Mother Nature in Charge: Devils Lake The Dilemma

(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,

member FDIC;

Bergstrom Cars with Lake Chevy,

Marketplace Ford, and Lake Toyota in Devils Lake;

Nodak Electric Cooperative, Grand Forks, and by...

..."On for You."

And by...

(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,

member FDIC;

Bergstrom Cars with Lake Chevy,

Marketplace Ford, and Lake Toyota Devils Lake;

Nodak Electric Cooperative, Grand Forks, and by...

..."On for You."

And by...