Pure Water Makes Good Neighbors

If a basement floods and the only solution is to pump water onto a neighbor's yard with the discharge flowing into that neighbor's basement, it's easy to see they both have a problem. Canada and the US face just such a situation along their border.

North Dakota's Devils Lake has no natural outlet. Since 1993 the level of the lake has risen 24.5 feet with flooding causing more than $450 million in damages. Farmlands were inundated and some 200 homes had to be moved. The state spent $28 million to build an outlet to divert water into the nearby Sheyenne River. Next month state officials plan to lower the level of the lake by 45,000 gallons a minute.

But the Sheyenne River flows into the Red River, which in turn runs north into the Canadian province of Manitoba and into Lake Winnipeg, the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world. Because the lake has been cut off from surrounding waters for more than 1,000 years, its waters have the potential to degrade drinking water and to introduce alien species harmful to the freshwater fishing industry. North Dakota officials claim water quality will be protected. The two US senators from North Dakota and Manitoba's premier have traded charges.

The issue has turned into a cross-border dispute, but there's a way to work it out: the 1909 Canada-US Boundary Waters Treaty establishing an International Joint Commission (IJC) with the authority to resolve disputes anywhere along the 4,000 mile border. Of the 53 issues presented to the commission, 51 have been resolved by mutual agreement. Canada appealed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to invoke the treaty and trump state officials until an IJC study is done. North Dakota said it can't wait the eight years the study would take. Canada offered a one-year study and willingness to abide by the outcome.

Secretary Rice should agree to the Canadian proposal.

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