Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/8/2017 (309 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I have grown up with the story of the Garrison Diversion Project.
Since the 1970s, everyone this side of the border who understands ecosystems — and anyone with a shred of common sense — knows this project is a disaster for the waterways in Manitoba that are fed by the Red River.
Junior high-school biology students still have no trouble understanding the science — I was one, when construction first began, and nothing has changed since. We have even more evidence of the problems of invasive species, along with the northward migration of new species of flora and fauna, thanks to a warming climate. (Check out the pictures of flying Asian carp in the Mississippi River, for example.)
Without environmental approvals or acceptance by the International Joint Commission that resulted from the Boundary Waters Act of 1909, it has been built in fits and starts over the past 50 years anyway. The Garrison Diversion Project/Northwest Area Water Supply is as much of a monument to self-serving American pork-barrel politics as the disappearance of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan is a monument to Soviet economic planning from the same time period. Avoidable ecological catastrophes, both.
Budget after budget, representatives from North Dakota managed to get money for this (unapproved) project to supply water to Minot and other communities by tacking some funding onto whatever federal legislation they could, as the price of their support for tightly contested bills.
Which brings us to today, as all that was needed for the metaphorical switch to be flicked and the diversion opened is the kind of legal decision finally delivered in Washington, D.C., by an American judge last Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer ruled the Northwest Area Water Supply project complies with federal environmental law, dismissing the objections of Manitoba and the State of Missouri.
In other parts of the world, interference with the water supply of countries downstream in this way would be an act of war. Certainly, if Canada were to interfere with the other rivers that run south into the United States, it would be regarded as a hostile act by the Trump administration.
There is another source of water for the people of Minot, close to home.
The Devils Lake diversion (built in the same way, in violation of the same treaty) is supposed to take the excess floodwater from Devils Lake and funnel it — with nutrients and biota in abundance — into the Red River, too. Years of fighting that project led to the grudging installation of a filter that is supposed to strain out the lumps — when it is working, at least.
Since pipelines are something North Dakota seems to embrace, Devils Lake is roughly 193 kilometres from Minot (a minor distance for pipelines). That water could be transported, treated and used, solving both North Dakota’s problems and our own.
The easy answer, in both instances, however, was to do as they pleased and send whatever downstream to Manitoba, unconcerned about consequences they wouldn’t have to face.
Perhaps it’s about time there were some consequences for North Dakota.
Given the scale of devastation, which can’t be repaired by an "Oops, sorry!" down the road — and which may take a generation for the effects to be felt — Manitobans need to be heard south of the border and soon.
For me, North Dakota has just become the place I drive through to get somewhere I want to go. Minnesota is a nice place to visit, to shop, and I can travel from there anywhere I want in the United States.
If I fill my gas tank before I cross the border and take a few snacks for the drive, the only other reason I have to stop in North Dakota is handled by rest stops along the interstate.
If Manitobans simply avoided spending money in North Dakota — and communicated why — it would be a reminder that being good neighbours flows both ways. American visitors to Manitoba should be reminded — politely — the rivers and lakes they enjoy, the fish they eat, are being threatened by the actions of North Dakota.
Water protectors (Aboriginal and others), sport fishers, anyone who makes their living from tourism along the lakes and affected waterways, cottagers and anyone who wants to preserve the habitat of the wildlife along the way for future generations need to send a message of economic consequence to the North Dakota legislators who have ignored us since the 1960s.
The Northwest Area Water Supply project was designed in ignorance and built with arrogance. If common sense and science have failed to persuade North Dakotans to stop it (and to put a cork in the Devils Lake diversion, too), then let’s let our money talk.
We also have an interesting ally south of the border. When the people of Missouri are so convinced the Northwest Area Water Supply project is a bad idea they have fought it in court for years, how can anyone else think it is OK?
Peter Denton is a local sustainability consultant and chairs the policy committee of the Green Action Centre.