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Devils Lake outlet nearing completion

Construction of the East Devils Lake outlet and Tolna Coulee Control Structure are nearing completion, with both expected to be operational by June.

Construction of the East Devils Lake outlet and Tolna Coulee Control Structure are nearing completion, with both expected to be operational by June.

"We're really close on the control structure and close to substantial completion on the outlet," said Jon Kelsch, project manager for the North Dakota State Water Commission.

The $9 million control structure is expected to be finished within a week.

Meanwhile, contractors will begin repairing roads that were damaged by the construction as soon as the major projects are completed, according to Ron Rauschenberger, chief of staff for Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

The Water Commission also agreed this month to pay for the road repair bill, although a cost estimate is not yet available after residents and county officials complained about road conditions.


"It's going to take time and a lot of money," said Nelson County Commissioner Odell Flaagan.

Portions of the roads have been closed this spring, forcing residents to take major detours, he said.

Two of the roads that will be repaired are Nelson County Road 4, an east-west road north of Tolna, N.D., and County Road 27, a north-south road that forms the border between Nelson, Benson and Ramsey counties.

The commission also will repair a township road that runs between the $85 million east-end outlet and an intake structure at the Tolna Coulee.

"The State Water Commission is committed to fixing those roads," said Andrea Travnicek, a policy adviser for the governor.

20-year flood

The two projects are part of a major plan to help relieve a two-decade-old Devils Lake Basin flood that has seen the lake rise by about 32 feet and quadruple in size.

So far, nearly $1.5 billion has been spent or allocated to protect people and infrastructure in the upper basin.


The lake reached a record elevation of 1,454.4 feet above sea level last June.

That's just 3.6 feet below the 1,458 level at which it would spill naturally from Stump Lake to the Tolna Coulee and Sheyenne River, potentially endangering people and communities downstream.

Geologists estimate that an uncontrolled spill could result in flows of about 14,000 cubic feet of water per second through the Sheyenne River Valley for 19 consecutive days.

That's twice the volume of water passing through the city of Valley City during its record flood of 2009 and roughly equivalent to a 500-year flood event in Valley City and other downstream communities.

The Sheyenne River flows into the Red River north of Fargo, which continues northward into Manitoba, emptying into Lake Winnipeg.

Breathing room

Record Devils Lake inflows of nearly 600,000 acre feet of water in 2009 and more than 600,000 acre feet in 2011 prompted state and federal officials to expedite plans to put emergency flood protection measures into place by this spring.

The combined Devils Lake and Stump Lake now cover about 200,000 acres.


At 1,453.4 feet, the combined Devils Lake and Stump Lake contain about 4 million acre feet of water. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the basin has about 1 million acre feet of storage remaining.

The mild winter has provided some breathing room.

The National Weather Service's latest report indicates a 10 percent chance that the lake will reach last year's record elevation.

However, people in the basin have experienced other short-term breaks in the 20-year flood. The lake rose by just 1.76 feet between 2006 and 2008. Since then, it has risen by 3.47 feet.

Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send email to kbonham@gfherald.com .

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