Water woes continue to affect farmers

Mike Bellmore, Features Editor

Joe Belford and Bill Hodous have been following the Devils Lake flooding situation closely for years.

And Danny Webster, who farms near Penn, has been perhaps one of the most adversely-affected farmers by the floodwaters in the region.

Belford, a long-time Ramsey County Commissioner, has been at the forefront of the battle against the continuously rising water.

Hodous, the Ramsey County Extension Service Agent, works closely with farmers who have seen what damage the water brings.

All three men say the National Weather Service prediction out of Grand Forks of a 1-2 feet rise in the big lake this spring is not welcome news by any means.

The lake has been on a steady rise for nearly 20 years and nearly a billion dollars has been spent on infrastructure during that time.

The Lake Region has seen roads raised and the dike protecting the city of Devils Lake on many occasions.

“Our office out of Fargo did an impact statement on how this water affects us up here,” says Hodous. “And it's not good news.”

The study conducted by the NDSU Extension Service in Fargo showed that $22 million had been lost each of the years from 2004-2008.

It also showed that with each corresponding one-foot rise in the lake, between 10,000 and 12,000 additional acres will be lost.

That's why Hodous says the news of another rise in the lake this spring is sobering news.

“It could go up two feet,” he says. “But it's a struggle every year for the farmers because you just never know what's coming or what to expect.”

With predictions of Devils Lake going to 1451 or 1452 feet, Belford says an additional 15-20,000 acres could go down this year.

Chances have been put at 100 percent for Devils Lake to rise to 1451.5 feet this year and 50 percent for 1452.0 feet.

“You can also throw all the road  problems into that picture too as well as the cropland,” Belford says. “And the community of Minnewaukan could be facing some diking too. So for the farmers and Minnewaukan as well, this spring could be devastating.”

Webster has one of the most compelling stories in the region to tell.

He began losing land to the rising water in 1993, and the total has grown to 2,000 acres.

"It's all backup from the lake," says webster. "Lake Irvine, Lake Alice - they're all part of Devils Lake now."

Webster has been among the farmers in the area who have been fighting for some sort of compensation for his lost land. Farmers have basically been left out of the pictgure for compensation.

They're basically losing their livelihood and have gotten nothing in return, and it is becoming more and more frustrating, he says.

"I could lose another thousand acres this year if the lake comes up another 1-2 feet," added Webster.

"We just want our land back - nobody wants the water. What they're doing is using our land for storage. And this is involving generations of family farms."

Webster admits that it is a huge problem and hard to dserive anything buy sympathy from.

"If it doesn’t involve you, it doesn't hit home," he said. "We're just trying to survive another yerar ans save what we can."