
because of still-moving underground.
We have issues over southwest of Minot, Rice Lake, that kept
coming up 'cause it was from the last several years of wet
and the water was still moving underground.
There's a lot of inertia in the system,
and it takes a lot for it to reverse itself.
So I suspect it's going to take quite a number of years
for drier conditions, and we may not know that it's gone back
until many years after the fact.
(narrator) And there may be some long-term scientific
and mitigation benefits from what has happened in the basin.
We've been in on some projects where we've actually
done some things in the Devils Lake Basin
that really haven't been done anywhere else.
Federal highways a few years ago had got approval
to start raising roads before they were flooded.
FEMA allowed a program where houses could be moved before they flooded.
They've come up with new programs
to compensate farmers for flooded land.
Devils Lake started all that.
(narrator) For now, officials, farmers and water experts
are just hoping for a few more dry years
and continued pumping out of the East End Outlet,
but all agree, it will take much more time.
If you shut all the inflow off,
it would drop about 6 inches a year.
Devils Lake, they're protected,
and they're advertising all the time,
"Come to Devils Lake, the best fishing in the world,
best place to live, good health."
They've got everything, and they want to try to get people
from the west, but they still want to dump the water on us,
'cause they, they never have cared about us.
I was born and raised in this valley and uh,
it's been home all this time
and created severe problems at our place.
We had most of our buildings underwater.
My brother's basement flooded.
I feel like Devils Lake wants
enough water for their fishing industry,
but they don't want too much water,
and the excess water we can have,
they aren't really concerned about the quality.
(narrator) That's just a sampling of the other side
of the Devils Lake issue-- downstream impact.
Over the past few years especially,
residents of Valley City and the Sheyenne River Valley,
have been at odds with Devils Lake officials and farmers
in a back-and-forth war of words
that has at times been very ugly.
I know the downstream, a certain number of people that are,
I don't know what you could have done to satisfy 'em.
I think the majority of people have some sympathy
for our situation up here.
(narrator) The residents downstream have several major concerns.
One is that the releases coming out of Devils Lake and the East End Outlet
are raising the levels of the Sheyenne River.
From our perspective, we'd like to see
the pumping eliminated as soon as possible.
It's becoming increasingly clear;
overtopping of Devils Lake is not going to be an issue.
We have the Sheyenne River fall, the Upper Sheyenne,
when we run, we're running 250 out of the west end and up to
350 out of the east end, that's 600 CFS and it's bank full.
So if you go by Tolna Coulee or the upper Sheyenne,
there's more water in the Sheyenne River
than all the other rivers in the state,
and that's directly from Devils Lake outlets.
We're not flooding out any land downstream really.
It's staying within the channel.
So far we haven't even got anyone
that's tried to even apply for mitigation because
from a flooding standpoint, the outlets worked really well.
Devil Lake's coming down;
we haven't exceeded the channel capacity,
so that's working real good.
(narrator) Another concern is
that Devils Lake water is of varying quality,
carrying potentially damaging levels of sulphates.
It's a dilemma that has been challenging to state water officials.
It's a balancing act.
I mean, we're trying to address Devil Lake's problems,
and we're trying to address the issues
downstream for people too, so what's good for Devils Lake
isn't necessarily good for downstream.
What's good for downstream is not good for Devils Lake.
So we've come up with a strategy that tries to benefit everyone.
Mother Nature has given us a reprieve,
not only down here, but up in Devils Lake.
So I think that this is a great time for people to
really consider the consequences of any proposed action.
I think that it's really positive that the water
is going down at Devils Lake, which we knew it would,
because this is a lake that fluctuates.
It is a challenge, living in a wet situation.
Having gone through two floods, I would not wish that on anybody,
and I certainly understand that people up there are upset.
Well, water quality is always an issue with me,
and I guess the new water treatment plant
can handle this amount of sulfates in the water,
but we definitely can't take water out of Stump Lake.
