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Manitoba: Ottawa should push for scientific review of outlet

WINNIPEG -- Manitoba has asked Ottawa to push for an international scientific review of North Dakota's latest plans for its Devils Lake outlet. The Winnipeg Free Press reported from Ottawa that Manitoba Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnic...

WINNIPEG -- Manitoba has asked Ottawa to push for an international scientific review of North Dakota's latest plans for its Devils Lake outlet.

The Winnipeg Free Press reported from Ottawa that Manitoba Water Stewardship Minister Christine Melnick said the state's intention is to relax sulphate standards on the outlet.

She also said Monday that North Dakota also wants to more than double the amount of wa-ter pumped out of the lake, which violates the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty.

The treaty is supposed to prevent either country from polluting the other's waterways. Melnick said this violation requires the intervention of the International Joint Commission.

North Dakota is seeking to set the sulfate level restriction on the outlet to 750 milligrams per litre of water, well above the standard of 250 mg set by the IJC for the Red River at the U.S.-Canada border.

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North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven granted the change on an emergency basis in July but the state wants to make the change permanent.

It also wants to increase the amount of water pumped through the outlet from three cubic metres per second to seven.

Melnick said North Dakota has done no environmental assessment of either plan. Mani-toba claims increasing the amount of water flowing would mean water quality tests at the border will show increased amounts of salt and sulphate, which in high quantities can hurt aquatic life.

Melnick wrote to federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice in July asking him to call on the IJC, a joint U.S.-Canada body assigned to conduct environmental reviews and solve cross-border water disputes.

Canada unsuccessfully had the outlet referred to the IJC in 2005, because the U.S. did not agree. Both countries have to agree before the IJC will step in.

It did eventually come in, upon request, to do a multi-year study of the presence of fish and pathogens in Devils Lake and the Red River basin, and do a risk assessment of the potential for transfer between the two. Initial results are due this year.

Melnick said Canada should also seek to have the treaty itself amended so the IJC can be brought in at the request of just one of the countries, not both. She said the IJC should de-cide, based on science, whether a request has merit.

She said this issue might have been resolved by now had the IJC done a full-scale assess-ment five years ago.

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Prentice has yet to respond to Melnick's August letter. In a response to an earlier letter, he told Melnick he was working on the issue of the outlet with Lisa Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

He said she is considering his offer to help do a general water quality analysis of Devils Lake.

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