The map below reveals that the Devils Lake basin connects to the Sheyenne River basin either when water is being pumped from the upper basin to the lower or when water rises to the overflow point in Devils Lake and then overflows through the Tolna Coulee and into the Sheyenne River. Then water from both the Devils Lake basin and the Sheyenne River basin will flow into the Red River basin and on into Canada.
Map of North Dakota Watersheds
History of Water Management has meant “drainage” management.
Decades of “water management” has formed the Devils Lake Watershed Basin into what it is now: millions of acres of contributing land connected through over 52,000 drains into Devils Lake. Devils Lake fluctuates with annual rain, snow and runoff amounts and has no natural outlet until reaching 1458 feet above mean sea level.
As massive drainage channels have connected several watershed areas,, the increased amount of runoff water and precipitation collected in Devils Lake has accumulated higher than is usual during recent years. Devils Lake has not overflowed into the Sheyenne River for thousands of years. This increased drainage along with added precipitation has resulted in Devils Lake rising. Some of this rise can be attributed to high precipitation. In the upper basin of Devils Lake precipitation has increased from about 17.5 inches per year to around 22 inches per year. Not enough to cause the kind of inflows that have occurred recently, however. For example, in 2009 and in 2011 over 600,000 acre-feet of water drained into Devils Lake from the upper basin.
Much of this rise, however, can be attributed to aggressive drainage programs, funneling ever-larger amounts of water into the massive network of channels, coulees, road ditches, culverts, upper basin lakes, and Channel A finally into Devils Lake. The elevated water level of Devils Lake has inundated land, farms, homes and businesses since 1983 when higher precipitation events began.
The upper basin draining continues, regardless of concerns of flooding in the lower basin. The map above shows the various separate watershed basins in North Dakota. The Devils Lake basin has been connected to the Sheyenne River by pumping water from one to the other. If Devils Lake rises to overflowing through the Tolna Coulee, all of the water in the lake above the overflow elevation will flow into the Sheyenne.