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Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications, Published October 18 2012

Water official: Devils Lake outlet to restart before winter

GRAND FORKS – State water officials hope to restart the East Devils Lake Outlet, which was shut down earlier this month because of a leak, before the facility is buttoned up for the winter.

A leak was discovered Oct. 8 while the outlet was closed for maintenance for a couple of days, according to Bruce Engelhardt, an engineer with the North Dakota Water Commission.

The leak occurred in a seal where the outlet pipe enters a concrete wall close to where the outlet empties into the Tolna Coulee.

Engelhardt said the seal had been installed incorrectly. “The vast majority of the water was going the way it should be,” he said. “But there was a lot of water that came out and caused some erosion.”

Construction crews are working to repair the damage to the outlet, as well as damage caused by erosion.

The $85 million outlet project was completed earlier this year. It is designed to move a maximum of 350 cubic feet of water per second to the Tolna Coulee, which empties into the Sheyenne River.

Together with the recently expanded 250-cfs state-owned West End Devils Lake Outlet, a maximum of 600 cfs was being discharged from Devils Lake to the Sheyenne River.

The state intends to operate the outlets until winter, typically until about mid-November, according to Engelhardt.

“It’s certainly our goal to get it back up before then,” he said of the east-end outlet.

The outlets were built in an effort to ease chronic flooding in the Devils Lake Basin.

The lake had risen by nearly 32 feet and quadrupled in size, reaching a record elevation of 1,454.4 feet above sea level in June 2011.

That’s about 3.5 feet below the point at which it would begin to spill naturally and uncontrollably to the Sheyenne River; resulting in what engineers say would be a catastrophic event for downstream communities, which include Valley City and Lisbon.

The Sheyenne empties into the Red River north of Fargo.

The lake level has dropped about 3 feet since the 2011 record, and measured 1,451.45 feet Tuesday morning.

Engineers estimate the outlets are responsible for lowering the lake by about one foot this year, Engelhardt said, while dry conditions since late last summer account for the remainder of the drop.

Kevin Bonham writes for the Grand Forks Herald