July 2, 2007

Manitoba, U.S. groups appeal weakened standards for Devils Lake outlet operation

The Manitoba government, together with several U.S. environmental organizations, have filed an appeal in North Dakota Supreme Court against a decision by the state's Department of Health's to weaken the environmental standards governing the operation of the Devils Lake outlet. The plaintiff U.S. groups include People to Save the Sheyenne River, the Peterson Coulee Outlet Association and the National Wildlife Federation.

At issue is the health department's 2006 decision to weaken the sulfate standards in the outlet's original operating permit. The changes allow for Devils Lake waters to be discharged into the Sheyenne River when the sulfate levels are higher than allowed by the original permit (up to 450 milligrams per litre).

Manitoba Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick said the province has also asked the Canadian government to press the U.S. federal government to remove North Dakota's delegated authority under sections of the U.S. Clean Water Act. It was the decision to delegate this authority to North Dakota that allowed the state to unilaterally change the operating permit.

The minister also called on the two federal governments, who agreed in August 2005 to build an advanced filter at the outlet, to set a firm timeline to complete the work.

Manitoba and the organizations involved in the appeal are concerned about the risk of alien species being transferred from Devils Lake downstream into the Sheyenne River and Hudson Bay basin, which includes Lake Winnipeg. Three fish parasites and four kinds of algae detected in Devils Lake have not been found in Lake Winnipeg. Sulfate levels are also estimated to be 10 times higher in Devils Lake than in Lake Winnipeg.

This will be the second appeal of the North Dakota sulfate decision. In April, a North Dakota district court in the city of Devils Lake rejected the first appeal.

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