May 3, 2004

Doer, Ashton lobby U.S. officials following legal challenge against Devils Outlet project

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, along with Water Stewardship Minister Steve Ashton, recently travelled to Washington to lobby U.S. legislators and politicians with regard to North Dakota's unilateral decision to proceed with the Devils Lake outlet project. In addition to reiterating the province's concerns about the project, the officials renewed Manitoba's call for a joint reference to the International Joint Commission (IJC). Their initiative followed a legal challenge to the project, launched by the province in March.

"The Devils Lake project poses a significant threat to Manitoba's water," Doer said. "We are extremely concerned that the project may deteriorate water quality, impact the integrity of Manitoba's water and harm the commercial fishery on Lake Winnipeg. As a result, we are renewing our call to have this project reviewed by the IJC as soon as possible." (The IJC was created under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to deal specifically with trans-boundary water disputes.)

"Manitoba firmly believes that if this project is not referred to the IJC, a serious precedent for Manitoba and many other Canadian and U.S. jurisdictions will be set," Doer added.

"North Dakota is proceeding with this project in spite of concerns being raised by both their American and Canadian neighbours and the U.S. Department of State," Ashton stated.

In March, the U.S. Department of State (USDS) wrote to the governor of North Dakota to note continuing Canadian concerns about the state outlet project. The USDS urged that North Dakota consult with the department at the earliest opportunity before proceeding with the temporary outlet.

Also in March, the Manitoba government launched a legal challenge in the form of an appeal against North Dakota's Devils Lake water diversion project. The legal challenge was filed jointly by the People to Save the Sheyenne, the Peterson Coulee Outlet Association and the province.

"Although Manitoba has launched legal action against the project, our priority is to refer this project to the International Joint Commission," said Doer. He noted that the IJC undertook a review of North Dakota's Garrison Diversion Project during the 1980s.

The Canadian government has also expressed its opposition to the Devils Lake project, as have the states of Minnesota and Missourri and the National Wildlife Federation.

Devils Lake is a closed sub-basin lake which has been isolated from the Hudson Bay drainage basin for more than 1,200 years. Manitoba opposes the outlet plan because it could release dissolved solids, sulfates and harmful nutrients (including 40 more tonnes of phosphorus per year) as well as foreign fish pathogens and fish diseases to the Sheyenne River, a waterway that connects to the Red River and eventually flows into Lake Winnipeg.

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