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Devil's Lake homeowners face more flooding

Connie Vandermay/FOCUS A cement dike on Devil's Lake was built with 8,000-pound cement blocks to protect the land from ice push - a natural phenomenon that gives ice enough pressure to push through sand dikes and even homes. A proposed plan to use excess lake water to irrigate neighboring fields in order to lower water levels will be brought to a vote among homeowners at the end of June.1 / 2
Connie Vandermay/FOCUS A cabin on Devil's Lake is surrounded by water and is waiting to be condemned as mold grows up its walls. Property owners on the lake have been dealing with high water for a number of years. Torrential rains over Memorial Day weekend have caused more flooding.2 / 2

Six homes and cabins along Devil's Lake near Perham have become unlivable in the past year as water levels inch upward.

Though down slightly from last spring, the lake is still three to four feet above normal high water levels. Torrential rains like the area saw this past Memorial Day weekend, which dropped an estimated five inches, only add to the problem.

Some homes, with water lapping around the foundations, are waiting to be condemned as mold spreads up the walls. Others have 'for sale' signs pounded into their waterlogged lawns as homeowners try to leave before their homes end up like their neighbors' - a total loss.

The surviving homes are either on naturally high ground, or 'man-made' high ground created with truckloads of gravel hauled in for fill. The shores are lined with stacks of sandbags, and, in some cases, cement dikes. Homeowners have also made adjustments in their basements by installing pumps and drain tiles to remove water.

Members of the Devil's Little Devil's Lakes Improvement District have recently come up with a possible solution to the problem - a plan that could save the 50-plus homes directly affected by high water, as well as miles of devastated shore land. But the plan is still being debated, and it would cost homeowners on the lake $2,500 each.

In an interview with two of the lake improvement district's members, longtime homeowners Randy Abbott and Jeana Nelson, Abbott said the proposed plan would lower the water level by pumping lake water into pipes that connect to a neighboring irrigation system.

The lakes improvement district has a verbal agreement with long-time farmer Ron Offutt to use water drawn from Devil's Lake to irrigate his 318 acres of fields, all of which are within a half mile of the lake.

Abbott said when it comes to solutions to lowering lake water levels, "we are breaking new ground."

"Although irrigating from lakes is nothing new, irrigating in order to reduce water levels has yet to be put to the test," Nelson added.

The theory is that throughout the course of the growing season, the lake will give 18 inches of water to irrigate area fields. This number is based on the average acre's need for water in a year.

Other area lake associations have developed ditch plans, which form man-made outlets to shed water downstream. Devil's Lake has no natural outlets, and is spring fed, and lake improvement district members didn't feel like a ditch plan would be effective, Abbott said.

A major question remains among residents regarding whether or not the natural springs will simply renew the water lost, or if the water levels would stay down, Abbott said.

Driving around the lake, one will see trees, lawns, speed limit signs and even roads that are under water - and have been for some time. Nelson said she and her husband lost more than 50 trees on their property.

When lake levels are up this much, the water covers more than 20 feet of land from the shoreline, Nelson explained.

The public access and swimming area at Devil's Lake are a good example of this: The edge of the lake is now just a few feet from the road, while according to Nelson there used to be 20 feet of beach.

This past fall, residents also took measures to protect dwellings from possible ice push - a natural phenomenon in which lake ice pushes into shores with enough pressure to cause damage. Some homeowners built stronger, cement dikes to protect property, but the pressure of the ice caused a lot of damage to unprotected areas, Nelson said.

The lake improvement district will further discuss its proposal at planned information meetings on June 9 and 16 at the Perham Area Community Center at 10 a.m.

On June 23, the group's 97 members will vote on whether or not to implement this plan, which would include the $2,500 assessment to cover the construction of the underground pipes, plus maintenance for a couple of years.