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Climatology, Hydrology, and Simulation of an Emergency Outlet, Devils Lake Basin, North Dakota

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


Water-Resources Investigations Report 00-4174


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Devils Lake is a natural lake in northeastern North Dakota that is the terminus of a nearly 4,000-square-mile subbasin in the Red River of the North Basin. The lake has not reached its natural spill elevation to the Sheyenne River (a tributary of the Red River of the North) in recorded history. How-ever, geologic evidence indicates a spill occurred sometime within the last 1,800 years. From 1993 to 1999, Devils Lake rose 24.5 feet and, at the present (August 2000), is about 13 feet below the natural spill elevation. The recent lake-level rise has caused flood damages exceeding $300 million and triggered development of future flood-control options to prevent further infrastructure damage and reduce the risk of a potentially catastrophic uncontrolled spill. Construction of an emergency outlet from the west end of Devils Lake to the Sheyenne River is one flood-control option being considered. This report describes the climatologic and hydrologic causes of the recent lake-level rise, provides information on the potential for continued lake-level rises during the next 15 years, and describes the potential effectiveness of an emergency outlet in reducing future lake levels and in reducing the risk of an uncontrolled spill. The potential effects of an outlet on downstream water quantity and quality in the upper Sheyenne River also are described.


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Table of Contents




Nature of Climate Variability

Recent Atmospheric Weather Patterns

Future Atmospheric Weather Patterns

Hydrology of the Devils Lake Area

Lake Levels and Streamflow

Surface-Water Quality

Outlet Simulation Model

Purpose and Description of Model

Assumptions Regarding Climatology

Assumptions Regarding Lake-Level Simulations

Water Balance Associated with Traces that Exceed Spill Elevation to the Sheyenne River

Simulation of an Emergency Outlet

Potential Erosion of Natural Outlet Channel

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 Lake; lake levels on August 1, 2000; and relatively recent (see text) dissolved-solids and sulfate concentrations for tributary inflows, lake water, and Sheyenne River streamflow.  (Natural spill is from West Stump Lake.)

3. Historic water level for Devils Lake, 1867-2000.

4. Extratropical storm tracks.  (Blue arrow indicates Alberta Clipper storm track, green arrow indicates Colorado Low storm track, and pink arrow indicates zonal pattern.)

5. Devils Lake precipitation, 1950-99.

6. Generated data for trace 22.

7. Generated data for trace 161.

8. Estimated exceedance probabilities computed from 10,000 model traces for Devils Lake for 2000-15.

9. average reductions in peak lake levels of Devils Lake for 2000-15 for 300- and 450-cubic-foot-per-second-outlet options.

10. Average drawdown of Devils Lake for 2005 for 300- and 450-cubic-foot-per-second-outlet options.

11. Modeled mean monthly streamflow and sulfate concentrations for the Sheyenne River near Warwick, North Dakota, for 2001-15.  (A--Average of all traces that have maximum lake levels below or equal to 1,450 feet above sea level; B--average of all traces that have maximum lake levels greater than 1,450 feet above sea level.)

12. Modeled discharges and sulfate concentrations of spills through Tolna Coulee to the Sheyenne River.  (Top--average of 50 traces that peak above 1,460.8 feet above sea level; bottom--average of 132 traces that peak between 1,459 and 1,460.8 feet above sea level.)

13. Discharge rating curves for Tolna Coulee under natural and eroded conditions.




1. Hydrologic characteristics of 182 traces that spill to the Sheyenne River without a constructed outlet


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