I mean, that would degrade the Lake Ashtabula, the river,
and it would increase the operating and maintenance costs
of the new water plant.
We can monitor the water quality, you know,
basically on a daily basis if we need to.
We take measurements every week.
Sulfates, we would like to keep down, of course,
but we learned through research, that in the short term,
on a somewhat temporary basis,
we can live with sulfate contents
as high as 750 parts per million in the Sheyenne River,
without having any significant impacts
on the natural life in the Sheyenne River.
The water quality, that's bad, and, of course, the governor
has called it an emergency and says, "We will monitor."
[laughs] What are we going to do if we monitor,
if they don't do anything about it, and they don't have a plan, if it gets so high.
So they're just saying the heck with you down here.
Valley City does have a new water treatment plant
that should be able to treat the water that will be coming.
It will be able to remove those salts.
(narrator) And another concern is that Devils Lake
gets preferential treatment from the State Water Commission.
The state engineer has been
a puppet for Devils Lake from the get-go, it seems.
Everything I've heard the man say seems to be a turnaround
to fit the situation the way he wants it to be.
Devils Lake has been trying to address the problem for 19 years,
so I don't think anyone's getting preferential treatment.
Devils Lake's been suffering for quite a long time too,
so it's... I'm not picking sides, upstream or downstream.
(narrator) Valley City area farmers like Wanda Etzell
concede things are better this year as water has gone down,
but frustration remains high over things like erosion
on the banks of the Sheyenne and damage to farms.
A year ago, when the rain and the water came,
I had bales over on a field that was dry enough to make hay on,
and I really had to hustle
to get the bales up out of the water,
and the erosion thing of how much land I'm going to lose.
And right now, I'm trapped between the river and the road,
and there's no place else to go.
They have to do something up there to help them,
but they don't care down here if it affects us down here.
It's just like, get out of the valley.
(narrator) Meanwhile, Baldhill Dam, just north of Valley City, serves
as a kind of mediator between Devils Lake and Valley City.
and the water coming from the East End Outlet releases
is closely monitored as it moves through the Sheyenne River.
The main mission is a water supply reservoir.
Another mission is flood control.
This year it's 180 degrees; it's been dry.
The water that's coming out of the dam right now
is basically water that's being released
from the Devils Lake outlets.
What is happening with the combined outlets,
having about 600 CFS coming down to the reservoir,
this time of the year with the current conditions
that we were having or are experiencing this summer,
we would normally be only releasing 15 to 25 CFS,
and today we're releasing about 550 CFS.
So what it means is that we're letting
more water out of the reservoir.
In most state, mussels are declining, they're disappearing.
They're the most endangered group of animals in North America.
Now we're a little bit worried about
what is this Devils Lake water going to do to this?
(narrator) Valley City residents also worry about the impact
of Devils Lake water on aquatic and other life
in and around the river.
Why worry about these things? Why care about these things?
You can't make money off of 'em, alright, directly.
But they do play an important role in the environment.
These things are filter feeders.
It's these other organisms that I worry about,
and I feel they have worth.
They show us that we have a good healthy ecosystem.
They're a natural part of our ecosystem.
So I think there really needs to be some thought putting in
to making sure we don't damage that.
If there's a chronic toxicity that doesn't kill the adults,
but yet disrupts all the reproduction,
we could go years without any young mussels
and we won't realize that till 10, 15 years down the road--
a whole generation of mussels has disappeared.
Generally speaking I think the folks in Valley City have
a very good point when they say
that we cannot sacrifice the animal life
in the Sheyenne River because of this process.
And we totally agree with that.
We don't want that to happen
and we don't think it's going to happen.
One of the first things we did this summer,
before we started running East Devils Lake Outlet,
is we actually captured fish from Tolna Dam,
and captured fish from Stump Lake and put 'em in tanks
of East Devils Lake water and they were just fine.
Holding fish, adult fish or yearlings for,
for um, 24 hours is not an issue.
