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Cablegate: Devil's Lake: Containing the Damage

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 001411




E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/10/2015


Classified By: Charge John Dickson. Reason 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C) Summary - 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. We
continue to believe that a reference to the International
Joint Commission (IJC) would have been the most constructive
approach, but Canada,s failure to accept our request for a
reference in 2002 and our apparent inability to agree to one
now have essentially removed that best-case option. For its
part, Canada is considering a number of &unilateral
actions8 to achieve its aims ) including seeking an
injunction in U.S. federal court and/or bringing greater
media attention to the issue. Assuming that the Department
will not agree to the Canadian request for an IJC reference
at this late date, we recommend that the USG start planning
quickly to counter the official outcry and media assault that
will undoubtedly follow in Canada. We need to prepare the
best possible defense of our position, which is increasingly
coincident with that of the state, and ensure that North
Dakota authorities adhere rigorously to the water quality
standards included in the permit for the state outlet. End

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2. (C) The problem we face over the outlet at Devil,s Lake
now is one of reduced options, due to our failure over the
past several years to agree with Canada on a reference to the
IJC or to some other mutually agreed mechanism for resolving
concerns about an outlet from Devils Lake. Construction of
the outlet is nearly complete at significant cost to the
state. There is no reason to believe that North Dakota would
agree to postpone operation of the project at this late date
unless forced to do so. That, of course, is still a
possibility, if the Canadian or the Manitoban Government can
obtain an injunction from a U.S. federal court. (Note: We
understand from Canadian officials that they are considering
filing such a motion with a federal court in Washington DC.)

3. (C) Canadian behavior on Devils Lake over the past
several years has been unfortunately disingenuous. Their
strategy shows little concern for the very real plight of
their neighbors, despite a fairly long history of cooperation
over flooding issues in the Red River Basin. In view of
Canada,s decision not to refer an earlier Army Corps of
Engineers project to the IJC in 2002 and by aggressively
demanding an IJC reference on the state project now, the
Canadian Government,s arguments about the integrity of the
Boundary Waters Treaty have taken on the air of empty
moralizing. Their actions reflect more a strategy of delay
or cancellation of the project at all costs, using whatever
argument seems convenient at a given moment. Furthermore,
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.

4. (C) The federal government in Ottawa is now seized with
this issue, even though outside of Manitoba it still has not
taken on as high a profile as beef or softwood lumber. A
decision by the USG not to refer this issue to the IJC may
well make it the third major complaint (after softwood lumber
and BSE) against the U.S., especially as Canada moves toward
an electoral campaign when both government and opposition
will want to show -- rhetorically anyway -- how strong a
stance they will take for Canadian interests against their
southern neighbor.

5. (C) Discussions with contacts at Foreign Affairs reveal
that Canada is still not looking for a mutually agreeable
solution short of an IJC reference. They are now studying
options to prevent the release of the water, including direct
appeals to multiple offices at the Department and White
House, enlisting members of Congressional delegations
neighboring North Dakota to appeal to senior USG officials,
filing for an injunction in federal court, and recruiting
high profile Americans to travel to North Dakota to publicize
the issue.

6. (C) If, as we expect, the Department decides not to agree
to an IJC reference, we need to move quickly to limit the
damage to our bilateral relationship and to counter the
official and media assault that will undoubtedly follow.
Once the water starts flowing through the outlet, there will
be no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but we should
be prepared to make the best case possible that water from
the outlet has not introduced alien invasive species to the
Sheyenne and Red Rivers and that the outlet has not had a
significant negative impact on water quality downstream. We
should be ready to respond quickly and forcefully to
complaints from Manitoba, the Canadian Government and the
media with our own message ) one that will depend to a large
extent on North Dakota,s compliance with EPA water quality
standards and the best possible research on the alleged
invasive species in Devils Lake. On the latter issue, North
Dakota authorities have already shared publicly some
information indicating that two species of fish pathogens of
concern are already present in Manitoba and/or the Red River
in Minnesota. North Dakota officials have also said that the
striped bass, introduced into Devils Lake many years ago,
have not been seen in the lake since 1993. Canadian
officials and media seem to be unaware of this information or
willing to ignore/discount it because of its source. To make
an impact and to be credible on this issue, we will need much
more detailed information than we currently have.

7. (C) As we understand it, North Dakota has monitoring
stations at several locations along the Sheyenne and Red
Rivers. We need to ensure that the state has taken steps to
establish a water quality baseline for the river. We should
emphasize to state authorities the importance of adhering
rigorously to the tolerances for phosphorus, total dissolved
solids and other pollutants included in the state,s permit
for the outlet. The more open, transparent and timely the
state is in sharing monitoring information and
reducing/stopping water flow when necessary to stay within
established tolerances, the more chance we have of countering
erroneous claims of pollution from the lake. Some of the
state,s monitoring data is already available on a state
website, but should be made more accessible and user-
friendly to be effective in countering Manitoba,s
allegations on water quality. We believe it would also be
useful for North Dakota to invite Canadian/Manitoban water
officials to participate in ongoing monitoring activities as
a means of establishing transparency and credibility with our
Canadian counterparts -- as well as starting to rebuild trust
in this terribly strained relationship.

8. (C) This issue is a prime example of failed diplomacy, in
that there have been no direct discussions between Canada and
the U.S. or the two major parties (North Dakota and Manitoba)
on solutions beyond referring this to the IJC. Our best
course of action now lies in trying to limit damage to the
relationship and to stop further escalation of the situation.
We need to communicate at the highest levels our
disappointment at having been unable to agree on a bilateral
solution to this issue and our determination not to let this
disagreement damage our long-standing efforts to cooperate on
cross-border water issues. To this end, we suggest that the
Secretary convey our views directly to Foreign Minister
Pettigrew and that we make an effort to reinforce that view
at all levels of the Canadian and Manitoban Governments.

Visit Canada's Classified Web Site at


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