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Devils Lake is a terminal lake in the Devils Lake basin, which means that water leaves Devils Lake through evapotranspiration or when its elevation is high enough to overflow the basin’s boundary. Because Devils Lake does not have a natural outlet at its current elevation, it is either rising or falling in response to climatic conditions, a situation that has led to numerous challenges since settlement times. Over the course of the last couple of decades, the Devils Lake basin has been affected by tremendous flood-related impacts.
The State of North Dakota has identified three broad strategies to attempt to mitigate water issues in the basin: including outlets to the Sheyenne River, basin water management, and infrastructure protection.
Devils Lake Outlets
The State of North Dakota began construction on an outlet from the West Bay of Devils Lake to the Sheyenne River in 2002, and completed it in 2005. The outlet began operating during the summer of 2005, was not operated due to permit constraints in 2006, and was operated again in 2007 and 2008. In 2010, construction increased the capacity of the West Devils Lake outlet to a maximum of 250 cfs. In 2012, in response to rapid increases in lake levels, the state built an additional outlet on the east side of Devils Lake, with a maximum capacity of 350 cfs. The combined operating capacity of both east and west outlets is 600 cfs. To keep stakeholders informed about outlet operations, a Devils Lake Outlets Advisory Board meets at least once per year.
Upper Basin Water Management
There have been numerous efforts at upper basin water management in the Devils Lake basin, including storage and land management programs. Various efforts to store water and reduce runoff in the upper basin continue - mostly through a variety of conservation programs.
Since the lake began its rise in 1993, over $1 billion has been spent on infrastructure in the Devils Lake region. As the lake crept higher, the levee that protects the City of Devils Lake was raised numerous times, roads were raised or moved, as were homes, businesses, and all of the other structures that make modern life possible. While vital infrastructure such as roads, the levee around the city of Devils Lake, or rail lines have, or are being raised above the overflow elevation of Devils Lake, the lake continues to flood homesteads and farm land in rural areas, creating significant impacts.
For more information on Devils Lake Flood Mitigation, please contact Tim Dodd, P.E., Devils Lake Basin Engineer (701) 328-4962 or e-mail.