August 26, 2002

Manitoba pleased with U.S. decision on further analysis of Devils Lake outlet

A recent decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to collect "further environmental data and analysis" before releasing its final planning report and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Devils Lake outlet in North Dakota "is a positive development," said Manitoba Premier Gary Doer. "It allows us to continue to work on alternatives to the proposed outlet at Devils Lake.

"Since 1999, we have maintained that North Dakota should not proceed with an outlet on a unilateral basis. However, we know there remains tremendous political pressure to proceed with the outlet. We must continue to be vigilant," Doer continued.

In releasing the decision, the army's chief of engineers reinforced Manitoba's long-standing concern regarding the potential impacts of the development on water quality and the potential for spreading invasive species. Earlier this year, both the Corps and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expressed serious concerns about the impacts of the proposed outlet on water quality in the Red River.

In 1997, the U.S. Congress directed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to examine the feasibility of an emergency outlet and to prepare an environmental impact statement. The proposed outlet would route water from Devils Lake to the Sheyenne River and then to the Red River.

In February this year, the Corps issued a draft integrated planning report and EIS for the proposal (ELW March 11). The draft report concluded that an outlet would have adverse effects in downstream receiving waters. It cited over a dozen such impacts, among them:

* degraded water quality;

* increased erosion;

* increased sedimentation;

* reduced aquatic habitat volume;

* loss of aquatic resources;

* loss of riparian habitat;

* effects on agricultural uses; and

* effects on water treatment facilities.

The Corps also projected about a 75% chance that if an outlet were built, it would not be economically beneficial. The present operating plan does not meet all downstream water quality standards and objectives, the report stated, and revising the plan with the aim of reducing negative water quality impacts would likely diminish the project's economic feasibility.

However, although the Corps has decided to delay a temporary outlet, North Dakota has stated it will proceed with plans for a state-sponsored outlet, which causes similar concerns for Manitoba. "Despite the delay on a federally-constructed outlet, we still have many concerns about the potential impacts of a state-sponsored outlet and its effect on Manitoba's water," Doer said.

"We will continue to work with our federal government to prepare a case against the proposed outlet that may eventually come before the International Joint Commission. We will continue to express our concerns--and those of the agencies and groups in the U.S. and Canada who support our position--to North Dakota," he added.

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