The rising tide
LAKEWOOD, N.D -- It was the last week in April 2009 when Kenny Hall and his son, Darin, started digging up Kenny's backyard to raise it by 4 feet in an effort to prevent the rising Devils Lake from reaching the foundation of their historic Chauta...
LAKEWOOD, N.D -- It was the last week in April 2009 when Kenny Hall and his son, Darin, started digging up Kenny's backyard to raise it by 4 feet in an effort to prevent the rising Devils Lake from reaching the foundation of their historic Chautauqua house built in the late 19th century.
But the lake rose 3½ feet by mid-June, and water started seeping into the home's crawl space. By the end of the summer, Kenny and Barbara Hall were pumping water out of that crawl space.
They were dealing with black mold. Doors were shifting and wedging, making them difficult to open or close.
"We couldn't keep the water out," Hall said. "That's when we knew it was time to move on."
They had federal flood insurance and negotiated a buyout. Because it can't be moved, the home will have to be destroyed.
The Halls are building a new home about a block away, at an elevation higher than 1,460 feet, above the risk of future Devils Lake flooding in this historic rural neighborhood.
When the Halls bought their Lakewood property in 1988, Devils Lake was a 450-foot walk out their back door -- across a frontage road, across Ramsey County Highway 1 and across Lakewood Beach.
Today, the beach and both roads are gone. They've disappeared under nearly 25 feet of water.
The Halls have raised the dike protecting their home by about 8 feet the past two years, including 4 feet last year, when Kenny Hall marked the lake elevation by placing a stake in the top of a tree stump that protruded about 4 feet above the ice.
This weekend, only the tip of the post is visible above that stump.
Record is rising
Devils Lake, which has tripled in size and risen by about 28 feet since 1993, has a natural outlet through the Tolna Coulee and the Sheyenne River at 1,458 feet above sea level.
More than 400 structures -- houses, garages, barns and other buildings -- have been destroyed or moved since 1993, as people living in this sub-basin of the Red River Basin have coped with the slowly expanding flood that has been described as a spreading cancer.
Officials estimate $1 billion has been spent in the past 17 years to build up and protect public infrastructure from the flooding. That estimate does not include damage to private property or loss of business or agricultural income, as each 1-foot rise in elevation devours another estimated 10,000 acres of land.
The lake reached a record elevation of 1,450.73 feet in June 2009.
While it's still ice-covered, the lake surpassed that level this weekend, unofficially reaching 1,450.8 feet Saturday.
The National Weather Service forecasts a 50 percent chance the lake will rise to 1,452.5 feet this year, and a 10 percent chance it will reach that Tolna Coulee spill elevation of 1,458 feet sometime this decade.
At 1,452 feet, local officials estimate another 160 structures will be in danger of inundation, at 1,453 feet, as many as 220.
Federal, state and local officials are working to prevent as much destruction as possible.
Another $200 million will be spent over the next couple of years to raise state highways another 5 feet, to 1,460 feet, and to raise and convert a dike protecting the city of Devils Lake into a dam.
Among the buildings that could be endangered are 20 to 30 in the town of Minnewaukan, N.D., the Benson County seat of 300 people.
In the mid-1990s, Devils Lake was eight miles away from town. Today, its west shore is just about 140 feet from the parking lot of Minnewaukan School. The water tower is at the edge of the school property. Some property is at risk at elevations between 1,452 and 1,455 feet.
Community members gathered this past week and vowed to fight the pending flood, as they and others in the Devils Lake Basin have done in the past.
A few Lake Region residents, including some in the Lakewood/Creel Bay areas, have moved their homes twice in the past 15 years to escape the rising water.
Virtually nobody foresaw, back in the late 1990s, that the lake would continue to rise and spread out for more than another decade.
When European-American pioneers settled this area in the 1880s, Devils Lake was at an elevation of about 1,435 feet.
By then, the lake elevation had dropped to about 1,425 feet. It kept falling, to a low of 1,400.9 feet in 1940, before reversing course. Except for a mini-drought in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it has been rising almost continuously since.
But the late 1800s and early 1900s were a grand time along the shores of Devils Lake.
By 1893, North Dakota Chautauqua was established at Lakewood and Chautauqua Park, six miles south of the city of Devils Lake, which originally was known as Creel City.
The Chautauqua -- a festival that celebrated recreation, education, culture, religion and patriotism - was patterned after the Chautauqua concept that began in New York state in the 1870s. Tent Chautauquas, which moved around a circuit each year, were popular, too.
The Great Northern Railway offered special excursion rates to Devils Lake for the summer event. It featured special cars, including the Grand Forks Car, the Churchs Ferry Car, the Cando Car, and others named for area cities, according to a North Dakota Chautauqua history, "Chautauqua Talk."
In 1918, orator William Jennings Bryan delivered a fire-and-brimstone message from a farmer's flatbed truck in the middle of the Chautauqua auditorium to a crowd estimated at 15,000. He also was the featured guest in 1906.
Chautauqua Park was a summer resort area with dozens of cottages -- Chautauqua houses, like the original log home that the Halls own today -- that were filled with families who spent the warm months near the lake and near a cultural experience.
Those who didn't stay in cottages stayed in tents or in the old Oakwood Hotel.
Kenny Hall, who grew up in York, N.D., recalls visiting the old Lakewood Zoo when he was in elementary school.
The Halls' home has been modified over the years. Originally built of red lap log siding, the home has been expanded and resided with pine half-log siding.
After they move early this summer, the Halls will begin dismantling the house. What can't be salvaged will be hauled away and burned.
"I hate to think about destroying this house," he said. I never thought when I bought this property that I'd ever have to do this. What a shame."
They'll preserve the stone pillars and the 4-foot-high stonework across the front of the house, placing portions of it in their new front yard as a monument.
"It'll be nice to have that," he said, "but it's sad that's all I'll be able to save."
Reach Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 110; or send e-mail to email@example.com .