Devils Lake Outlets running full throttle

Louise Oleson Journal Managing Editor
The outflow from the west end outlet on Devils Lake is flowing into the channel that feeds the Sheyenne River at a location not far from Oberon, N.D.

Devils Lake’s level today is 1,449.93 feet above sea level, a far cry from the high of 1,454.40 on June 27, 2011, and yet the lake is still considered at flood stage because it remains above 1,446 - the established level where Devils Lake starts flowing into Stump Lake and the two become one. Official action by both the Devils Lake City Commission and the Ramsey County Commission established the level of Devils Lake at 1,446; anything above that is flooding.

Using that criteria, the lake still has some ways to go before it is no longer considered at flood stage.

At a Devils Lake Outlets Management Advisory Committee meeting held May 3 in Carrington, Governor Jack Dalrymple asked those gathered around the room what goal they wanted to set for Devils Lake for this year.

Local representative on that board Arne Berg said, “Eight members put down 1,448 as the goal for 2016, a decline of two more feet.”

Though there were others who put down much higher numbers, the governor agreed with the majority and set the number at 1,448.

Berg reported they’d gone around the room and given reports on what had transpired since the last time they’d met. Many were optimistic about Devils Lake flooding since the lake has gone down over four feet since its high.

One of the reasons that the lake has gone down is because the state’s outlets located on the west end and the east end of Devils Lake have worked off and on to make it so.

Jeff Trana, maintenance expert who works with these outlets day after day, said it’s an on-going challenge to stay ahead of the maintenance and repair issues the outlets have. “The outlet at the west end, Round Lake, is much more complicated than the one on the east end,” Trana explained. He was seated at the electronic monitoring command center located beside the 74-foot tall Round Lake stand pipe just off Highway 281 south of Minnewaukan.

“You don’t just throw the switch and walk away,” he admitted.

There are daily monitoring of the pumps, round the clock, daily checks of the pump sites and weekly drives from one end to the other to keep on top of whatever may come up. Trana shares this work with Del Nordrum and Scott Mehring, who is on contract through the Garrison Diversion District.

Last spring the Sheyenne River was full, so they had to shut the west end pumps off several times. This year, the river is down, so water from the west end is allowed to run freely through the pumps, the 13 miles of open channel and four miles of pipeline to mingle with and, yes, freshen the river. Sulfate levels on the west end are far lower than found even in the river when it is running low, Trana said.

It is the sulfate levels that concern downstream residents as those communities, like Valley City, use the Sheyenne as the source for their drinking water.

As long as those levels remain within the accepted range, the pumps will continue to take water off Devils Lake at the present rate of 250 cubic feet per second. When the lake level gets down to 1,448, the Water Commission will review and determine what will happen next.