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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

Kharel, Gehendra, Zheng, Haochi, Kirilenko, Andrei
Regional environmental change 2016 v.16 no.8 pp. 2443-2456
General Circulation Models, alfalfa, climate, grasses, hydrologic models, issues and policy, lakes, land use change, markets, risk, rivers, water management, watersheds, North Dakota, Prairie Pothole region
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.