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WikiLeaks documents reveal US/Canada tensions over Devils Lake

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FARGO - A reminder of tense relations between the U.S. and Canada over the release of water from flooding Devils Lake surfaced this week with the release of leaked documents.

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WikiLeaks released U.S. diplomatic documents to CBC, which were widely publicized in Canada, detailing American officials' frustrations in 2005 over Manitoba's "angry rhetoric" opposing releases from Devils Lake to alleviate flooding.

Canadians for years have expressed concerns about water from Devils Lake, which ultimately flows north of the border by way of the Sheyenne and Red rivers. They fear the risk of receiving non-native biological species or deteriorating water quality in the Red River.

In 2005, when Gary Doer was premier of Manitoba, American diplomats sent internal messages expressing their frustration over his intransigence.

"The U.S. and Canada are clearly on a collision course over Devils Lake, one that could have been avoided in a number of ways over the past two years," John Dickson, a U.S. diplomat, wrote May 10, 2005.

"The angry rhetoric and intransigence of the provincial government in Manitoba, now escalating at the federal level in Ottawa, has served to harden the attitude in North Dakota, rather than help move toward a solution."

Since the reports surfaced Sunday over the CBC, Doer's successor as Manitoba premier has pointed out that the two countries nonetheless have been able to achieve "significant progress" in dealing with Devils Lake.

"We've all been working together on Devils Lake," Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger told the Winnipeg Free Press on Monday.

That progress, Selinger added, came partly through the efforts of Canada's ambassador to the United States, Gary Doer.

"The American ambassador to Canada, the Canadian ambassador to America, the governor of North Dakota and myself and officials at all levels have been working together to manage that risk," Sellinger said.

A spokesman for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who was governor at the time the U.S. diplomat was describing frustrations in 2005 with Doer's actions as Manitoba premier, said Canadians now have accepted the real possibility of an uncontrolled release of poor-quality water if Devils Lake isn't drawn down by pumping from an outlet.

"Manitoba's always opposed our efforts to take more water out of Devils Lake," Don Canton, a Hoeven spokesman, said Tuesday. "They now realize they could get an uncontrolled release."

Meanwhile, a spokes-man for Gov. Jack Dalrymple said relations regarding North Dakota and Canada over Devils Lake have been constructive, but the state continues to press for relief.

"We have made progress with Canada so they do understand the reality of Devils Lake, but we continue to push them as well to allow us to release more water from the lake," Dalrymple spokesman Jeff Zent said.

Devils Lake now is 3½ feet from reaching its natural overflow level, which would allow the lake to flow through the Tolna Coulee to the Sheyenne River, a tributary of the Red River.

Leaked documents detailing the tensions over a lake solution six years ago surfaced even as residents around Devils Lake are clamoring for more aggressive efforts to release water to alleviate flooding.

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