The Devils Lake Outlets
In response to Devils Lake’s record-breaking rise, the State of North Dakota began construction of a 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) emergency outlet from the West Bay of Devils Lake to the Sheyenne River in 2002. The West End Outlet began operating during the summer of 2005 and discharged a relatively small volume from 2005 through 2008. In 2009, the West End Outlet began to operate steadily, and in 2010, the discharge capacity was increased to 250 cfs.
Record spring inflows of over 580,000 acre-feet occurred in both 2009 and 2011. These inflows caused significant lake rises and reinforced concerns that the lake could continue to rise, potentially to the overflow elevation of 1458 feet (NGVD 29). In 2012, in response to continued flooding conditions, the state constructed an additional 350 cfs outlet from East Devils Lake. The maximum combined discharge capacity of the outlets is 600 cfs and the outlets are operated with regard to downstream capacity and water quality considerations.
As of December 2020, the outlets have combined to discharge over 1.3 million acre-feet of floodwater with approximately 58% of that total from the West Outlet. Without operation of the Devils Lake Outlets, it is estimated that the lake would be approximately six feet higher than the current elevation.
Devils Lake Outlets Management Advisory Committee
The Devils Lake Outlets Management Advisory Committee is a seventeen-member committee that advises the Governor and the State Water Commission regarding operation of the Devils Lake Outlets. Committee members are stakeholders from the Devils Lake, Sheyenne, and Red River basins including representatives from Minnesota and Manitoba. The Committee typically meets in the spring to review past outlet operation and to discuss future operating recommendations. The committee may recommend criteria for operation of each outlet based on outflow volumes, water quality considerations, and the risk of an overflow of Devils Lake.
Tolna Coulee Control Structure
In addition to the outlets, the Tolna Coulee Control Structure serves an added level of protection from a natural uncontrolled overflow. The purpose of the structure is to prevent a potentially catastrophic uncontrolled overflow of Stump Lake through the Tolna Coulee while allowing the Devils Lake water levels to fall to the level that they would have without the project. The control structure was constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers. It was completed in May 2012 and is owned and operated by the State Water Commission.