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Science of the Devils Lake Basin


Overview


The Devils Lake Basin is a 3,810-square-mile subbasin in the Red River of the North Basin. At an elevation of about 1,447 feet above sea level, Devils Lake begins to spill into Stump Lake; and at an elevation of about 1,459 feet above sea level, the combined lakes begin to spill through Tolna Coulee into the Sheyenne River.

Since the end of glaciation about 10,000 years ago, Devils Lake has fluctuated between spilling and being dry. Research by the North Dakota Geological Survey indicates Devils Lake has overflowed into the Sheyenne River at least twice during the past 4,000 years and has spilled into the Stump Lakes several times (Bluemle, 1991; Murphy and others, 1997). John Bluemle, North Dakota State Geologist, concluded the natural condition for Devils Lake is either rising or falling, and the lake should not be expected to remain at any elevation for a long period of time.

The potential for a catastrophic spill from the natural outlet to the Sheyenne River poses a threat for downstream interests. If Devils Lake reaches the spill elevation (about 1,459 feet above sea level), the contributing drainage area of the Sheyenne River near Cooperstown, North Dakota, will quadruple (from 1,270 square miles to 5,070 square miles) because the entire Devils Lake Basin then would contribute flow to the Sheyenne River. Also, water in Stump Lake (which becomes part of Devils Lake at an elevation of about 1,447 feet above sea level) is of much poorer quality than water in western Devils Lake, and significant volumes of water spilling from the natural outlet would cause serious downstream water-quality problems.

Devils Lake Basin


Devils Lake, a Terminal Lake


About 5 percent of the landmass of North America drains into terminal lakes, which are lakes that are located at the lowest point within a closed drainage basin. Closed drainage basins have no outlet to the oceans. The advance and retreat of continental glaciers shaped the landscape of all of North Dakota east and north of the Missouri River. Thousands of closed drainage basins were formed in North Dakota as a result of glaciation. Terminal lakes located in these closed drainage basins range in size from a few acres to more than 50,000 acres.

Since the end of glaciation about 10,000 years ago, Devils Lake has fluctuated between spilling and being dry. Research by the North Dakota Geological Survey indicates Devils Lake has overflowed into the Sheyenne River at least twice during the past 4,000 years and has spilled into the Stump Lakes several times (Bluemle, 1991; Murphy and others, 1997). John Bluemle, North Dakota State Geologist, concluded the natural condition for Devils Lake is either rising or falling, and the lake should not be expected to remain at any elevation for a long period of time.

Location of the Devils Lake Basin



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Page Last Modified: Friday, 16-Aug-2013 11:15:47 EDT
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