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Fishermen fear that Lake Winnipeg will be invaded by alien species set loose by a North Dakota's plans to spill off Devils Lake by draining its rising waters into the Sheyenne River, which would then flow into the Red River of the North and eventually emptying into Lake Winnipeg. North Dakota officials say Devils Lake has risen 27 feet since 1993, because of excessive rain, flooding roads and towns in northeast North Dakota and causing $400 million in damage.
According to experts, Devils Lake has not drained into the Red River for more than a thousand years and Canadian officials fear that if the plans go forward, the mixing of waters will introduce new life forms, into Lake Winnipeg, where they will not have natural predators and results will be unpredictable.
In Washington, State Department officials say a resolution is vital for the settling of dozens of smaller water disputes across the United States-Canadian border.
In the past, Washington planned a project to drain off Devils Lake using a sand filter to protect downstream waters, but North Dakota balked at the costs. Due to the lack of resolution, North Dakota has began a construction of a $27 million system of pipes and open channels that should be operating by May 2005. The state project, however, does not include the filter.
That decision is angering Canadians and fisherman in Gimli, a fishing town about 50 miles north of Winnipeg.
According to North Dakota officials, scientific studies show that the project will not be a danger to anyone. And added that if the lake rises 10 more feet, it could overflow into the Red River system anyway.
"The biota is the same in Devils Lake as it is in the Sheyenne River," said Gov. John Hoeven of North Dakota.
As a result, Manitoba filed suit in North Dakota to stop the project, joining several American environmental groups, to protect the Lake Winnipeg fishery, which it says produces $150 million a year and employs 3,500 fishermen. Minnesota and Missouri have also expressed concern about the long-term impact of the North Dakota project.