Stump Lake group opposes proposed outletPeople living near Stump Lake say the lake’s natural outlet — and not a proposed east-end outlet — is the best way to help relieve flooding in the Devils Lake Basin, and they will try to stop any outlet proposal that might compromise water quality in Stump Lake.
By: Kevin Bonham, Grand Forks Herald
TOLNA, N.D. — People living near Stump Lake say the lake’s natural outlet — and not a proposed east-end outlet — is the best way to help relieve flooding in the Devils Lake Basin, and they will try to stop any outlet proposal that might compromise water quality in Stump Lake.
A group tentatively calling itself Friends of Stump Lake is circulating a membership petition and raising money to hire an attorney.
“We need a resolution that states we want to improve the Stump Lake natural outlet and get water flowing through the whole system, and fight any plan that doesn’t provide for that,” said Bob Engen, former Tolna mayor, at a meeting of about 75 people Wednesday night.
Devils Lake has risen by almost 30 feet and quadrupled in size since 1993, reaching a record 1,452.1 feet above sea level in June 2010. The National Weather Service now forecasts a 50-50 chance Devils Lake will reach an elevation of 1,455 feet this year, and an 80 percent probability it will hit 1,454.5 feet.
Stump Lake would overflow naturally to the Tolna Coulee and the Sheyenne River Valley at an elevation of 1,458 feet. Devils Lake and adjoining Stump Lake were at an elevation of 1,451.6 feet today.
Engen and Nelson County Commission Chairman Odell Flaagen said the group needs to work fast.
Gov. Jack Dalrymple declared a Devils Lake flood emergency last month for Ramsey, Nelson, Benson and Towner counties, plus the Spirit Lake Nation. Stump Lake is located in Nelson County.
The governor’s proposed 2011-13 budget calls for spending $120 million to increase the capacity of an existing state outlet on the west side of Devils Lake and build a new outlet, along with a control structure, somewhere in East Devils Lake. The project also addresses mitigation of downstream impacts.
The North Dakota State Water Commission is in the process of narrowing potential east-end outlet sites to about four finalists, none of which includes Stump Lake, according to Flaagen.
The most likely location, engineers say, is the Jerusalem Coulee, a divide between Devils Lake and Stump Lake.
Devils Lake spilled over the Jerusalem Coulee divide in 1999, at an elevation of 1,446.5 feet. The two lakes now are one, of equal elevation.
Devils Lake has spilled from Stump Lake to the Sheyenne Valley at least twice in the past 4,000 years, the last time less than 2,000 years ago, according to geological records.
The state’s east-end outlet and control structure proposal, which currently is in the hands of the North Dakota Legislature, likely would not be completed until late this year or in 2012.
That’s quicker than a possible Stump Lake controlled outlet, which could take up to three years to be built, because of federal permit requirements and potential lawsuits.
Engineers point out that water quality is better in East Devils Lake than in Stump Lake, so that’s a better choice, because it would pose fewer problems downstream.
“I don’t think we’re going to stop the tide of the governor and the State Water Commission,” Engen said. “They’re going to do the outlets, and it won’t be at Stump Lake. It’s a feel-good project. I just don’t want to it to be to our detriment.”
Stump Lake-area residents contend the state’s plan compromises water quality on Stump Lake, which, like Devils Lake, has become a major fishing and recreational destination. Several housing developments and campgrounds have been built or are planned above its shores, all at elevations above the 1,458-foot mark.
If the East Devils Lake/Jerusalem Coulee is ultimately chosen for a new state outlet, Nelson County residents want assurances that water will be mixed with Stump Lake water.
“If they build a control structure there, and they don’t mix Stump Lake water in with it, Stump Lake will become a cesspool,” Engen said. “It’ll kill our lake.”
Meanwhile, the Nelson County Park Board is appealing to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build a permanent dike to protect Stump Lake Park.
“We need help now,” said Flaagen, who also chairs the county park board, which operates Stump Lake Park, home to a 90-year-old pavilion/roller-skating rink that is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Last year, the North Dakota National Guard and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built an 800-foot-long dike to protect the pavilion, Stump Lake Cafe and rest rooms to an elevation of about 1,453 feet.
Without additional emergency dike work, the café and possibly the pavilion could be in danger this year, he said.
“We need to stand together and stick to our guns, or we’re going to go down individually,” said Jeff Frith, manager of the Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board.
The lake has risen by 5 feet over the past two years. Wave action already threatens property at 1,454 and 1,455 feet, according to Frith.
“If we get to 1,455 this year, 1,458 feet is just one year away,” he said. “2012 is too late for anything meaningful to be done. We’re going to be swimming.”
Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.