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Published May 25, 2011, 10:35 AM

ND governor hopes to overcome Tolna Coulee resistance

BISMARCK, N.D. — Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Tuesday he hoped to convince Devils Lake city officials that a water control structure on the Tolna Coulee will help the region get rid of some of its excess lake water.

By: Dale Wetzel, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. — Gov. Jack Dalrymple said Tuesday he hoped to convince Devils Lake city officials that a water control structure on the Tolna Coulee will help the region get rid of some of its excess lake water.

The state wants to put the structure on land owned by the city of Devils Lake, and the City Commission voted Monday to deny the state permission to build in its preferred location.

Devils Lake's Mayor Dick Johnson said he was concerned the structure would act as a dam on the coulee, rather than allowing water to flow through it to the Sheyenne River.

“We can't hold any more water back, so it's in the best interest of our community to reject that at this time,” Johnson told KZZY Radio of Devils Lake.

Dalrymple said the structure will be designed to ensure that water flowing into the coulee is released gradually into the river. It is not intended to hold water that would otherwise move south, he said.

“A lot of these things are a matter of communication,” Dalrymple told The Associated Press. “They need to be talked through, and people need to come to understand what the purpose of the structure is for.”

Devils Lake has risen more than 30 feet and quadrupled in size since the early 1990s, flooding thousands of acres of farmland, displacing homes and requiring millions of dollars to be spent on raising and repairing roads.

The lake has no natural outlet until it reaches 1,458 feet above sea level. At that point, lake water would flow naturally through the Tolna Coulee into the Sheyenne River.

On Tuesday, the lake was at 1,454.2 feet above sea level. It was at 1,422.4 feet in October 1992.

State officials contend the structure is necessary to avoid a rush of water into the Sheyenne if Devils Lake gets high enough to flow naturally.

Hundreds of people attended a rally at the coulee last week to support a plan for digging out the channel to allow the water to flow before the lake reaches 1,458 feet above sea level.

Dalrymple said any attempt to hurry the coulee's natural drainage would cause a host of problems, in part because of the poor water quality on the east end of the lake where the coulee is located. It would push sulfate concentrations in the Sheyenne River to unacceptable levels, the governor said.

“I think we just have to realize that we do have an issue with the level of trust up in the Devils Lake area,” Dalrymple said. “They've heard a lot of things over the years, and some of them turned out to not be true. So they question everything, and that's understandable.”

The state Water Commission also plans to increase the pumping capacity of a water drainage outlet on Devils Lake's west end and build a second outlet on the lake's east end to accelerate the movement of excess water.

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