City of Valley City position on Devils Lake water

By: Herald Staff Report, Grand Forks Herald

Published January 25 2011

Here’s the City of Valley City, N.D., official position on Devils Lake water:
General Statement
The City of Valley City recognizes the seriousness of the water elevation problem in Devils Lake, with an understanding there is a significant risk that Devils Lake will continue to rise and ultimately exceed the natural spill elevation of 1458’.
We are prepared to continue to be an active partner in the development of strategies and solutions to respond to this critical situation. Valley City recognizes that there are varying opinions, positions and options, and each community has specific ideas regarding the ultimate solution – from those communities in and around the Devils Lake Basin to the downstream communities of Valley City, Lisbon, Fort Ransom and to the Red River Valley.
Understanding that Valley City is ultimately concerned about the welfare of our citizens and community, we clearly recognize that the final solution will involve compromise and some sacrifice for everyone in order to solve this regional problem.
As part of the comprehensive solution, direct flooding impacts on downstream communities and rural residents must be addressed and permanent flood protection for those downstream communities must be a priority.
Specific Concerns/Positions for Valley City
Water Quality: Valley City is interested in a solution that results in the best possible water quality in the Sheyenne River. However, we do understand that water may have to be released from Devils Lake into the Sheyenne River as one aspect of the solution and further understand that water quality standards on the Sheyenne River below the Bald Hill Dam may need to be adjusted to allow managed discharges of water from Devils Lake.
We support a solution that results in water with the best quality possible being released into the Sheyenne River and ultimately through Valley City, Barnes County and the communities beyond, given the overall scope of the problem.
Overflow of Stump Lake: There have been reports regarding the unstable soil quality in the Tolna Coulee which could result in catastrophic flooding should Stump Lake overflow, washing out the Coulee. The City Commission of Valley City recently adopted a resolution supporting the armoring of the Tolna Coulee at the natural overflow level to prevent a catastrophic failure and resultant flooding.
None of the downstream communities could handle the amount of water and devastation caused by such a calamity. However, please understand that the intent of the resolution urging the armoring of the Tolna Coulee should not be interpreted to mean that Valley City considers this armoring to be a permanent solution, but that the armoring should immediately commence while additional release structures are being designed and constructed. In the resolution, the intent is that the armoring would serve as an “insurance policy” for downstream communities until such time as the permanent solution(s) are in place.
We understand that there may be some potential legal issues to overcome with this temporary solution, but as any permanent solution may be years away, this temporary armoring is needed to prevent the blow out of the coulee.
Additional Controlled-Release Structure(s): The average annual in-flows into Devils Lake of 240,000 acre feet are not matched by a combination of the out-flows from the current outlet at the west end of Devils Lake and annual evaporation.
With the outlet running at its full capacity of 250 cfs, we have been advised that 100,000 acre feet can be released during seven (7) months of operation per year and annual evaporation can remove an additional 100,000 acre feet. Valley City supports control release structure(s) to release additional water, with a clear understanding of the channel capacity of the Sheyenne River.
The support of Valley City for the additional release structure(s) is contingent on the release structure(s) being developed in areas with highest water quality found in Devils Lake.
Upper Basin Storage:
Valley City supports exploring options for the restoration of drained wetlands in the upper basin storage to reduce the in-flows to Devils Lake.
We fully understand that wetlands in the upper basin have been legally drained and that state law prohibits landowners in the upper basin from being forced to accept water, thus reducing usable agricultural land. Sufficient financial incentives would be necessary to adequately compensate these land owners to offset the annual loss of income as a result of the restoration of wetlands.
Action Triggers: As part of the City of Valley City Flood Emergency Plan, we have identified action triggers.
We encourage a similar approach to the Devils Lake solution so that agreed upon action triggers are in place that results in a pre-determined course of action when the triggers are met or exceeded.
All impacted communities should be included in the development of this plan and a mechanism for informing each community of the status of the triggers should be developed.
Erosion Control: The increased flows in the Sheyenne River as a result of multiple release structures will have an impact on river bank erosion through the City of Valley City.
Over the years, we have experienced significant erosion of the river bank, including areas along and near Main Street which will have an impact on city infrastructure, including water and the main sanitary sewer line which runs along the Sheyenne River under Main Street.
The main sanitary sewer line failed during the 2009 flood event and was recently replaced through the assistance of the USACE Section 594 Program. We seek guidance and assistance in identifying federal programs and funding to mitigate the existing erosion problem with a permanent solution to protecting this vital infrastructure.
Drinking Water Quality & Treatment: The City of Valley City is the only community that uses the Sheyenne River as a primary source for drinking water. Due to the increased sulfate levels of water, the City is in the process of converting our 38 year old lime softening treatment plant into a reverse osmosis or membrane treatment plant.
The conversion/upgrade is being financed with Federal STAG monies ($800,000), $4.6 Million in ARRA Loans ($2.6 Million of that forgivable) and a $9.2 Million grant from the North Dakota State Water Commission. However, due to EPA and North Dakota Department of Health Regulations, the City will need to construct a large storage cell to retain reject water for up to 180 days at an additional cost of $5.2 Million.
We are requesting assistance in funding this additional part of the project. The position of the City of Valley City is that our citizens should not be burdened with this additional cost when the need for the plant and storage lagoon were the direct result of the flooding issues and sulfate levels in Devils Lake which will now be flowing through Valley City.
Permanent Flood Protection in Valley City: Valley City has long had the need for comprehensive, permanent flood protection. The 2009 flood event is a good indicator of this need.
In order to mitigate the increased risk of flooding due to the anticipated increases to the flow of the Sheyenne River through Valley City, this issue should be revisited and expedited.
A flood protection study and cost-benefit analysis should be conducted with the component of additional flooding potential from Devils Lake being factored into the equation.
Any design for permanent flood protection in Valley City must take into consideration the topography of the region and look at a new definition for such protection.
Situated in the Sheyenne River Valley, the definition of protection would need to be revised so that the City would not lose all properties in the city contiguous to the river.
FEMA Policy on Usage of Buy-out Properties: The current FEMA policy prohibits permanent structures on FEMA buy-out properties. Unfortunately, FEMA defines a flood control structure as a “permanent structure” under this policy.
We urge FEMA to revisit this policy and make the necessary revision so that communities like Valley City are able to construct flood control structures on the very properties that would result in the most benefit to the City.