Clinton urges $50 million outlet for flooded N.D. lake

WASHINGTON (AP) — Think the Red River is flooded now? An environmental group says the problem will only get worse under the Clinton administration’s plan to divert water from North Dakota’s Devils Lake into the Red.
Advocates of the plan say there is no threat to the Red. Nevertheless, the group American Rivers listed the Red among 20 “threatened” waterways nationwide.
Ten other rivers, led by the Missouri, are considered in more immediate peril and were listed Wednesday as “endangered.”
Also listed as threatened were the heavily polluted Minnesota River and the scenic St. Croix, which made the list because of plans for a bridge that conservationists think would spoil the river vista.
Under pressure from North Dakota interests, President Clinton recently asked Congress for $50 million to build an outlet to alleviate flooding on Devils Lake. The water would flow into the Sheyenne River, which in turn empties into the Red.
The lake does not have a natural outlet; its level has risen 15 feet since 1992. The water diversion would be sharply restricted to prevent flooding downstream or degrading the quality of water in the Sheyenne, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
But conservationists still don’t think Congress should approve the project.
“People in Minnesota don’t have much to gain from this,” said Mark TenEyk, an attorney for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. “From Minnesota’s side, it’s not a good year to talk about putting more water into the Red River.”
The outlet, which would not be ready for at least three years, could lower the lake level by only 6 to 12 inches a year because of restrictions on water flows, said Ken Gardner, a spokesman for the Corps of Engineers.
Money for the outlet is included in a must-pass disaster assistance bill that Congress will consider later this year. But opposition from groups such as American Rivers will make it difficult for North Dakota lawmakers to keep the Devils Lake money in the legislation.
“There’s no intention to move water from one flood to another flood. … That’s not the purpose of an outlet, nor would it be used in that manner,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
Devils Lake is expected to rise another two feet this spring.