Landowners say Devils Lake outlet is leaking, damaging farmland

Jun 25, 2018

State engineer Garland Erbele.

A number of landowners near the west-end outlet of Devils Lake say the outlet is leaking.

And they may have to take the state Water Commission to court because of it.

The landowners say leaks were first detected shortly after the outlet became operational, in 2007.

The issue came up at the most recent Water Commission meeting.

"They (landowners) are suffering damage from the operation of the outlet," Cando attorney J. Bruce Gibbons represents some of the landowners. "There's been seepage from that outlet over onto their land, affecting their crops."

Gibbons told the Water Commission the landowners hired Western Plains Consulting of Bismarck to determine if there are leaks – and the study came back positive.

"The state Water Commission has claimed, at least to these producers and landowners, that they can't verify that seepage has occurred and affected these landowners' property," Gibbons said. "Yet they paid for damages in 2012. So I think it's pretty clear they know there is seepage out there."

One of the affected landowners is State Rep. Dennis Johnson (R-Devils Lake). He told the Water Commission he can’t work some of his land because it’s too wet – and he finds it frustrating.

"I really feel bad we're at this point," Johnson told the Commission. "I tried working with them (the Water Commission)n in 2007, 2008. I've said, 'C'mon guys -- let's get it fixed so it doesn't leak.' They just keep blowing me off."

Gibbons told the Commission the landowners are hoping to reach an out of court settlement and avoid legal action.

"Are we going to negotiate and try to resolve this issue, and are we going to do that in a timely manner?" Gibbons said. "This thing has been going on forever."

Gibbons said if negotiations don't happen, the landowners will have a court determine if there's damages, and what the solution is.

State engineer Garland Erbele has declined comment, because of the possibility of a lawsuit. The Water Commission will take up the matter at its August meeting.