Probability of Future Lake Levels for Devils Lake, North Dakota


Prepared by the U.S. Geological Survey in cooperation with the North Dakota State Water Commission

Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Tables


Historic Lake-Level Information

Devils Lake Basin is a 3,810-square-mile closed basin (fig. 1) in the Red River of the North Basin. About 3,320 square miles of the total 3,810 square miles is tributary to Devils Lake; the remainder is tributary to Stump Lake.

Figure 1. Location of the Devils Lake Basin
Figure 1. Location of the Devils Lake Basin. (Postcript Version)

Since glaciation, the lake level of Devils Lake has fluctuated from about 1,457.0 feet above sea level, the natural spill elevation of the lake, to about 1,400.0 feet above sea level (Aronow, 1957). No documented records of lake levels are available before 1867, but, on the basis of tree-ring chronology, Upham (1895, p. 595) indicated that the lake level of Devils Lake was 1,441.0 feet above sea level in 1830. Lake levels were recorded sporadically from 1867 to 1901, when the USGS established a gaging station on Devils Lake. For the period 1867 to the present (1995), the lake level reached a maximum of 1,438.4 feet above sea level in 1867 and a minimum of 1,400.9 feet above sea level in 1940 (fig. 2). On May 25, 1995, the lake level was 1,435.1 feet above sea level. This lake level is about 12.5 feet higher than the level recorded in February 1993 and the highest level in about 120 years.

Figure 2. Historic water level for Devils Lake, 1867-1995
Figure 2. Historic water level for Devils Lake, 1867-1995. (Postscript Version)

Recent Flooding in the Devils Lake Basin

Since 1993, the lake level of Devils Lake (fig. 2) has risen rapidly in response to generally above-normal precipitation from the summer of 1993 to the present (1995). The recent lake-level rise has inundated thousands of acres of cropland around the lake and tens of thousands of acres in the Devils Lake Basin. State highways near Devils Lake have been closed, and construction is underway to raise roadbeds. Sections of many rural roads have been submerged or washed out near stream and wetland crossings.

The estimated mean annual inflow to Devils Lake for 1950-93 is 65,500 acre-feet. The estimated annual inflow for 1993 is 296,000 acre-feet, the estimated annual inflow for 1994 is 216,000 acre-feet, and the estimated inflow for January 1 through May 31, 1995, is 292,000 acre-feet. Total inflow to Devils Lake for 1993-95 accounts for about 24 percent of all inflow to Devils Lake for 1950 through May 31, 1995.

Future Lake-Level Probability

In response to rising lake levels from 1969 through the 1980's, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) is conducting a reconnaissance study for a flood-control project to stabilize the level of Devils Lake. The COE study required analyses of future lake-level probabilities and associated economic damage estimates to evaluate the benefits and costs of proposed flood-control or lake-stabilization projects. To assist the COE and to assist water-resource managers in making decisions regarding lake-level fluctuations, the USGS, in cooperation with the North Dakota State Water Commission, conducted a study of the lake-level fluctuations. The principal objective of the study was to estimate the probability of possible future lake levels for Devils Lake using a statistical water mass-balance (WMB) model. The WMB model is used to compute the total volume (mass) of water stored in Devils Lake due to precipitation on the lake surface, evaporation from the lake surface, and inflow to the lake from the drainage basin.

Seasonal precipitation, evaporation, and inflow data for Devils Lake were estimated and compiled for 1950-93 (Wiche and Vecchia, 1995). The data were used to generate 2,000 possible future sequences of precipitation, evaporation, and inflow. These values then were used to generate 2,000 possible future lake-level traces, each 50 years in length. The model closely reproduced the statistics of recorded seasonal precipitation, evaporation, and inflow and recorded lake-level data for 1950-93 for Devils Lake. The chance that a given lake level will be exceeded can be determined by evaluating the 2,000 possible maximum lake levels in each year (table 1). The chance of a given lake level occurring is dependent on the previous precipitation, evaporation, and inflow and on the starting lake level. The starting lake level for the spring of 1995, when the lake level was 1,435.0 feet above sea level, was used for the simulations shown in table 1. Chances are 1 in 10 that the lake level will exceed 1,438.1 feet above sea level in 1996 and 1 in 100 that the lake level will exceed 1,443.0 feet above sea level in 1996 (table 1).

