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Devils Lake officials concerned about upcoming winter season

Jeff Frith, Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board
Jeff Frith, Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board

The basin is storing a lot of moisture as the region heads into late summer and fall.

Officials in Devils Lake are concerned about the swollen lake waters heading into this fall and winter.

Jeff Frith is manager of the Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board. He says the lake rose about three and a half feet this year in one of the biggest spring runoffs ever, despite having gained ground in recent dry years.

"It's eerily similar to 2009, 2010, going into those winters where you had limited storage capacity in the upper basin, soils were saturated. You always worry what Mother Nature was going to bring as far as fall rain, and then the winter snowpack - what that could mean for spring flooding next year. It certainly could be significant, given how much water we have in the upper basin right now."

Frith says the lake is about three feet higher than it was at this time last year, and according to the National Weather Service it could drop another six to nine inches due to evaporation before freeze up. But Frith says this is the time of year where evaporation is slowing down.

"The pumps are operating, but have limitations to their capabilities of removing excess water off the lake. Six inches is probably what I'm guessing, as far as reduction in the lake and going into freeze up. And so if you're looking at six inches from where we're at today, you're looking at being two and a half feet higher than where we were last year at this time. We could have a significant runoff come next spring."

Business owners – including farmers, ranchers and resorts – have long struggled with the unstable level of Devils Lake. Frith says many lake region residents have expressed frustration with management of this year’s runoff.

"It was a lot of the people on the upper chain of lakes we had talked about in that upper basin, that had been heavily impacted this spring - frustrated that the outlets weren't operated more efficiently and at capacity when they could have been, thinking that if there had been another foot of storage capacity in the Devils Lake system, maybe they could have saved some land that they tried to reclaim last year and try to produce something on that land this spring. But, it's all under water now, and it will probably remain under water for the next three, four years."

Frith says crops in the lake region are looking promising – but due to this year’s late planting season, they will need a few extra weeks of growing time to reach maturity before the first frost.