Skip to main content

Spatial mapping of evapotranspiration over Devils Lake basin with SEBAL: application to flood mitigation via irrigation of agricultural crops


Excessive precipitation since 1993 has produced extensive flooding in the Devils Lake basin in northeastern North Dakota, USA. Irrigation of agricultural crops has been proposed as a flood mitigation tool. Ten test fields were equipped with center pivot irrigation systems to compare test field evapotranspiration (ET) with ET for crops in the predominantly nonirrigated basin. An irrigation scheduling analysis indicated 2006 was a favorable year to estimate the maximum ET gains achievable via irrigation. An ET map for 2006 using the Surface Energy Balance Algorithm for Land (SEBAL) for 54 % of the basin, and land use and soil survey data, was used to compare ET estimates at the test fields with ET estimates across the study area. May–September ET was estimated by SEBAL as 394 mm for wheat and 435 mm for corn across the study area, while corn ET at irrigated test sites was 452 mm. Because the 17-mm ET advantage by irrigating corn was substantially smaller than the 41-mm ET advantage for corn versus wheat, we conclude widespread irrigation development to mitigate flooding is not justified. Coarse-textured soils exhibited some seasonal ET deficits, but their small areal extents and parcel sizes offer virtually no opportunity for flood mitigation.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  • Allen RG, Pereira LS, Raes D, Smith M (1998) Crop evapotranspiration (guidelines for computing crop water requirements). FAO Irrigation and Drainage Paper No. 56

  • Allen RG, Tasumi M, Morse A, Trezza R (2005) A Landsat-based energy balance and evapotranspiration model in Western US water rights regulation and planning. Irrig Drain Syst 19:251–268

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • ASCE-EWRI (2005) The ASCE standardized reference evapotranspiration equation. Report by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Task Committee on Standardization of Reference Evapotranspiration. Allen RG, Walter IA, Elliot RL, Howell TA, Itenfisu D, Jensen ME, Snyder RL (eds.), ASCE, 0-7844-0805-X, Reston, 204 pp

  • Bartlett and West Engineers, Inc. (2002) Devils Lake Upper Basin Water Utilization and Management: Reconnaissance Level Investigation, vol 1. Bartlett & West Engineers Inc, Bismarck

    Google Scholar 

  • Bastiaanssen WGM, Menenti M, Feddes RA, Holtslag AAM (1998a) A remote sensing surface energy balance algorithm for land (SEBAL): 1. Formulation. J Hydrol 212–213:198–212

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bastiaanssen WGM, Pelgrum H, Wang J, Ma Y, Moreno JF, Roerink GJ, van der Wal T (1998b) A remote sensing surface energy balance algorithm for land (SEBAL): 2. Validation. J Hydrol 212–213:213–229

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bastiaanssen WB, Noordman EJM, Pelgrum H, Davids G, Thoreson BP, Allen RG (2005) SEBAL model with remotely sensed data to improve water resources management under actual field conditions. ASCE J Irrig Drain Eng 131(1):85–93

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clark B, Soppe R, Lal D, Thoreson B, Bastiaanssen W, Davids G (2007) Variability of crop coefficients in space and time—examples from California. In: Proceedings of USCID 4th international conference on Sacramento, 3–6 Oct

  • Fangmeier DD, Elliott WJ, Workman SR, Huffman RL, Schwab GO (2006) Soil and water conservation engineering, 5th edn. CENGAGE Delmar Learning, Boston

    Google Scholar 

  • Farahani HJ, Howell TA, Shuttleworth WJ, Bausch WC (2007) Evapotranspiration: progress in measurement and modeling in agriculture. Trans ASABE 50(5):1627–1638

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Franzen D, Scherer T, Seelig B (1996) Compatibility of North Dakota Soils for Irrigation. Bull EB-68. Fargo: ND Ext Serv

  • Homer C, Huang C, Yang L, Wylie B, Coan M (2004) Development of a 2001 national land cover database for the United States. Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing 70(7): 829–840.

  • ERDAS, Inc. (2008) ERDAS Field Guide, vols 1 and 2. Norcross, Georgia: ERDAS, Inc

  • Jensen ME, Haise HR (1963) Estimating evapotranspiration from solar radiation. J Irrig Drain Div ASCE 89(IR4):15–41

    Google Scholar 

  • Kramber WJ, Morse A, Allen RG (2010) Mapping evapotranspiration: a remote sensing innovation. Photogram Eng Remote Sensing 76(1):6–10

    Google Scholar 

  • Lundstrom DR, Stegman EC (1988) Irrigation scheduling by the checkbook method. Bulletin AE-792 (Rev.). N Dak St Univ Ext Serv, Fargo