If the water was so toxic,
that if you held 'em in that situation for 24 hours
and the fish died, all the fish in the Sheyenne River
would be floating down.
The Corps of Engineers in the late '90s,
did a pretty comprehensive study
just before the West End Outlet was constructed,
and they found that one of the species, Ceriodaphnia
that are an important food of many species of fish
and other animals, when they put 'em into East Devils Lake water,
they all died-- it was 100% mortality.
(narrator) But some common ground has been reached in the past year.
Valley City residents are very happy
that the much-discussed gravity outlet option is
now off the table and not being pushed by Devils Lake officials.
They say that option would have been worse
than the East End Outlet option, and they're happy
that during winter the outlet pumps will be shut off.
Basically, we can't pump water out of Devils Lake
after freeze-up, after about mid November.
And then Ashtabula will continue to put out releases in the fall,
it'll have water released from it early in the spring,
and the lake will create more capacity
or create more storage for next year's spring runoff.
(narrator) Officials also have to keep an eye on Canada
and their water concerns.
All of this requires our various jurisdictions
in North Dakota and Manitoba
to have a respectful dialogue with each other
and come up with a solution for the Red River Basin
that allows flows when it doesn't damage other properties,
but also protects us on nitrification
and other elements in the water
that could be negative for the environment.
I see a place
for the mutual benefit of all our communities.
(narrator) In the end, 2 or 3 more dry years,
coupled with functioning outlets, could tone down
the Devils Lake- Valley City feud.
Until then, Sheyenne River Valley citizens
say they will continue to raise their voices, loud and clear.
They first started talking about the stool with three legs on it,
and of course, one of the primary legs
was water retention in the basin.
As far as I know, there's never been one drain
that's been blocked or one pothole or flue
that's been refilled with water.
It's almost like yeah, we'll participate in every respect
except that which doesn't help us.
It's really unfortunate that they're so,
what I feel, closed-minded towards Devils Lake
and the situation that we have up here.
They want to claim that drainage is the cause of this,
if we turn off all the drains or stop all the drains,
that this problem would go away.
Personally, we don't believe in that-- there's
a lot of permanent drains in the Devils Lake Basin.
Our position has always been, please, please pay these people
money so they can move on and get on with their lives.
We would not want this to happen to us, we don't want it to happen to them.
At the same point, we do not want
their problem to become our problem.
To me, that means that we are at the mercy
of the State Water Commission and policymakers need to know
that people up in Devils Lake and Valley City--
we both count-- everybody needs to be respected.
They were right back in territorial days
when they petitioned Congress saying, look,
if we can't move Missouri River water east,
we can't survive in
the eastern part of North Dakota.
The Garrison Diversion, the Pick-Sloan Plan,
it was a well laid out plan
to deliver water to all our rivers,
and it could have helped Devils Lake.
In a way, we're kind of building that piecemeal right now,
by building outlets out of Devils Lake and you know,
building treatment plants to address water quality issues.
It's tragic; I know those people, and that's why
I wrote that in the bill, and that's why
it was such an important part of the bill,
and that's why we were so frustrated when we began
getting problems from getting the money out through the house.
Devils Lake had the potential, I always thought,
for being one of the great
recreational areas in North Dakota.
The Lord made Devils Lake in his own way,
but it was different than we affected it during the '30s.
In the Dirty '30s the dirt blew
and ditches and creeks, and whatever
filled up with dirt, and they didn't around Devils Lake.
The routes out of Devils Lake
and the routes into Devils Lake, all filled up with dirt.
After World War II, the Reclamation Service
kind of yielded to the Soil Conservation Service,
and they paid farmers, and they did the engineering
and everything else to open up these drains in.
So suddenly, by 1950, we had more capability
of water flow into Devils Lake and we'd never done anything
about redigging, re-excavating the channels
that went out of Devils Lake.
