Devils Lake Flooding - The Problem
Devils Lake, the largest natural lake in North Dakota, is the main feature in a large and relatively flat post-glacial drainage basin of nearly 4000 square miles containing parts or all of nine counties and two tribal lands.  With drainage to the Red River only in exceptional cases, the lake is saline, its level has varied markedly, and water issues have been dominant in the basin since the area was settled in the late 1890s.  More recently, the lake level has been generally increasing since the late 1930s, with a dramatic rise starting in the early 1990s.  Local, state, and federal entities are involved in attempting to develop management plans for the basin that will protect its economic and biological values, that will optimize benefits for agriculture, recreation, economic development, wildlife, and fisheries, and that will honor the spiritual traditions of the native people1.

Despite many studies on historical fluctuations in the Devils Lake water level, the relationships of the regional climate to broader, slowly-evolving climate anomalies and to global climate change are not well understood.  The roles of both regional and global climate variability must be determined as a prelude to any attempt at improved watershed management now and in the near future.  Quantitative analyses of climate variability will be key components of a Devils Lake decision support system aimed at effective management of the basin.

The objective of this work sponsored by the U.S. National Weather Service is to provide a detailed quantitative assessment of the role of climate variability and large-scale atmospheric flow patterns in contributing to variations in the water level of Devils Lake and then to attempt to identify and perhaps model the processes creating that variability.

A summary of our research conclusions is provided in the Science section of this website in the articles Observed Changes in Climate, Climate Model Simulations, and Statistical Projections.

31 December 2012
1 This summary is based in part on a 2006 report prepared by the Devils Lake Basic Joint Water Resource Board available on the website of the North Dakota State Water Commission.
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