 
    Table 1. Possible future levels of Devils Lake given
           the initial conditions that existed in the
           spring of 1995 (starting lake level is
           1,435.0 feet) 
    --------------------------------------------------
    Year  1 in 100  1 in 50  1 in 20  1 in 10   1 in 2   
    --------------------------------------------------
    1995   1,437.8  1,437.3  1,436.6  1,436.0  1,435.0  
    1996   1,443.0  1,441.9  1,439.6  1,438.1  1,435.3  
    1997   1,445.3  1,443.3  1,440.5  1,438.8  1,435.2  
    1998   1,446.2  1,444.3  1,441.1  1,439.1  1,434.8  
    1999   1,446.3  1,444.2  1,441.4  1,439.1  1,434.4  
    2000   1,446.6  1,444.4  1,441.4  1,439.1  1,434.1  
    2001   1,446.3  1,444.6  1,441.2  1,439.2  1,433.8  
    2002   1,446.5  1,444.7  1,441.4  1,439.1  1,433.5  
    2003   1,446.5  1,444.4  1,441.3  1,438.9  1,433.2  
    2004   1,446.0  1,444.2  1,441.2  1,439.0  1,432.9  
    --------------------------------------------------

The assumed initial lake level, of course, affects the estimated chances of future lake levels. Possible future lake levels were estimated in 1994 using the initial lake level for the spring of 1994, when the lake level was 1,430.6 feet above sea level. The resulting lake-level chances are shown in table 2. On the basis of hydrologic conditions as of June 1, 1994, chances were 1 in 20 that the lake level would exceed 1,436.0 feet above sea level in 1996 and 1 in 100 that the lake level would exceed 1,440.7 feet above sea level in 1996. However, after initial conditions were changed to those existing in the spring of 1995, when the lake level was 1,435.0 feet above sea level, chances were 1 in 20 that the lake level would exceed 1,439.6 feet above sea level in 1996 and 1 in 100 that the lake level would exceed 1,443.0 feet above sea level in 1996. Periodically updating the model to reflect the most recent hydrologic conditions for Devils Lake allows water-resource managers to base decisions on the most up-to-date hydrologic information.

 
    Table 2. Possible future levels of Devils Lake given
           the initial conditions that existed in the
           spring of 1994 (starting lake level is
           1,430.6 feet)
    --------------------------------------------------
    Year  1 in 100  1 in 50  1 in 20  1 in 10   1 in 2
    --------------------------------------------------
    1994   1,432.9  1,432.4  1,431.8  1,431.3  1,430.6 
    1995   1,438.4  1,436.9  1,434.6  1,433.3  1,430.8
    1996   1,440.7  1,438.5  1,436.0  1,434.2  1,430.7
    1997   1,441.9  1,439.5  1,437.1  1,434.7  1,430.3
    1998   1,442.6  1,440.2  1,437.5  1,435.0  1,430.0
    1999   1,442.8  1,441.0  1,437.5  1,435.4  1,429.8 
    2000   1,443.1  1,441.4  1,437.7  1,435.7  1,429.7
    2001   1,443.0  1,441.8  1,437.8  1,435.7  1,429.5 
    2002   1,443.0  1,441.5  1,438.1  1,435.7  1,429.3 
    2003   1,443.1  1,441.2  1,438.4  1,435.9  1,429.1 
    2004   1,443.4  1,441.7  1,438.8  1,435.7  1,429.0 
    --------------------------------------------------

Retrieve an Updated Table of Possible future levels of Devils Lake


References

Aronow, Saul, 1957, On the postglacial history of the Devils Lake
    region, North Dakota:  Journal of Geology, v. 65, no. 4, p. 410-427.
Upham, Warren, 1895, The glacial Lake Agassiz:  U.S. Geological Survey
    Monograph No. 25, 658 p.
Wiche, G.J., and Vecchia, A.V., 1995, Lake-level frequency analysis for
    Devils Lake, North Dakota:  U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report
    95-123, 65 p.

from U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Fact Sheet FS-158-95

Information concerning this fact sheet or other data concerning the Devils Lake area may be obtained from:

Gregg J. Wiche <--Click here to send an automated message.
U.S. Geological Survey, WRD
821 East Interstate Ave.
Bismarck, ND 58501-1199
(701) 250-7401 [Fax: (701) 250-7492]
email: <gjwiche@usgs.gov>

For more information contact any of the following:

For water information:
     District Chief
     821 E. Interstate Ave.
     Bismarck, ND 58501-1199
     Telephone: (701) 250-7400
     Fax: (701) 250-7492
     Office hours: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Central Time
 
And try our North Dakota "Home Page" on the World Wide Web at "http://nd.water.usgs.gov/".

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