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Devils Lake Basin in North Dakota

The Devils Lake Basin is a 3,810-square-mile (mi2) closed basin in the Red River of the North (Red River) Basin, in North Dakota. About 3,320 mi2 of the total 3,810 mi2 is tributary to Devils Lake; the remainder is tributary to Stump Lake. The Devils Lake Basin contributes to the Red River Basin only when the level of Devils Lake is greater than 1,458 feet (ft) above sea level (asl). At an elevation of about 1,447 ft asl, Devils Lake begins to spill into Stump Lake; and at an elevation of about 1,458 ft asl, the combined lakes begin to spill through Tolna Coulee into the Sheyenne River (a tributary of the Red River). From 1867 to 2006, the lake level has fluctuated between a maximum of 1,449.2 ft asl in 2006 and a minimum of 1,400.9 ft asl in 1940. In June 2009, the lake level was 1,450.7 ft asl, about 28.1 ft higher than the level recorded in February 1993 (see Devils Lake elevation graph).
Devils Lake

Photo courtesty of North Dakota Tourism

The original survey of the Stump Lake area was conducted between 1881 and 1883. At that time, Stump Lake was between 1,420 and 1,425 ft asl, about 10 to 15 ft higher than its August 1, 2000, level of 1,409.8 ft asl. When Devils Lake reached 1,447.1 ft asl in the summer of 1999, water was just beginning to trickle into Stump Lake. Therefore, considering its small drainage area, for Stump Lake to be above 1,420 ft asl between 1881 and 1883, a substantial amount of water probably flowed from Devils Lake into Stump Lake sometime before 1880. Joseph Nicollet, who explored the Devils Lake area in 1839, described the area between Devils Lake and Stump Lake as big deep coulees (Bray and Bray, 1976). Nicollet stated "These are dry at the moment but in time of high water seem to receive water from Devil's Lake." This information indicates water flowed from Devils Lake to Stump Lake sometime between 1820 and 1840.
Devils Lake flowing into Stump Lake
According to the North Dakota State Water Commission's Devils Lake Quick Facts, the Devils Lake flooding that began in the 1990's and continues to the present [2008], "has destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses and inundated thousands of acres of productive farmland. The State of North Dakota and the U.S. Government have spent over $450 million dollars in flood mitigation efforts including moving roads, rail and power lines, and building dikes." The State of North Dakota has constructed an outlet to allow water from Devils Lake to flow into the Sheyenne River. This outlet is further described in the State Water Commission's Outlet Quick Facts and the State Water Commission's outlet webpage.

 Additional Information

For current news related to Devils Lake and the Red River Basin visit River Watch.


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