End the water war with ManitobaIt’s time for North Dakota and Manitoba to give up re-enacting the Hatfields and McCoys and resolve their disputes over the Devils Lake outlet and the 30-mile dam along the Manitoba border. These differences have lasted so long they are becoming intergenerational.
By: Lloyd Omdahl, Columnist, The Jamestown Sun
It’s time for North Dakota and Manitoba to give up re-enacting the Hatfields and McCoys and resolve their disputes over the Devils Lake outlet and the 30-mile dam along the Manitoba border. These differences have lasted so long they are becoming intergenerational.
Over objections articulated by Manitoba, North Dakota now is planning to increase the flow of Devils Lake water even though the sulfate level has risen since the original outlet permit was issued by the Health Department’s environmental health section. Manitoba is concerned and wants North Dakota to install a $15 million filter.
While Canada has been objecting to Devils Lake water, North Dakota farmers have been struggling with water being held back by a road dike on the Manitoba side of the border. The impasse between the State and the Province has caught farmers in the middle of the dispute.
In May, Manitoba Premier Gary Doer offered to negotiate both controversies in a tit-for-tat deal – you add the filter and we’ll take care of the dike. But Governor John Hoeven, chair of the State Water Commission, said “no deal — the two are unrelated.”
Even so, Grand Forks Herald Editorial Editor Tom Dennis proposed that both problems be addressed with the total cost being split between North Dakota and Manitoba. “The result,” he wrote, “would be not just a ‘win-win,’ but ‘win-win-win-win-win’ plus a few other ‘wins,’ once the results were tallied up.”
His suggestion seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The North Dakota attitude seems to be “my way or no way.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been called upon to intervene on North Dakota’s behalf on the basis of the Boundary Waters Treaty.
North Dakota may end up being legally right but diplomatically wrong. When we deal with Canadians, we are not dealing with some foreign antagonists but with friends. In fact, they are more than just friends, they are kin. Not only do we share a common civil culture that goes back to England, but Canadians have been on our side of international disputes when we were wrong and they had ample excuse to walk away.
In the context of a $7 billion biennial state budget, $15 million is a pretty paltry sum to invest in a cordial relationship with a good neighbor. Instead of thumbing our noses, we should be building support for the compromise and the money in the 2011 legislative session.
Looking at the issues from the Canadian side, Doer will have a challenge when he tries to get the farmers on his side of the border to let the dammed up water flow into their fields. Any flatland landowner knows that drainage disputes can generate bitter hatred and destroy neighborly good will. Nobody wants the water on his/her land.
If Doer is willing to take that kind of political heat, it seems that we ought to take another look at our intransigence on the filter issue. How can we expect to see a Mideast peace when we can’t even deal civilly with a good friend in our own backyard?
(Lloyd Omdahl, of Grand Forks, is a former lieutenant governor, state tax commissioner and state budget director)