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Lake level concerns aired to DES officials in two meetings

October 07, 2009
MEREDITH — Property impacts and concerns about lake levels on Waukewan and Winona were addressed during two public informational hearings, part of a process that will lead to state officials taking informal steps to regulate water levels.

Officials from the Department of Environmental Services held informational sessions in Center Harbor and Meredith to give information and take statements on the property and environmental effects of the level of Lakes Waukewan and Winona.

The hearing was held for residents and DES officials to discuss options and learn about how the high or low water level affects properties, or how properties are not affected or would be if the level were changed.

Steve Doyon and Jim Weber from the DES Dam Safety and Inspection Unit conducted the meetings with dam owner Rusty McLear, who was available to explain and answer questions at both meetings.

Doyon said the DES has been gathering data on the lakes for over a year, and the data collection is ongoing.

"We're going to take that data and we're going to analyze it, evaluate data to determine what adjustments should be considered," Doyon said.

Lake health, property impacts, loon nesting, and many other factors will be examined to determine the best course of action for the lake and determination will be made which issues are the most important. Information given at the hearings, including any other evidence provided by area residents, will be examined as part of the data.

Once the data is analyzed, a plan will be put in place to manage lake levels and be used through next year. Another meeting will be scheduled after that year to determine how well or otherwise the plan worked. Doyon said he and other officials are working with McLear and the respective lake associations during the process.

"The interim plan allows us to live it up for a year," Doyon said. "Some of us might not like it or it may not have been (our) first choice. We're cooperating, we might have a compromise, but we are doing it locally."

Any 10 residents on a lake can sign a petition to submit to the state calling for a formal investigation into the lake level, which Doyon said would be a complicated and exceedingly thorough process. The report in progress now and through the hearings is for a more informal process.

Since purchasing the Amatex property, McLear has owned the dam and had the flow rights to Lake Waukewan and Lake Winona. He said he has frequently received calls from area residents saying the water level is too high or the level is too low.

"We're not making power from the water; we don't have a dog in this fight other than I would not like to get the phone calls we're getting," McLear said.

Recently he has been working with the state to help determine the best level management of the lakes "so we all can get together and get the guidance so we can figure out what this lake level is supposed to be and manage it. Neither personally or my company have an interest in what the lake level is."

Weber said a court decree in 1904 declared that the water on the Waukewan dam could not be more than 540.7 feet above the permanent concrete crest.

The lake level, however, has not been formally monitored for a few decades and there are no permanent gauges on Lake Waukewan. There have been a series of floods in the area from 2005-2007 with the severe event in August of 2008, which put the water level 6.6 inches below the dam crest.

Meredith Water and Sewer Superintendent Brian Carroll said at the meeting in Meredith that the water plant draws around 300,000 gallons of water a day from Waukewan, which Weber said is "insignificant compared to what's going over the dam."

Doyon said a drawdown has been talked about and recommended it be considered as it could have benefits for the lake.

Lee Bavis from the MeredithWater and Sewer Department also said the department has received varying calls regarding the lake level.

"The calls vary neighbor to neighbor, boat concerns to erosion," Bavis said.

At the Meredith meeting, several residents on Waukewan and Winona spoke of property damage done from high water levels.

Deb Corr has a cottage on Lake Waukewan in New Hampton that was built by her father. In 2006 she said she noticed the two large pine trees on her property "started to shed their needles more rapidly."

"What's happened since the water's been kept high the trees have gotten very thin,' she said, saying water is collecting around the roots and is not going down.

Corr said the slivers of sandy beaches are now underwater and she learned the sand can help filter out pollutants that can lead to algae blooms and other issues

Julie Marsh Cudworth read a letter from her brother on the cabin that has been in her family for five generations.

"Now there are no sandy shoreline and beaches, wetlands perpetually flood," she read, also saying the territorial pair of loons that used to be around the property can no longer nest and there are signs of property erosion around the shoreline.

There were also oak trees on the property that held special value for the family.

"They are no longer there," she said. "The water eroded the root system; my brother had to take them down. You never get those back."

Cudworth said the rocks off the area were used by boaters as a safety indicator, but her brother wrote that the rocks can no longer be seen.

Leslie Avery of Lake Winona has photos of erosion along the shore that has occurred nearly six years and the water is "creeping slowly to the rock walls."

Other lake residents said they did not notice any difference in the height of the water.

Meredith resident Bob Swartz said he had called with concerns about the lake being too low. He said there had been a drop in the level and brought rocks around his docks.

"I was not aware of the erosion problems," he said. "Our particular property has a pretty high buffer and we don't see that type of erosion."

Glenn Feener has property on Chapman Island and said his access to the island is "very shallow."

"If the level is put below 540 (feet) our ability to access our property will be in jeopardy," Feener said.

Feener said the boat drags at the current level and if the level reduces "the cove will be filled in further. He said he helped put in a loon-nesting raft around the area and said if the water level around that area is lower "the safety of our loons and their eggs could be compromised."

"I encourage the DES to visit this property first hand and identify these properties before you take the drastic step of lowering the lake level as a solution to the problem," he said. Feener also pointed out in photos of the rocks around the lake that no vegetation could be seen in those areas, a possible indicator that the lake commonly rises to a high level during the year.

"We all have to realize there has to be a compromise and we all have to live with it," said Nancy Curran of Meredith.

The information heard at both meetings will be analyzed by DES officials as part of the process.

Martin Lord Osman
North Country Environmental
Salmon Press
Martin Lord Osman
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