So we had the McClusky Canal
do the Sheyenne River and do the James River,
and come into the west end of Devils Lake,
run out through Stump Lake,
then down through the Tolna Coulee,
so that we could get fresh water going in and gradually dilute--
and Stump Lake was pretty salty-- dilute that gradually,
so over a period of we thought a decade our engineers told us,
we would have a way of having fresh water in Devils Lake
and fresh water coming down the Sheyenne,
there would have been fresh water coming from Missouri in,
there would have been the drainage channels that
used to go out of Devils Lake, still going out of Devils Lake,
and we would have gradually, over the 10, 15 years, gotten
Devils Lake to a good level, and gotten the water quality
to a good level, and passed it out down the Sheyenne,
diluting with the other kind of water there
so that it wouldn't impose a penalty on Valley City.
Garrison certainly would not have alleviated flooding;
it would have augmented it to some extent
because of the increased water that would have been
in both the James River and the Sheyenne River.
I do not see how it could have been
beneficial to the flooding problem.
It certainly would not have been beneficial downstream
within the Sheyenne Valley
had it gone through in its original form.
They've got a much bigger problem now than if
it would have been done at the time the Garrison went through,
because there was a lot less water to get out of Devils Lake.
Now you've probably got 4 times the water that you've got
to flow by Valley City and you can't do it too fast
because the Sheyenne Channel can't do it.
But building this outlet, gives them a way to begin
getting that water out and hopefully we'll get into
more normal rainfall patterns.
It's going to take more than a decade.
I don't think you're going to fix it in 5 or 6 years,
because we were looking at moving water out of there
when that lake level was at about 1/4th of what it is now.
Now, doing it in less than a decade we'd be awfully lucky,
unless it stops raining altogether,
but let's hope that doesn't happen.
We've had casualties, and we've had 24 of 'em,
people that have died due to "submersion,"
is the technical term
that the North Dakota Highway Patrol puts on it
after they've driven into the waters of Devils Lake, since 1993.
So it's a concern, and one loss of life is bad,
24, it should be unacceptable.
It's a tragedy that happens, and we feel for the people
that have either had a loved one perish that way
it's, it should be avoidable.
There's an emptiness there
that just never goes away,
and she liked clear blue days
when there wasn't a cloud in the sky,
so every time there's a perfectly clear day,
I always think of her then,
'cause she really liked clear blue days.
(woman) You really realize
what your priorities are.
I mean, it's really what,
the things that matter that just,
they are no-- I said with the roads the way they are,
[with emotion] you just pray nobody else goes in that water.
(Curt Broden) She wanted to come home
for Tiffany's 18th birthday.
And so she drove all day until she hit that road construction
between 281 and 19 where the ramp over the road
it wasn't quite that steep, but it was fairly steep,
and if you hit it too fast, and it was pitch dark,
it was the night that there was no moonlight, stars,
it was real dark, you couldn't really tell where the road went,
and she went in, went into the water, and her airbag went off,
and according to the coroner,
it knocked her out and then she drowned.
There was water on all 4 sides of the intersection.
They were rebuilding it; they were raising 19
and they were going to close 281.
They were going to build a new 281.
It wasn't very well marked;
there was only about 900 feet of warning.
So it was poorly marked.
We filed a lawsuit against the State of North Dakota.
The thing we wanted on it wasn't the signage.
Judge Christofferson, ruled that there was, signed well enough,
but it was the ramp was too steep
and it should have been a flatter plane.
(Marcie Broden) It's a big worry, it's a big concern
that you have school buses
and you know, people traveling those roads to and from work
every day, many times a day.
(Curt) There seems to be a lot more signage now than,
and way more warning than what they had
out at 19 and 281 there, but if you-- seems like if you
go through a construction site, there's a lot of signs.
(Marcie) She liked writing poetry and she just,
she just was such a good kid.
She was good worker, good helper,
she just was a very good kid.
Always, just things, things that are said, just things that,
reminders constantly, but you learn to live with it.
She said, she was just a really fun-loving person
and we try to remember the happy things, I guess.
I said at first it was nightmares of the hospital
and everything else, but um,
you get past that, and it just goes in waves.
