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Hold up waterway, Ashton asks 'neighbours'
Hold up waterway, Ashton asks 'neighbours'
Paul Egan
February 2, 2005
Water Stewardship Minister Steve Ashton will travel to the United States today to make a direct appeal to North Dakotans to hold up the planned Devils Lake diversion project. The state has nearly finished digging a ditch that would divert Devils Lake water into the system that feeds the Red River and Lake Winnipeg. Provincial officials worry the diversion will send pollution and foreign organisms into Lake Winnipeg, hurting the lake and its commercial fishery. Ashton wants the cross-border dispute referred to the International Joint Commission, but the United States has not yet joined Canada in asking the IJC to consider the issue. Ashton said he will hold a news conference in Grand Forks today to make "an appeal to North Dakotans on a neighbour-to-neighbour basis." No meetings with officials from Gov. John Hoeven's office or other politicians are planned, Ashton said. State officials have spent about $25 million on the 22-kilometre outlet from Devils Lake to the Sheyenne River and say it's too late to refer the project to the IJC. The state, which is trying to alleviate flooding around Devils Lake, plans to open the outlet in July. Manitoba has joined environmental groups and neighbouring states in U.S. court action aimed at stopping the project and has also said it is suspending co-operation on other cross-border drainage work. But Ashton said he will take a friendlier approach on his trek today, pledging continued co-operation in the event of an emergency such as a spring flood and announcing a modest funding increase for a drainage project that would help North Dakota. Ashton said he was encouraged by an article in yesterday's The Globe and Mail that said resolving the Devils Lake dispute with the United States should be a more urgent national priority than the BSE crisis or the softwood lumber battle. The author, Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia, who is academic director of the Liu Institute for Global Issues, told the Free Press yesterday that BSE and softwood lumber are causing serious economic pain, but Devils Lake is about to wreak permanent economic damage. "We're talking about irreversibly destroying the Lake Winnipeg fishery," Byers said.

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