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Climatology and Potential Effects of an Emergency Outlet, Devils Lake Basin, North Dakota

U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet FS-089-00
June 2000


By G. J. Wiche, A. V. Vecchia, Leon Osborne, and James T. Fay

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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.


Recent conditions indicate the lake is in a rising phase.  The lake rose 24.7 feet from February 1993 to August 1999, and flood damages in the Devils Lake Basin have exceeded $300 million.  These damages, and the potential for additional damages, have led to an effort to develop an outlet to help control lake levels.  Therefore, current and accurate climatologic and hydrologic data are needed to assess the viability of the various options to reduce flood damages at Devils Lake.


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Nature of Climate Variability

Atmospheric Weather Patterns Before 1977

Atmospheric Weather Patterns from 1977 to the Present

Climate Outlook for the Future

Potential Effects of an Emergency Outlet

References and Further Reading




1.  Location of the Devils Lake Basin, Devils Lake and Stump Lakes, and the Sheyenne River.

2.  Spill elevations of Devils Lake and Stump Lakes; lake levels on April 1, 2000; and dissolved-solids and sulfate concentrations for tributary inflows, lake water, and Sheyenne River flow.

3.  Devils Lake precipitation, 1950-99.

4.  Discharge of spills through Tolna Coulee to the Sheyenne River.  (Top graph shows average over 50 traces with and without an outlet; bottom graph shows average over 132 traces with and without an outlet)

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