East end outlet working to lower lake levels: Thousands of acres of farmland remain inundated

Louise Oleson Journal Managing Editor
Arne Berg stands outside the structure that helps dissipate the energy created as water flows through the pipeline underground from the East End Outlet. Water rushes into the structure from the underground pipeline from the East End Outlet, up nearly to the top then bubbles out the bottom of the vertical portion of the structure (seen above) to the lower level, where it tumbles down into a trough that leads to another underground pipeline (left below) and out to the Tolna Coulee (shown at right below) and off into the Sheyenne River and beyond.

Although Devils Lake has seen some inundated land come out of the water and back into production recently, it remains at flood level.

Arne Berg local farmer who is a member of the State Water Commission. Like his father before him, Berg has become something of an expert when it comes to the history of Devils Lake and flooding in the Devils Lake Basin.

“Our goal continues to be to lower the level of Devils Lake to get some of our good, productive farmland back into production while still maintaining the excellent fishery it has become,” Berg admitted.

Touring the East End Outlet on Friday,  Aug. 14, Berg met with Jeff Trana, a technician who works closely with both the East End and West End Outlets on Devils Lake. According to Berg, Trana is the “go to” guy if you want to know anything about what’s happening with the state’s outlets on Devils Lake.

Under his watchful eye the pumps keep pumping and sulfate levels are checked regularly to ensure the proper mix of water that leaves Devils Lake and flows into the Sheyenne River and beyond.

At the East End Outlet there are five large pumps. Four are 1500 HP pumps and the fifth is a 1000 HP pump. Together they mix the water from the east end of Devils Lake with the fresher water from the lake’s west end keeping the combined sulfate levels at 750 or below.

According to Berg the pumps on the east end are much more efficient than the ones on the west.  But they only have to pump the water out of the lake one time and it only has to go up 90 feet as opposed to the water at the west end that has to be pumped twice and needs to rise 200 feet.

From the pumps water is moved underground in a large pipe through the fields and hills to a large concrete structure that filters the water, slows its progress, dissipates the energy created as water rushes through the large pipe.

Small hook-shaped vents dot the landscape. They are the only evidence that beneath the corn and soybean fields flows an underground torrent which though initially is pumped, but later the flow is fed by gravity as the landscape begins to drop away. Berg explains that the vents help keep the water flowing freely, allowing pent up air out of the huge pipe hidden beneath the land.

Once the water reaches the concrete structure just above the Tolna Coulee it roars into a large, square “room” and bubbles up and over a wall, dissipating some of the massive energy built up. A large rock filter aids in ensuring that biota doesn’t ride the wave to where it doesn’t belong.

The water that comes bubbling out of this structure flows across an open pool and down once more into a short length of underground pipeline, then out once more and into the Tolna Coulee which then feeds into the Sheyenne River and places beyond.

Berg said the state is also working with the downstream communities to mitigate flood control and water treatment.

Berg pointed out that since the pumps have been doing their job, coupled with evaporation and not a lot of rainfall in the region this summer, some downstream residents have complained because the levels in the Sheyenne have been lower. That certainly is a change from earlier complaints that too much water was flowing their way.

“You should see all the work that’s being done in places like Valley City and Lisbon, for example,” Berg said. The state has bought out residences and structures along the river bank and is mitigating flood control all along the river banks. In Valley City it has built and maintains a several-million-dollar water treatment plant for that community’s drinking water.

Berg said that although lake levels have gone down recently, there remains hundreds of thousands of acres of prime farmland all around the lake that is still inundated. He’d like to see much of that brought back into production one day and the outlet is certainly one of the tools to help to make that happen.