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Devil's Lake flood plan approved; project is first of its kind in the state

For the first time in Minnesota history, collaboration between a farmer and homeowners will help battle a flooding lake.

Devil's Lake Association members have recently voted to invest in the infrastructure of underground pipes to a neighboring farmer's irrigation system.

Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Hydrologist, Julie Aadland, said the DNR has no experience issuing permits of this kind.

While it's not new for farmers to use lake water for irrigation, this is the first time lake residents are paying for the necessary infrastructure in order to save their shorelines and homes from rising waters.

Aadland said farmers do not invest in this kind of system because, in dry conditions, when farmers need water the most, lakes usually do not have enough to spare. Farmers will typically tap into a deeper, more reliable ground water source.

All but eight of the 167 members of the Devil's Lake Association voted on the matter in a meeting on June 23. The measure passed, with 95 members voting 'yes' and 64 voting 'no.'

The project will cost each member $2,500. This will cover the construction of underground pipes from the lake to nearby irrigation systems, as well as upkeep for the first couple of years.

Spokesperson for the lakes improvement district, Jeana Nelson, said the legal paperwork necessary to begin implementing the approved plan is in process, but no dates have been set for construction.

The lakes improvement district has a verbal agreement with longtime 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, located northwest of Perham.

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.

This plan could save the 50-plus homes directly affected by high water, as well as miles of devastated shoreland.

Aadland said it is unknown if the water reduction will be a permanent fix. Since spring-fed lakes are continually fed by ground water sources, it is unknown if the springs will simply replenish the water lost through the irrigation process.

Throughout the process, the DNR will keep a close watch on Devil's Lake's water levels. If the water reaches a certain low point, the irrigation system will switch back to its ground water source. Currently, the lake is four feet above high water level.

Other area lake associations have developed ditch plans to deal with high water, forming outlets to shed water downstream.