Um, you have days where really, really good days,
and then something-- family, family functions,
those times are really difficult.
(narrator) In 2011 Prairie Public profiled a variety
of Devils Lake Basin residents who were dealing with
water problems that were threatening their livelihoods.
We check in on them to see if a year later made any difference.
No seat belts on, windows rolled down
when you're going through the water,
that's kind of the law of the land up here.
Well, after this water we've just drove through
to get to this point, we are going to walk over
to where that duckboat is; we have a small stretch of water
we have to walk through
that's maybe 6 inches deep, for maybe 50 feet.
We'll get in the duckboat and I have a guide rope across here
so we'll pull ourselves across with that guide rope.
There's days I don't leave at all,
and then there's days I do it 2, 3 times.
This is the narrowest stretch of water all the way around us
that we could get across.
We're all hopeful, you know, and you want to be optimistic.
We, you know, Mother Nature in the winter,
and the dry winter that we had is like what we haven't seen.
Some of us in our lifetimes haven't seen a winter like that.
We boated in and walked in like we went through the process
last year, we did that for 4 months.
And then we got an emergency fix, which federal guidelines
is one foot out of the water and 14 feet wide.
And that's what we're driving on now,
and only because of the winter we had Mother Nature
are we driving in and out this year.
We're still 28 feet above what was normal 20 years ago.
So you know, the new normal, I know that
the bottom base of our outlets is 1446.
Is that our new normal?
I think until we get to that number, will the people up here
and the people downstream have some breathing room.
It's not just people out of the area;
it's people within the City of Devils Lake
that don't come out into these areas,
that think we're all okay, and you know,
as we listen to the stories on the radio and TV
about the lake, we hear the term "stabilize."
And what exactly does that mean to us up here? Tell us that.
The key of it is, is to everyone, get on the same page
for everybody's safety and the state's well-being
is to while we've got these kind of dry cycles, move that water.
You wake up every day and you wonder, is it raining? [laughs]
Is the sump pump working?
What you're looking at here is the farmyard.
These bin here, 24,000 bushels of storage,
that's half the storage I have, and this spring the water
come up and took 'em; I had grain in here last winter.
We ended up seeding 77 acres of it this year.
We've caught a break here
and we're taking advantage of it the best that we can.
I feel pretty good about having more acres.
I guess my particular operation, cash flow is at 1300 acres,
and I've got just a tad over that.
It's still only 67% of the acres I've rented
or have contracts on, but no, I'd take a summer like this
many, many times over what was last year; last year was tough.
You know, I'm very appreciative of the state's outlets.
Mother Nature deserves a pat on the back for a break,
but there's still people that are suffering here
and we can't be complacent.
We've still got landowners that haven't seen their land
in 18, 19 years.
A generation's 30 years, and, you know, you've got people
that haven't used their land for 2/3rds of that.
Getting water off the lake is the key
and if the powers that be
say that they're going to spend 500,000 a month for electricity,
then I guess that's what we're going to do. [laughs]
I still don't think we've learned our lessons
from what Mother Nature's teaching us here.
It's slow and steady wins the race, um, I just hope
there's enough people around here
to appreciate it at the finish line.
Just by nature if you're a farmer,
you're kind of an optimist
and you always try to look
at the bright side of stuff.
I never thought it would get this bad.
I always thought that the powers that be
would do something, to not let it get this bad.
And I'm losing faith.
We're more upbeat because we were able to get more acres in
on the land that's not connected to the lake
just because a lot of the low areas had dried up.
We didn't get any of the land back that the lake had taken,
but now, with the drier summer,
and the outlets I'm sure are helping, I mean we are
seeing the lake go down and I guess that's a welcome change
than what we've had the last 3 years.
Right now, they look pretty good.
I think they got hurt a little bit;
we got a little dry here a month ago, probably
took some off the grain, but still a very respectable crop.
