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Published February 25, 2012, 10:17 PM

Living with Water: Flood Protection in Devils Lake that has been done and what is left to do

Devils Lake, ND (WDAZ TV) - Over the last two decades water levels on Devils Lake have slowly climbed 30 feet. To protect the city 13 and a half miles of dirt and rock embankments have been put in place to hold back rising water.

By: David Schwab, WDAY

We continue Living with Water, a Forum Communications series, in our print and broadcast divisions. Reporter David Schwab looks at flood protection in Devils Lake that has been done and what is left to do.

Over the last two decades water levels on Devils Lake have slowly climbed 30 feet. To protect the city 13 and a half miles of dirt and rock embankments have been put in place to hold back rising water. Markers on light poles show just how important the protection is.

Dick Johnson - Devils Lake Mayor: "They can see where if that embankment were not there today that is where the water would be."

Mayor Dick Johnson says if not for the protection about half of the city would be underwater right now, but there is still work ahead. Existing embankments have to be built up, and extended. County and state roads have been raised. The tons earth do that has all been local.

Mike Grafsgaard – Devils Lake City Engineer: "The small amount of hills that we do have many of those have been abilerated. In order to build the embankment and raise the roads."

Here, four miles east of town is one of the last areas left for dirt to be excavated, and during the construction season 1750 truckloads of dirt come out of here each day."

And that has brought many temporary jobs.

Bill Mertens - Ramsey County Commissioner: "You hear about the man camps out in the western part of the state with the oil boom. While these are man camps as well, they come on here; they are temporary workers they are coming in here to help drive heavy equipment. "

When flood project construction boom ends here in the near future, the region will really start to feel the loss of tens of thousands of farmland acres.

Dick Johnson - Devils Lake Mayor: "That is the life blood of our community. We are still an Ag based community by far. That is our biggest industry. "

Bill Mertens - Ramsey County Commissioner: "We don't know how we are going to be able to survive with the level of government we have now with the amount of land we have off the tax rolls.”

To help bring lake levels down and regain some of those lost acres, a total of three outlets on the lake are expected to be up and running this summer."

Dick Johnson - Devils Lake Mayor: "We are probably looking a foot and a half two feet a year that is a pretty close estimate; If they are turned on for the 270 day cycle.”

That's not a cheap operation. With the two pumps running continuously it's estimated to cost about a half million dollars a month in electricity. Luckily for the city and county that's a bill the state picks up. With water projects wrapping up here, there are can be more focus on other things.

Mike Grafsgaard – Devils Lake City Engineer: "Getting back to some of the other infrastructure items. Paving of some of the road ways. replacing water mains in the city that have been neglected for the past 15 to 20 years."

The embankment work is expected to be completed next year, and road work in 2014.

A NDSU study estimates 193-million dollars is lost each year in ag land. Tomorrow, are we at the end of the wet cycle and what that means for the diversion.

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