June 28, 2004

Manitoba joins U.S. coalition in legal challenge to stop Devils Lake outlet

The province of Manitoba has joined several American groups, including the U.S. National Wildlife Federation, the People to Save the Sheyenne, the Peterson Coulee Outlet Association, the Minnesota Conservation Federation and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy in filing filing a legal challenge under the U.S. Clean Water Act to stop Devils Lake outlet construction.

Provincial Water Stewardship Minister Steve Ashton said the coalition is sending a 60-day notice of intent to sue the North Dakota State Water Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for violations of the U.S. Clean Water Act. The letter alleges that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers erred in determining that wetlands protected under the act would not be impacted by this project and, therefore, the North Dakota State Water Commission did not require a Section 404 permit for the project. The letter puts the state and federal governments on notice that the coalition intends to file a detailed case in federal court in 60 days unless the provisions of the U.S. Clean Water Act are enforced. The state is proceeding with construction despite significant opposition from residents of North Dakota and neighbouring jurisdictions.

"By ignoring the impacts of North Dakota's Devils Lake Outlet project, the Corps of Engineers is utterly failing to meet its legal obligations to protect North Dakota's environment, the concerns of its residents and its neighbours. The state outlet will do virtually nothing to lower lake levels, but instead it transfers flooding and environmental damage to people downstream," said David Conrad, senior water resources specialist for the National Wildlife Federation.

"In light of the unilateral actions of the State of North Dakota to construct an outlet from Devils Lake that could violate the Boundary Waters Treaty, Manitoba will pursue every possible means to halt this project until a full and independent review can be conducted by the International Joint Commission," said Ashton. If there is an IJC reference, the province would not be obligated to go to court. Manitoba has stated that it will abide by the recommendations of the IJC if the project is referred to the Commission.

Manitoba opposes the Devils Lake outlet because it could release dissolved solids, sulfates, harmful foreign biota and excessive plant nutrients-about 20 more tonnes of phosphorus per year (about the same as the discharge from a new city approximately the size of Brandon)-into the Sheyenne River that connects to the Red River and eventually flows into Lake Winnipeg.

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