Forum editorial: Lake flood destroying way of life
Not long ago, a farmer in North Dakota's Devils Lake Basin watched the farmhouse that had been in the family since the homestead era burn to the ground. It was no accident. The family torched the old home. More than 100 years of memories went up ...
Not long ago, a farmer in North Dakota's Devils Lake Basin watched the farmhouse that had been in the family since the homestead era burn to the ground. It was no accident. The family torched the old home. More than 100 years of memories went up in smoke because there was no way to save the place from rising water. The roads were either washed out or so waterlogged they could not support a house move. Regulations prevented leaving the place in the rising water. Burning it and clearing the rubble were the only option.
Similar tragedies have been repeated in the basin watershed in an arc from Webster to Maza to Minnewaukan and Fort Totten. Rising water in the big lake and the lakes and coulees of the watershed have flooded scores of farms north of Penn and Churches Ferry. Those small communities on U.S. Highway 2 west of the city of Devils Lake have been devastated by high water. The lake itself has tripled its surface area to nearly 200,000 acres and is still growing.
But what is not as widely known is that the shallow lakes and sloughs north of the big lake have also expanded to sizes never seen since even before territorial settlement. Farmers whose families have been on the land for a century or more have no record of the water being so high and extensive. Tens of thousands of acres of once-productive farmland have been flooded. Farm families are affected in ways that range from loss of family homes to loss of livelihoods.
In effect, the flooded farmers in the Devils Lake Basin are providing flood control for downstream interests. Their lands have been appropriated by the rising water of Devils Lake and the other lakes of the basin. And it appears no one is interested in providing them with relief, other than a patchwork of county property tax adjustments, which still require landowners to pay taxes if they want to keep ownership. But land under 6 inches or 6 feet of water is not producing wheat and barley and beans.
Pleas for relief to state and federal officials have been met with polite nods and words of understanding. But the lack of help confirms the words are empty. The possibility of using a combination of federal and state water easement strategies - which would pay farmers with flooded farmland - has gone nowhere, in large part because the bureaucracy believes application would be too complicated.
So, while the state is focused on flood fights and flood projects on the Red and Sheyenne rivers, the waters of the Devils Lake Basin rise and destroy more and more farm homes and farmer livelihoods. For the affected farm families, frustration has morphed into anger and deep sadness. If they feel abandoned, it's because they have been.
This is the second of two editorials on the lake flooding in North Dakota's Devils Lake Basin.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.