Progress toward resolving a number of long-standing water policy differences between Canada and the U.S. was made during a second round of four-party talks held Monday. All parties agreed that preventing an uncontrolled overflow of Devils Lake through the natural outlet at Tolna Coulee is a critical priority in order to preserve downstream water quality, and that more water needs to be transferred out of Devils Lake through controlled outlets to achieve this goal.
All parties agreed that the worst-case scenario would be an uncontrolled release of the lowest-quality water through Tolna Coulee, a risk that would be mitigated by greater releases from areas of higher water quality. Water quality is at least 250 percent worse at Tolna Coulee than East Devils Lake. The parties agreed to expedite analysis of the effects of proposed outlet expansions on downstream water quality.
Participants discussed how the extremely wet conditions and high water levels throughout the Red River basin have significantly increased the potential for flooding this coming spring. In recognition of this risk, North Dakota and Manitoba agreed to share data and expertise in a new effort to protect citizens on both sides of the border.
Progress toward an integrated basin-wide nutrient management strategy was made with general agreement to identify current and potential measures to reduce nutrients in the Red River basin in cooperation with neighboring jurisdictions.
Participants included U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, North Dakota Governor John Hoeven, Senator Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. Gary Doer, and U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson.
Potential new measures to reduce flooding in the border region of the Lower Pembina River Basin were also discussed. All parties agreed on the need to speed up a resolution in a way that takes the concerns of affected citizens in North Dakota and Manitoba into account.
Contributions from experts representing all four parties helped participants reach a better understanding of the technical details with respect to natural flood risks, water quality concerns and environmental impacts. All parties committed to continuing discussions.
North Dakota and Manitoba agreed to continue to work toward finding common ground on potential options for the Northwest Area Water Supply Project that address both parties' concerns on adequate treatment and cost.
"I believe these series of four-party meetings have demonstrated an increased willingness from all sides to cooperate in the face of a potentially catastrophic flood that would harm citizens on both sides of the border," Senator Dorgan said. "Today's agreement to work together to transfer water out of Devils Lake in order to prevent a natural overflow of Devils Lake through the Tolna Coulee shows real progress. Discussions on a range of other key water issues moved us closer together than ever before. It is clear that more work needs to be done and I look forward to continuing a constructive dialogue to finally resolve these long-standing issues."
"These meetings are critical in addressing shared concerns over water quality and quantity in Manitoba and North Dakota," Premier Selinger said. "Everyone agrees that a natural release of the worst-quality water from Devils Lake at Tolna Coulee would have serious negative downstream impacts. This is a very real prospect with current water levels and all parties are committed to working together to prevent this outcome."
"Today's meeting brings us one step closer to resolution on a number of water issues impacting North Dakota, Manitoba, the United States and Canada," Senator Conrad said. "The fact is, the situation in Devils Lake and along our northern border demands our immediate attention and swift action. Each party recognizes the disaster that an uncontrolled overflow out of Devils Lake would produce. As such, I applaud Senator Dorgan's long and distinguished leadership in this area and look forward to continuing to work with all parties to develop mutually beneficial solutions."
"It is important to continue to move forward together to make sure that we help with flooding in affected communities," Governor Hoeven said.
The first ever four-party talks were held October 7 -- 8, 2010 to discuss issues related to Devils Lake, the Northwest Area Water Supply Project, flooding in the lower Pembina River basin, and nutrient loading to waters in the international Red River basin.