The Changing topography of Nelson County

Large slough in Enterprise TownshipSince the early 1990's there has been a dramatic change in the water table levels in this part of North Dakota. Whether or not this is temporary or permanent and whether or not this is a result of global climate change due to the increased level of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere, has not yet been determined. However, this has produced a decided change in the landscape of Nelson County. While there has always been a large number of "potholes" or sloughs, they were small in size and often were dry enough in the late summer to harvest a crop of hay. Now these sloughs can be water filled, even in late summer and they dot the landscape pretty much throughout the county. The photo on the left from Enterprise Township shows what was one of these small potholes in the 1960's. Now it has grown to the size of a medium size lake. The photo below shows a typical slough in Central Township. The increased soil moisture has helped to improve agricultural production, but it has also claimed land that can no longer be farmed because it has been flooded with water. The problem is more acute in the neighboring county of Ramsey, where Devils Lake has spilled over its banks and claimed thousands of acres of farmland. The townsite of Churches Ferry has been flooded and the town has had to be moved. Slough in Central TownshipThe lake level is now so high that it is near the point of spilling over into the Sheyenne River basin. Pumping operations have begun to pump lake water into the Sheyenne River and since the Sheyenne empties into the Red River just north of Fargo, it has raised fears in the Red River Valley in North Dakota and Minnesota as well as in Canada that foreign species of fish and plant organisms will be spread to those areas. This has become a controversial political issue, but if the lake level rises much further it will become a moot point because it is near the point of overflowing into the Sheyenne naturally.Devils Lake as seen from Hgh. 2
    One benefit from this has been the development of Devils Lake in Ramsey County and Stump Lake in Nelson County into recreational fresh water lakes. Before the advent of the increased water levels these were dead salt water bodies of water. Now these lakes have become popular for boating and fishing. Housing developments and lakeside cabins have sprung up around Devils Lake and recently a new similar development has been announced for the south shore of Stump Lake. Stump Lake has also seen a dramatic rise in its level, now over forty feet above what it was in the 1950's. In the Stump Lake photo album on this web site you can view several photos of the shoreline where just the tops of trees are showing far out into the lake. Click on the photo to the left you can view Devils Lake as seen from Highway 2 about twenty miles west from Lakota. In the past the lake was not visible from this vantage point. Now you can see the partially submerged trees.
     
    * Now in the spring of 2009 the region is again threatened with further rises in both Devils Lake and Stump Lake. Late autumn rains were followed by an early freeze which was then followed by a winter of heavy snow. The two lakes are projected to reach levels not seen for about two thousand years by July. Dikes are needed to protect the townsites of Minnewaukan and Devils Lake and several highways which also serve as levees are having to have their levels raised. At Stump Lake the Pavillion and restaurant may be threatened.

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