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Devils Lake flood: A community lost

We faced another late spring in the Devils Lake basin this year and saw tens of thousands of additional acres of land flooded. We — my family and our neighbors — watched as more people were forced out of our community as their livings and homes were swallowed by the ever-expanding lake.

I never thought I would see friends and neighbors become homeless through no action of their own, yet that is happening on an all-too-regular basis. In this area, we are driving on roads that most would never chance driving. One of our biggest challenges is not just the wet fields; it is finding a road that will get us to the field.

My family is moving this year. Not unlike many of our friends and neighbors, we are moving out of the home where our kids played and where we chose to build our life. We won’t be moving because we want to, though we had someday planned to build a new house.

We are moving because we feel we have no choice. We are moving because we have no sewer, no safe road to our home for our kids and ourselves to drive, and no future left farming in what was one of the finest farm communities in North Dakota.

Key Points

Farmers and rural residents are being forced from their homes.

People leave because they have no sewers, roads or land to farm.

The city may be saved, but the community will be lost.

Many are working toward a solution to the Devils Lake situation and have been for a long time. Recently, at a meeting in Devils Lake, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Water Commission said, “This project [the control structure in the Tolna Coulee] is for the protection of downstream.”

What the corps and the state are missing is that at an elevation of 1,458 feet [above mean sea level], there is nothing left here. It is too late for many now [at 1,454.2 and rising], and at 1,458 feet, the community is lost. While the city of Devils Lake will still exist, the community will not. The farms and rural residents are being forced out, and the economic base of a once-vital community is in danger of collapse.

Let’s hope and pray that the [flood control] efforts take into consideration that there are just as many needs here in the basin as there are downstream. The future of an entire community depends on it.

Remember, the next time you have a flat tire on a planter when there is a rain cloud looming, that at least you’re out there doing what you love. Remember, the next time you get behind a slow driver who is taking up the whole road, that at least you have a road. Remember, the next time you complain about getting home late, that at least you have a home.

Aasmundstad is president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau and farms near Devils Lake, N.D.

This article published in the July, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.