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NEW FLOOD CONTROL SNAG: City of Devils Lake wants state's land purchase proposal in writing

DEVILS LAKE -- The Devils Lake City Commission voted today to further delay action on a request from the state of North Dakota to purchase city-owned land along the Tolna Coulee for the construction of a flood control structure.

DEVILS LAKE -- The Devils Lake City Commission voted today to further delay action on a request from the state of North Dakota to purchase city-owned land along the Tolna Coulee for the construction of a flood control structure.

Mayor Dick Johnson and other commissioners said they could not act because they did not have a written purchase proposal from the state.

Instead, the commission voted unanimously to ask the state to submit a written proposal, clarifying what it is seeking, and to make an offer in writing.

"This is something we should have had six months ago," Johnson said.

So far, the proposals have been submitted verbally or through emails, according to City Engineer Mike Grafsgaard.

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The control structure issue is tied directly to an associated project to build a $10 million gravity-flow outlet from the south end of Stump Lake directly to the Sheyenne River.

The City Commission remains on record as opposing the control structure, unless the state makes a commitment to remove more water from the flooded Devils Lake than the state is proposing in its existing operating plan.

"We need to have water taken off the lake. They go hand in hand," City Commissioner Rick Morse said.

The state's current operating plan calls for allowing the gravity outlet to flow until the lake level is lowered from the current 1,454 feet above sea level to 1,452 feet.

The City Commission and other political leaders in the Devils Lake Basin want that gravity outlet to run until the elevation of the combined Devils-Stump Lake drops to 1,446 feet.

Time is running short for the state, which already is advertising for bids on the control structure project, which carries an estimated price tag of $10 million to $13 million. A Sept. 13 bid opening is planned.

The Devils Lake City Commission meets again Tuesday. Johnson said it could make a decision at that time, if a written proposal is received in time to review.

City Attorney Tom Traynor said that if the city ultimately decides not to sell the property, the state likely would begin the eminent domain process to take the necessary property.

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Devils Lake has risen by about 32 feet and quadrupled in size since 1993, resulting in more than $1 billion in damage and mitigation. About 650 dwellings are among the more than 1,000 structures that have been moved or destroyed during that time in the 3,800-sq. mi. basin.

An NDSU study this past winter estimates the potential agriculture-related economic damage from this year's flooding alone to be about $194 million, including $57.6 million to the farm industry, $50.9 million to households and $42.9 million to the retail trade industry.

Devils Lake is just below an elevation of 1,454 feet this week, after peaking in June at a record 1,454.4 feet. The lake will spill naturally from Stump Lake to the Tolna Coulee and Sheyenne River at an elevation of 1,458 feet.

The state currently operates a west-end outlet that releases a maximum of 250 cubic feet of water per second to the Sheyenne River. It normally runs about six months a year. However, it has been averaging releases of 200 cfs or less this year, because of pump equipment failures and because it does not run during times of high water downstream.

The state plans to begin construction this fall -- and have them in operation by June 2012 -- on the control structure and two new outlets:

n A $10 million to $13 million control structure on the coulee, near the natural outlet, to prevent an uncontrolled spill downstream. While some engineers believe the lake would overflow gradually, the possibility exists of severe erosion eating the channel to a point that flows could surpass 14,000 cfs, or twice the volume of the record flood of 2009 in Valley City. The control structure is designed to mimic natural flows, to allow natural erosion, which would prevent large volumes of releases. Flows would be limited to a maximum of 3,000 cfs.

n An $80 million, 350 cfs outlet from East Devils Lake to the Tolna Coulee. Water would be pumped uphill to a divide and then be allowed to flow through an 8-foot-wide underground culvert to the coulee.

n A locally sponsored gravity-flow outlet, estimated at about $10 million, from the south end of Stump Lake directly to the Sheyenne River. The location is south and east of the natural outlet.

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