August 15, 2005

Canada, U.S. agree to build advanced filtration system at Devils Lake

In a major step toward resolving a controversial bilateral water quality issue, Canada and the United States have agreed to co-operate on the design and construction of an advanced filtration and/or disinfection system at the outlet at Devils Lake, North Dakota.

This measure follows North Dakota's agreement to build an interim, 18-foot-deep rock and gravel filter before the outlet from Devils Lake begins operating, to prevent the release of aquatic nuisance species from the lake. That barrier is now in place and will address the release of up to two inches of water from Devils Lake during the coming year. In the meantime, officials will continue to test the water and determine the appropriate design and composition of a permanent filter.

The co-operation agreement involves the governments of Minnesota, Manitoba and North Dakota as well as the two federal governments. It was reached following negotiations co-ordinated by the United States Council on Environmental Quality. Its terms are based on collaborative work done by Canadian and U.S. scientists over the past several months to: evaluate water quality safeguards and permit limits for the project; review previous studies on the potential spread of aquatic nuisance species; jointly conduct a rapid bioassessment of Devils Lake to enhance understanding of its organisms; and develop shared strategies for protecting the broader Red River basin from the future risk of aquatic nuisance species that might pose a risk to the basin.

In a joint statement, the Canadian and U.S. governments said this review, along with the arrangements set out in the agreement, serve to provide a higher level of confidence that the outlet can be operated in a matter that will not pose an unreasonable risk to other parts of the Red River basin.

The main elements agreed upon are as follows.

(1) The United States and Canada will design and construct a more advanced filtration system and/or disinfection system for the outlet, based on the results of continuing monitoring and risk assessment.

(2) Should the biological survey on Devils Lake confirm the presence of harmful biota such as parasites or pathogens, immediate measures would be undertaken to prevent the spread of any aquatic nuisance species.

(3) A downstream water monitoring program will be established through the International Joint Commission's Red River Board. The IJC board will also develop a basin-wide early detection and management plan for invasive species. The board includes representatives from the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada as well as Minnesota, Manitoba and North Dakota.

(4) To address concerns raised by Canada, Manitoba and Minnesota with respect to an inlet being built from the Missouri River to Devils Lake to help stabilize lake levels, North Dakota affirms it does not have such a current intention, plan or prospective proposal to construct such an inlet. In addition, the U.S. federal government affirms that it is prohibited by federal law from expending funds towards the construction of such an inlet.

It is expected that both the interim gravel filter and the permanent filter will improve overall water quality in Devils Lake, including reductions in levels of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Red River system. Devils Lake, although originally part of the Hudson Bay drainage system, contains no natural outlets or inlets and has been isolated from the basin for about 1,000 years. As a result, the water quality is different from the downstream waters of the Sheyenne River, Red River and Lake Winnipeg.

Manitoba's long-standing concern has been that the Devils Lake outlet would be the first phase of a larger project to stabilize lake levels by building an inlet from the Missouri River. This would result in an unprecedented inter-basin transfer of water and the potential movement of harmful biota from the Missouri to the Hudson River basin.

Manitoba Premier Gary Doer said his government is sympathetic to the plight of North Dakotans who have been affected by flooding. As part of the agreement, the province has committed to expedite the installation of culverts in a road along the international border to relieve flooding in North Dakota. This will help resolve another continuing water dispute between the two jurisdictions.

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