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1/5/2005 – Editorials

By Richard Peterson

We’re back!
We’re finally back on the Internet after an absence of more than six months. We finally got things together and should have the Web site updated every Wednesday or Thursday. I’m not sure yet how this will work.
You can view the Web site at
Each week we’ll have at least one story from the newspaper on the Web site. But we’ll also have most of our photos on the Web site in full color. That’s the best part of the Internet site — seeing the photos in full color.
I’m still under the weather and have no inspiration for a column, so here’s a reprint from about 10 years ago. When you read this, remember that it was written 10 years ago:
Everyone is speculating as to what is causing Devils Lake to rise and fall above and below its traditional shoreline. We are not the first to ponder this mystery. In reading the Farmers Press of 70 years ago, I stumbled across an article which gives a clue as to why the lake fluctuates.
The plain fact of the matter is that the lake does not have a traditional shoreline. The lake has been rising and falling since it was formed some 10,000 years ago.
It is known that the lake was at a level of approximately 1453 in 1830. In all probability it has been higher than that and it likely has flowed into the Sheyenne River when it reached a level of 1457 to 1459, but we have no concrete proof of that. The lowest level man has ever recorded the lake was in 1940 when it dropped to a level of 1400.9. It’s probably been even lower than that in earlier times. The lake has been rising in fits and starts ever since 1940 and now stands at a level of 1435 (editor’s note: this was written in 1995. The level of Devils Lake in 2005 is 1447.85).
An obscure geography professor at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople came up with a theory last winter that the lake is not rising. Rather, the land is sinking, claims Professor Ed Fred. In fact, the entire populated portion of North America is sinking.
He thinks the land is sinking because of increased weight. What would cause all this extra weight to concentrate in North America? The National Geographic, says Prof. Fred.
The magazine is naturally heavy because it uses high grade paper. Additionally it is printed with beautiful full color photos. Nobody can bear to throw away this beautifully done magazine and as a result everyone in North America has been saving National Geographics for generations, greatly adding to the weight pressing down on the surface of the earth.
We just happen to notice the effects because Devils Lake is one of only two major lakes in the US which has no natural outlet. The other is the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The good professor also says saving National Geographic magazines is the cause of the oceans rising (actually, the oceans aren’t rising; the land is sinking). Unless Americans start throwing away National Geographics, the entire continent could sink below the waves.
Maybe. But a little more plausible cause of our problems was contained in that article in the Sept. 18, 1925 issue of the Farmers Press.
The article quotes Prof. E.F. Chandler, hydraulic engineer with the US Geological Survey, as saying the water in the lake was receding back in 1925 because of agriculture.
It takes a great quantity of water to produce wheat, the professor states. Residents of the Lake Region have long attributed the lowering (of) the water in the lake to the fact that thousands of acres of cultivated land surrounding the lake absorb the rainfall, the only source of supply of water for the lake, the 70-year-old front page article stated.
So there it is. Before man started farming the land, the water shed off the land and ran into the lake. When man started farming, the land soaked up the rain before it could run into the lake.
Now the lake is coming up despite the fact that the watershed is being farmed. What has changed?
There’s only one answer. The lake is spilling its shores because of no-till farming.
Well, that theory is at least as good as the theory that the flooding of the lake is caused by drainage. Letters to the editor in the daily papers frequently make this claim. They don’t explain why the lake fluctuated up and down prior to the arrival of the white man. Drainage obviously can aggravate the problem, but it is not the cause. Ultimately, the cause comes from changes in climatic conditions (more rainfall).
The lake also is probably connected to the huge Spiritwood Aquifer, an underwater ocean which stretches from north of the Canadian border to south of the South Dakota border. The ND State Water Commission says the aquifer would have little effect on the lake. The state geologist feels otherwise. The jury is still out on the probability of this being the cause of the lakes fluctuations. But again, changes in climatic conditions are what deplete and restore the aquifer, so ultimately the cause of the lake rising, whether or not the Spiritwood Aquifer has anything to do with it, is simply more rain.
The 70-year-old article referred to earlier in this column observed, Many years ago it will be remembered that the lake reached up to the present town site of Minne-waukan, and even today may be seen the old piers on which the dock was located. Still standing, but slowly responding to the ravages of time, the straggling posts on which the dock was built may be seen, straggling eastward in a pasture, half a mile or more north of Minnewaukan. It is hardly conceivable to the younger generation that fairly good sized boats once tied up at the old dock.
We can believe it today because the water now is at about the same level as it was when the white man first settled in the Minnewaukan area in 1883. But virtually nobody envisioned seeing the lake at the outskirts of Minnewaukan three years ago.
(Editor’s note: the water today is considerably higher than when settlers first came here in 1883. I estimate the level in 1883 was about 1438.)

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