Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No longer a Devil of an issue

N.D. lake flows with little woe

  • Print

For years, it bedevilled Manitoba's relationship with North Dakota, spawning court cases, appeals to international commissions, high-level summits in Washington and a war of words between then-premier Gary Doer and North Dakota's governor.

Now, the outlets that drain Devils Lake into the Red River watershed raise barely a peep, and most of the feared effects have been modest -- so far.

Last summer was the first year both outlets, including the new east one, operated at full tilt to reduce remarkably high water levels on Devils Lake that have swamped farmland and homes.

The two outlets empty into the Sheyenne River, which then empties into the Red, both part of a different watershed than Devils Lake. For years, as North Dakota prepared to operate the outlets, the Manitoba government and many others feared contaminants -- nutrients, sulphates, foreign organisms such as fish parasites -- would be introduced into the Red River watershed, causing ecological damage.

'We did see it pretty clearly in the data. It's an ongoing concern for us'

-- Manitoba water science and management director Nicole Armstrong

So far this summer, both outlets have been running at full capacity for about three weeks, said Jon Kelsch of the North Dakota State Water Commission, and Manitoba has again been monitoring Red River water quality carefully.

The big issue is sulphates -- salts that can give drinking water a bitter taste and act as a laxative.

Starting last summer, the Red River saw noticeably elevated levels of sulphates as a result of the two outlets, though the levels were still within the province's drinking-water guidelines.

"We did see it pretty clearly in the data," said Manitoba water science and management director Nicole Armstrong. "It's an ongoing concern for us."

There are water-quality limits that govern the two outlets, meaning North Dakota must reduce the flow if sulphate levels get too high, but the lake typically has exponentially higher sulphate levels than the Red.

Two water-treatment plants in southern Manitoba -- one in Morris and another in Letellier -- draw their drinking water from the Red. The plant in Morris uses an additional membrane technology to treat the water so it can handle the extra sulphates. But the Letellier plant has struggled and might eventually need an upgrade.

"At the end of the year, the hardness level and the total organic carbon of the treated water were difficult to treat," wrote staff in the Pembina Valley Water Cooperative's 2012 annual report. "This is due to the high influence of the Devils Lake water in the Red River."

Also an issue are nutrients, which cause the gunky blue-green algae that is harming Lake Winnipeg. Armstrong said North Dakota has agreed to work on a joint nutrient-reduction plan.

Devils Lake is not a huge contributor of nutrients to Manitoba waterways, but no single source is, making it important to reduce even the small ones.

Last summer, both outlets sent nearly 200 million cubic metres of water into the Sheyenne watershed. In the fall, when the water hit Manitoba and the Red's levels were low, Devils Lake water made up half to two-thirds of the water in the Red.

In June, the latest flow data available so far this summer, about two million cubic metres of water flowed through the outlets.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 3, 2013 A3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Andrew Ladd talks about his injury

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • KEN GIGLIOTTI  WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / July 23 2009 - 090723 - Bart Kives story - Harry Lazarenko Annual River Bank Tour - receding water from summer rains and erosion  damage by flood  and ice  during spring flooding -  Red River , Lyndale Dr. damage to tree roots , river bank damage  , high water marks after 2009 Flood - POY
  • A goose comes in for a landing Thursday morning through heavy fog on near Hyw 59 just north of Winnipeg - Day 17 Of Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge - May 24, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Are you concerned about the number of homicides so far this year?

View Results

Ads by Google