Skip to main content

The Devils Lake Basin


Weather Retrieving
Lake Height: Retrieving


Devils Lake

Devils Lake History

Since glaciation, Devils Lake water levels have been under constant fluctuation, from overflowing to dry - mirroring long-term climate patterns in the region. Devils Lake reached its lowest level in recorded history in 1940 at an elevation of 1,401 feet. Then, from a more recent low point of 1,422.6 feet in 1993, the lake rose 31.68 feet to an elevation of 1,454.3 feet in 2011.

At elevation 1,458, Devils Lake naturally overflows through Tolna Coulee, into the Sheyenne River. The Sheyenne River is a tributary of the Red River of the North, which flows into Canada. A natural overflow of Devils Lake would adversely affect downstream communities and rural areas alike due to flooding and water quality impacts. For that reason, the mitigation efforts outlined in this fact sheet have been actively pursued through local, state, and federal cooperative efforts.

Since 1993, the Devils Lake Basin has experienced a wet cycle that has flooded communities and tens of thousands of acres of agricultural land - forcing the abandonment of homes, roads, and other facilities. These conditions led to the State of North Dakota taking an active role in flood prevention and mitigation in the basin. Specifically, the State constructed and operates two outlets to the Sheyenne River; cooperated with the federal government on completion of a control structure at Tolna Coulee; implemented basin water management; and raised roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure out of harm’s way.

Timeline of Devils Lake Flooding


Devils Lake falls to an elevation of 1,422.62 feet (covering 44,230 acres) - prompting concerns about low water levels. As the summer goes on, the basin begins to receive tremendous amounts of moisture.
In 1993 Devils Lake rose 31.68 feet, an increase of 167,070 inundated acres, or
about 261 square miles. During that same time period, the volume of
water in Devils Lake had grown by more than seven times.


The State of North Dakota completed construction of an outlet from the west end of Devils Lake to the Sheyenne River. Devils Lake reaches a peak elevation of 1448.9 feet.


Record spring inflows caused a lake rise of over 3.5 feet, prompting the state to prioritize outlet capacity increases. Devils Lake reaches a peak elevation of 1450.7 feet.
ND DL Basin Water Resource

By the Numbers

Spill Elevation - 1,458.0 feet

Devils Lake has overflowed through Tolna Coulee and into the Sheyenne and Red Rivers at least twice during the past 4,000 years. The last Devils Lake spill into the Sheyenne River occurred less than 2,000 years ago.

At the Spill Elevation - 261,000 acres

At 1458.0 feet, Devils Lake would cover a total land area of 261,000 acres. In the top right, or menu of the site, you can view the current lake height.

Outlets - Toulna Coulee

Outlets - 600 cubic feet per second

Devils Lake has two outlets, one on the west end of the lake, and the other on the east. The western outlet has a capacity of 250 cubic feet per second (cfs). The eastern outlet has a capacity of 350 feet per second. They can pump when the lake is at 1445 ft (western) and 1446 ft (eastern).

Outlet Control Structure

The control structure allows natural erosion of the divide between Stump Lake and Tolna Coulee, while protecting downstream areas from an uncontrolled release of Devils Lake floodwater. The control structure was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2012. Today it is owned and operated by the North Dakota Department of Water Resources.

Devils Lake Outlets