Zaleski: Crick's rising; time for another study
There's the old story of the farmer who meets a friend in town. "How's everything?" the friend asks. The farmer replies, "If the crick don't rise, things will be fine." Well, the crick's rising - has been for nearly 20 years. But it's Devils Lake...
There's the old story of the farmer who meets a friend in town. "How's everything?" the friend asks.
The farmer replies, "If the crick don't rise, things will be fine."
Well, the crick's rising - has been for nearly 20 years. But it's Devils Lake in northeast North Dakota, the state's largest and getting-larger natural lake. And those "friends?" Empathy, but not much action.
Want more homespun wisdom? How about these: Fiddling while Rome burns. Whistling passed the graveyard. Roof don't leak when it ain't rainin'.
The latest waste of time for Devils Lake was last week's meeting (some had the gall to call it a "summit") of the Red River Basin Commission, politicians, city officials and others. At the conclusion of the session, the basin commission recommended - hold on to your outrage - a study. An international study this time. Oh, joy.
Another study while the lake rises. It's up 28 feet since 1993 and has tripled its surface area to 160,000 acres. The water is closing in on a modern-day record level.
Another study? Oh, c'mon. I know Devils Lake. I lived there for nearly 20 years. I go there frequently. I've been writing about the lake for 40 years. I've read dozens of studies, even participated in a few of them. Nearly all have come to similar conclusions: build dikes to protect the city; lower the water.
The former has been done at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. The Army Corps of Engineers intends to misspend millions more raising the dikes, thus allowing the lake rise to continue. More acres of farmland will go under. At least one more town will be drowned. More roads and the rail bed of the main line through the area could be lost to the lake.
The latter option - lower the water - is one of those North Dakota common-sense solutions that has eluded all those smart folks on commissions. A state outlet operates on the southwest shore of the lake, but far more water pours into the lake than can be let out by the limited-capacity outlet. The outlet can take off inches while the lake rises by feet. The water is only about 6 feet from the natural breakout at the Tolna Coulee on the east end of the lake. What few in officialdom want to talk about is that the breakout elevation might be lower because the coulee is plugged with silt and drift.
If the lake breaks out uncontrolled into the coulee and connecting Sheyenne River, the crick could rise so high, so quickly that the Sheyenne flooding of 2009 would seem a trickle.
Can't happen? Oh, but it can.
More numbers seldom discussed indicate a "maximum event" on the lake, which is measured in acre feet flowing into the lake, happened in 2009. Given the wet cycle, it could happen again. Just a few days ago, the Pembina area a few miles from the Devils Lake Basin got pounded by torrential rains up to 4 inches. Flooding was severe. Had that deluge fallen in the lake drainage, the forecast for this year's record elevation would have been revised upward.
A couple of "maximum events" could bring the lake into breakout territory.
And what's the answer to a downstream threat that no longer is speculation? Another study that might take two years. Is it any wonder the people of the Devils Lake area are beyond anger? They've become cynical: resigned to the depressing evidence that no one, certainly not the let's-study-it-again Red River Basin Commission, gives a rip.
Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at 701-241-5521.