  • Melesse AM, Nangia V, Wang X (2006a) Hydrology and water balance of Devils Lake basin: Part 1 Hydrometeorological analysis and lake surface area mapping. J Spatial Hydrol. 6(1):120–132

    Google Scholar 

  • Melesse AM, Nangia V, Wang X (2006b) Hydrology and water balance of Devils Lake basin: Part 2 Grid-based spatial surface water balance modeling. J Spatial Hydrol 6(1):133–144

    Google Scholar 

  • Monteith JL, Unsworth MH (1990) Principles of environmental physics, 2nd edn. Edward Arnold, London

    Google Scholar 

  • Nachabe M, Shah N, Ross M, Vomacka J (2005) Evapotranspiration of two vegetation covers in a shallow water table environment. Soil Sci Soc Am J 69:492–499

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather Service (Undated) Your National Weather Service Forecast, 2 Miles S Devils Lake ND. Accessed 14 May 2009

  • North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network Center (2010) NDAWN Center. Fargo: N Dak St Univ Accessed 6 Jan 2010

  • North Dakota State Water Commission (2011) 2011 Devils Lake Outlet Mitigation Plan. Accessed 23 July 2012

  • North Dakota State Water Commission (2012) West Devils Lake outlet begins operating. North Dakota Water, 2012 (May):16–17. Accessed 20 July 2012

  • North Dakota State Water Commission (2013) Devils Lake flood facts. June. Bismarck: ND State Water Commission. Accessed 5 June 2013

  • Singh RK, Irmak A (2009) Estimation of crop coefficients using satellite remote sensing. J Irrig Drain Eng ASCE 135(5):597–608

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Soil Survey Staff, Natural Resources Conservation Service United States Department of Agriculture (2006) U.S. General Soil Map (STATSGO). Accessed 27 June 2007

  • Steele DD (2007) Devils Lake basin water utilization test project: Project overview and progress through 2006. In: Water Spouts, No. 230 (July). Fargo: N. Dak. St. Univ. Ext. Serv

  • Steele DD, Hopkins DG (2009) Devils Lake Basin Water Utilization Test Project. Report submitted to the Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board, 9 June. Fargo: N. Dak. St. Univ. ABEN Dept

  • Steele DD, Scherer TF, Hopkins DG, Tuscherer SR, Wright J (2010) Spreadsheet implementation of irrigation scheduling by the checkbook method for North Dakota and Minnesota. Appl Eng Agric 26(6):983–995

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stegman EC (1988) Corn crop curve comparisons for the Central and Northern Plains of the US. Appl Eng Agric 4(3):226–233

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stegman EC, Coe DA (1984) Water balance irrigation scheduling based on Jensen-Haise equation: Software for Apple II, II+, and IIE computers. Res Rep 100. ND Agric Exp Sta, Fargo

  • Stegman EC, Bauer A, Zubriski JC, Bauder J (1977) Crop curves for water balance irrigation scheduling in SE North Dakota. Res Rept 66. ND Agric Exp Sta, Fargo

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service (2007) 1:100,000-scale 2006 cropland data layer, a crop-specific digital data layer for North Dakota. USDA-NASS Marketing Division, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (2007) National SSURGO Database. Accessed 1 February 2007

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service (1982) North Dakota Irrigation Guide, IG Notice ND-4, May 1982, Lincoln, Nebraska

  • Voogt MP (2006) Meteolook, a physically based regional distribution model for measured meteorological variables. MSc Thesis. Delft Technical University

Download references


Appreciation is expressed to the Devils Lake Basin Joint Water Resource Board, the North Dakota State Water Commission, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and U.S. taxpayers for their sponsorship of the research. Special thanks are due to Michael Connor and Jeff Frith for their support and oversight of the project, Earl Stegman for envisioning this application of ET mapping, William Schuh for technical consultations, Duane Anderson for shop facilities, and the site operators and landowners for allowing access to the sites and for their participation in the project. Assistance was provided by Deepak Lal, Keith Jacobson, Michael Sharp, Nurlan Isaev, Tim Amundson, Kyle Thomson, Krystal Leidholm, Shravan Avadhuta, Rodney Utter, David Kirkpatrick, James Moos, Jana Daeuber, Lori Buckhouse, Nancy Stroh, Janelle Quam, Mark Dose, Tyler Kirkeide, Christopher Simmons, Steve Wosick, and Debra Baer.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dean D. Steele.

Additional information

Communicated by E. Fereres.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Steele, D.D., Thoreson, B.P., Hopkins, D.G. et al. Spatial mapping of evapotranspiration over Devils Lake basin with SEBAL: application to flood mitigation via irrigation of agricultural crops. Irrig Sci 33, 15–29 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Normalize Difference Vegetation Index
  • Spring Wheat
  • Crop Coefficient
  • Flood Mitigation
  • Test Project