August 6, 2005

Canada, US agree ways to drain N.Dakota lake safely

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada and the United States announced
a deal on Saturday that could years of bickering over plans to
drain a North Dakota lake into rivers that end up in Canada,
and said there would be safeguards to prevent pollution and
minimize risk from "nuisance species" of fish.

A statement from the two countries said they had made
progress in deciding how to drain Devils Lake, a low-lying area
of water that flooded farms, schools and villages as it spread
from 70 square miles to 200 square miles during extended
periods of wet weather.

North Dakota has built channels to let some of the water
from the lake drain into rivers that flow to the Red River and
then on to Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, the world's 10th largest
freshwater lake.

Canadian officials had said draining the lake could pollute
Canadian waters and introduce nonnative fish stocks,
threatening commercial fishing at the lake -- a C$25 million
($20 million) a year industry.

The joint statement said some of these concerns had now
been addressed. It gave no date when draining the lake, once
scheduled for July 1 and then delayed, would start.

"Important progress has been made toward addressing
flooding in Devils Lake while protecting aquatic resources
throughout the Red River Basin," the two sides said.

"The participants have a higher level of confidence that
the outlet can be operated in a manner that will not pose an
unreasonable risk to the other parts of the (Red River) Basin."

The agreement provides for new rock and gravel filters at
the start of the new drainage system as well as extensive
monitoring of the water in the basin to be sure that pollution
levels are not rising and that species from the lake do not get
into the other water systems and crowd out existing fish.

North Dakota says its system of pumps, pipes and canals
will stabilize Devils Lake at current levels, channeling excess
water to the Sheyenne River, and on to the Red River and then
over the Canadian border.

Although its water quality has not been extensively
studied, critics say landlocked Devils Lake has especially high
concentrations of pollutants because runoff from farms and
populated areas accumulates there.

North Dakota denies that, pointing to thriving local
leisure and fishing sectors.

($1=$1.22 Canadian)