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Senator: Devils Lake close to stability

FARGO (AP) -- The flood fight continues on a northeastern North Dakota lake that has been described as a slow-growing monster, but one of the state's U.S. senators said a series of remedies are making a difference.

Republican Sen. John Hoeven, who appeared with Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad at a field hearing in the city of Devils Lake earlier this week, said Friday he's "guardedly optimistic" the state's largest natural lake will soon stop growing.

"I think we're getting to the point where we can stabilize the lake for the long term," Hoeven said. "That's what we've been working so hard to accomplish. I really think we're getting close to that point."

Conrad began the Senate hearing by displaying a headline from a North Dakota newspaper editorial that read, "The Flood That Never Goes Away." The lake has risen nearly 31 feet since 1993 and reached a record level last summer. It has swallowed up more than 160,000 acres of prime farm and pasture land.

One resident last summer could only get to his farm house by driving a 4-wheeled ATV for 3-1/2 miles, taking a duck boat guided by rope for 300 feet, and then walking a quarter of a mile to a vehicle that took him the rest of the way.

But his optimism is tempered.

"We're a little relieved because it was such a dry winter and dry spring. The lake hasn't risen this spring," he said. "Who knows what'll happen next spring. They say it'll be better, but if you've got really big snowfalls -- heavy, wet snowfalls -- we're not really out of the woods. It's one of those 'Who knows?'"

While plans are in place to relocate an entire town, Hoeven said the three-pronged approach of storing water, building up roads and dikes, and adding a second outlet should help turn the lake "from the problem it is to the real asset it should be." The levee construction is nearing completion and the east-end outlet should go online this summer, Hoeven said.