I think we probably seeded 200, 300 acres more
than we did last year just picking up wet acres
that we had to go around last year,
and hopefully next year it'll be more.
It's big clean-up I can tell you that.
I can't believe the amount of trees and debris out there,
but you don't mind doing it if you're claiming some land back.
The whole scenario, it's amazing how it could change
from one year to another, but with that in mind,
we know it could go the other way just as fast.
So I mean, if we have a winter where we get
a bunch of snow this winter, we're going to be
right back in the soup again, and that's why it's so important
to move the water now when we can.
I think about my dad, that generation, and my grandpa,
that generation, I knew all those guys.
They built these communities,
these communities that are gone now, and their farms are gone,
It's pretty, I guess you could say sad in a way,
what happened, but I think it's a good thing
they're not here to see it. [laughs]
[acoustic guitar plays in minor tones]
Their mindsets much improved.
I mean, last year there was doom and gloom
and we had disasters all over our state
and it was a disaster in Devils Lake
and frustration level was so high and they didn't know
if we'd ever be able to get this under control,
and I think they're seeing some light at the end of the tunnel.
I think we all felt we'd turned the corner,
and then 3 years ago, you know,
we took a 3-1/2-foot hit on the lake
with a tough winter and a tough spring.
Now we're in dire straits here, to say the least.
My wife who has been extremely supportive of me
I think up until, to this last year,
I think was comfortable here.
This last spring has really eroded our comfort here.
There's just so many road issues,
so many high water issues.
[with emotion] Yeah, it's going to be real hard to leave,
that's for sure, but like I said,
as your emotional demeanor gets hammered down,
you finally come to a point where it's not worth the stress,
and it's not worth the anxiety because it look like
there isn't a solution here, so you have to move on.
Well, I think it gives everybody optimism.
I mean I know it does me personally,
and I think the farmers around here too,
my customers are a little more optimistic.
By nature I think a farmer and a business person
has to be optimistic and so, we've seen
almost a 2-foot drop since last year at this time,
so things are going in the right direction.
If things hold like this,
and the water continues to creep downward,
my business, even last year, over the years has done well.
I've been here a long time,
I've created a good clientele of people,
so my business has never really, so far
hasn't been hurt too much, and I don't expect it will be.
There's some other issues going on here in Churchs Ferry
and right in this particular area that aren't so good,
I guess for my particular business,
but we'll have to see how time goes here, we'll have to see.
They come through Churchs Ferry with a 10-foot grade raise,
access to my business is going to be hampered.
The DOT is working on replacing the overpass
just a mile west of town and relocating that, and that too,
anytime you have construction, anytime you have some changes
and you don't have easy access to a business like mine,
you could get hurt.
Anytime you can, even for us that see it every day,
as you could look out the window of your vehicle
and see that the water's down and beginning to see shores
and different things show up,
psychologic, very positive things for us.
Another dry winter would again be very good.
With the river being an integral part of the city,
it's our major natural asset, so if we end up with a river
that's dirty and smelly and riprapped,
that's going to be a negative thing for the city.
There's a lot of money in the State Water Commission budget,
a half a billion dollars per biennium,
and this money can be spent without a whole lot of,
I think, independent review,
and I'm not sure that there's a lot of science
that's been done to back up some of their actions.
(John Elsperger) All sides realize there's an emergency,
and the emergency needs to be dealt with.
And we just need to continue to work together,
make sure that our friends to the south
are not hurt economically.
One of my biggest concerns is going through a dry period
within this wet cycle and becoming complacent
on our resolve to move water off of Devils Lake.
(woman) Funding for "Mother Nature in Charge:
Devils Lake, the Dilemma"
is provided in part by a grant from
Ramsey National Bank and Trust Company, Devils Lake
with branches in Fargo, Esmond,
Maddock, Rugby, Cando, and Cavalier,
Bergstrom Cars with Lake Chevy,
Marketplace Ford, and Lake Toyota Devils Lake;
Nodak Electric Cooperative, Grand Forks, and by...
..."On for You."