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Can land-use change mitigate long-term flood risks in the Prairie Pothole Region? The case of Devils Lake, North Dakota, USA

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The combined effects of climate and land-use change have changed both the hydrology and management of endorheic watersheds globally. Devils Lake (DL), North Dakota, USA, has risen nearly 10 m since 1991, resulting in a costly, lengthy and litigious water management issue in the region. With more than 1 billion US dollars already spent in mitigation, DL is less than 2 m from its uncontrolled overspill to the nearby Sheyenne River, which could lead to mounting economic, environmental and social costs. While previous studies have generally attributed the changes in the hydrology of DL to the current wet spell, the impacts of land-use changes have not been investigated. Using a hydrological model, here we develop four land-use alternatives driven by market and policy conditions in the DL watershed and investigate their effects on DL hydrology and overspill probability under historic and changed climates. Land-use scenarios under an ensemble of statistically downscaled general circulation model projections indicate a higher overspill risk (7.4–17.0 vs. 0–2 %) under historical climate. Incentivized grass and alfalfa scenarios were able to moderate the hydrological implications to DL under a changed climate, indicating their potential companion roles in DL flood mitigation strategies.

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This study was supported by the NSF ND EPSCoR grant to CRCS (#IIA-1355466), University of North Dakota and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture through the Agricultural and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Sustainable Bioenergy Program (Project No.: 2013-03902).

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Correspondence to Gehendra Kharel.

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Editor: Sarah Gergel.

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Kharel, G., Zheng, H. & Kirilenko, A. Can land-use change mitigate long-term flood risks in the Prairie Pothole Region? The case of Devils Lake, North Dakota, USA. Reg Environ Change 16, 2443–2456 (2016).

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