Chemical quality of surface waters in Devils Lake basin, North Dakota

Water Supply Paper 1295
By:  and 



Devils Lake basin, a closed basin in northeastern North Dakota, covers about 3,900 square miles of land, the topography of which is morainal and of glacial origin. In this basin lies a chain of waterways, which begins with the Sweetwater group and extends successively through Mauvais Coulee, Devils Lake, East Bay Devils Lake, and East Devils Lake, to Stump Lake. In former years when lake levels were high, Mauvais Coulee drained the Sweetwater group and discharged considerable water into Devils Lake. Converging coulees also transported excess water to Stump Lake. For at least 70 years prior to 1941, Mauvais Coulee flowed only intermittently, and the levels of major lakes in this region gradually declined. Devils Lake, for example, covered an area of about 90,000 acres in 1867 but had shrunk to approximately 6,500 acres by 1941. Plans to restore the recreational appeal of Devils Lake propose the dilution and eventual displacement of the brackish lake water by fresh water that would be diverted from the Missouri River. Freshening of the lake water would permit restocking Devils Lake with fish. Devils and Stump Lake have irregular outlines and numerous windings and have been described as lying in the valley of a preglacial river, the main stem and tributaries of which are partly filled with drift. Prominent morainal hills along the south shore of Devils Lake contrast sharply with level farmland to the north. The mean annual temperature of Devils Lake basin ranges between 36 ? and 42 ? F. Summer temperatures above 100 ? F and winter temperatures below -30 ? Fare not uncommon. The annual precipitation for 77 years at the city of Devils Lake averaged 17.5 inches. Usually, from 75 to 80 percent of the precipitation in the basin falls during the growing season, April to September. From 1867 to 1941 the net fall of the water surface of Devils Lake was about 38 feet. By 1951 the surface had risen fully 14 feet from its lowest altitude, 1,400.9 feet. Since 1951, the level has fallen slowly. Hydrologic changes that may have caused Devils Lake to alter from a very large, moderately deep lake of fresh water to a small, shallow body of brackish water are discussed and evaluated on the basis of scanty information. During several years of average precipitation, temperature, and evaporation, Devils Lake and lakes upstream should receive nearly a quarter of an inch of runoff annually from the drainage area of about 3,000 square miles. Approximately 55 square miles of tributary area would be required to maintain each square mile of lake surface. However, runoff, expressed as percentage of the average, differs greatly from year to year. The amount of runoff retained in upstream lakes also Varies greatly. For these two reasons, annual inflow to Devils Lake is extremely variable. Because many waterways in this basin have no surface outlets at normal stages, runoff collects in depressions, is concentrated by evaporation, and forms saline or alkaline lakes. The chemical and physical properties of the lake waters vary chiefly with changes in lake stage and volume of inflow. Scattered records from 1899 to 1923 and more comprehensive data from 1948 to 1952 show a range of salt concentration from 6,130 to 25,000 parts per million (ppm) in the water of Devils Lake. Although concentration has varied, the chemical composition of the dissolved solids has not changed appreciably. Lake waters are more concentrated in the lower part of the basin, downstream from Devils Lake. For periods of record the salt concentration ranged from 14,932 to 62,000 ppm in East Devils Lake and from 19,000 to 106,000 ppm in east Stump Lake. Current and past tonnages of dissolved solids in Devils Lake, East Bay Devils Lake, East Devils Lake, and east and west Stump Lakes were computed from concentrations and from altitude-capacity curves for each lake. Neither the average rate of diversion of water to restore Devils Lake to a higher level nor the quality of the divert

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Chemical quality of surface waters in Devils Lake basin, North Dakota
Series title Water Supply Paper
Series number 1295
DOI 10.3133/wsp1295
Year Published 1955
Language English
Publisher U.S. Government Printing Office
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s) North Dakota Water Science Center, Dakota Water Science Center
Description Report: v, 81 p.; Plate: 17.5 x 17.1 inches