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Devils Lake forecast to approach record elevation

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The Dickinson Press
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GRAND FORKS -- Devils Lake is likely to rise this year to within a half-foot of its 2011 record elevation of 1,454.3 feet.

The National Weather Service forecasts a 50-50 chance the lake will surpass 1,453.8 feet this year. That's 6 inches higher than an outlook released in early May.

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The increase is attributed to heavy rains that dropped more than 4 inches on parts of the Devils Lake Basin over the past 10 days.

Devils Lake was at 1,453.16 feet above sea level Tuesday.

The higher forecast was not a surprise, with rainfall amounts totaling 3 to 4.5 inches in parts of the basin that drains into Devils Lake, according to Jeff Frith, manager of the Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board.

The weather service is forecasting more rain through this week through the Devils Lake and Red River basins.

"Hopefully, it's not too much," he said. "The soils are saturated. Any capacity the soils had to hold more water has been diminished. Any more rain is not a good thing right now."

Outlets closed

According to the latest weather service outlook, there's a 10 percent chance Devils Lake will exceed 1,454.5 feet in elevation, and a 95 percent chance it will rise above 1,453.6 feet.

Devils Lake rose about 32 feet and quadrupled in size between 1992 and 2011, devouring an estimated 161,000 acres of farmland in that time.

About $1.5 billion has been spent in the past 20 years to mitigate the flood damage.

The lake elevation receded by about 3 feet in 2012, the result of a combination of a mini-drought that began in the fall of 2011 and an expanded Devils Lake outlet system that transferred about 1 foot of elevation to the Sheyenne River.

The outlets remain closed this spring. They normally operate from late spring until freeze-up, except during times of high water flows in the Sheyenne or during periods of low water levels, which increase the concentration of sulfates in the river.

"We should be able to start the pumps up as soon as the Sheyenne gets back into its banks," Frith said. "A lot will depend on the rain we get in the next week."

Officials estimate that each 1-foot rise in Devils Lake's elevation swallows 10,000 to 12,000 acres of farmland.

At 1,453.1 feet, the combined Devils and Stump lakes cover about 195,000 acres. If the lake reaches 1,453.8 feet this year, it will cover an estimated 202,438 acres.

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