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Waukewan and Winona to be drawn down

October 21, 2009
MEREDITH — Lake Waukewan will be lowered starting in November after discussions between the owner of the Waukewan Dam, the Department of Environmental Services, and lake residents.

Dam owner Rusty McLear, principal of Hampshire Hospitality Holdings, sent a letter to the towns of Meredith, Center Harbor, and New Hampton notifying them that Lake Waukewan will be drawn down between 12 and 18 inches starting Nov. 3. According to the letter the water will go from its summer level of around 540.5 feet to around 539 to 539.5 feet. Boards will be removed from the dam to let more water flow through.

Towns were required to be notified of the drawdown by state law.

As a result of lowering Waukewan, Lake Winona will also be lowered as both lakes are connected by the Snake River.

McLear wrote that the decision was based on public hearings on the matter held in Center Harbor and Meredith as well as at the request of the DES.

Steve Doyon of the DES' Dam Bureau said the decision was made after talks between McLear and the DES following testimony from many lake residents during the two hearings on issues with the water level being too high. Doyon said level management reduces the risk of spring floods on the shoreline.

Doyon said there was a "large contingent in favor of a drawdown."

"We own and operate dozens of dams," Doyon said. "Owners have drawdowns."

Drawdowns for many dams usually start around Columbus Day and signify the beginning of the end of boating season, though many people still take out their boats this time of year.

Doyon said other property owners would have issues with the water being too low around their docks and creating difficulty getting their boats out.

The information being gathered is part of a process of studying possible year-round management of the lakes. Researchers are speaking with residents as well as alternative solutions to lessen flooding on the shoreline and well as educating people on water level's overall effect on the lake.

DES officials have been speaking with lake residents and discussing flooding since the floods that occurred in early August of 2009. Doyon said this lead to officials taking a closer look at the lakes and looking at ways the lakes can be enhanced and improved.

Lake level has only been a recent topic of discussion after spring and the rainy summer.

"The dam owner has been a very willing party," Doyon said. "As far as the lake management he's amenable to whatever scheme is devised."

An informal plan will be set up in the longer range and an interim operating plan will be devised and the DES will hold another public hearing to gain more input on the lake level. An interim management plan will also be devised for the next recreation season. Doyon said officials are in the final stages of developing an opinion survey that will be distributed to local lake associations and lake residents.

"We're still collecting data before we issue an interim operations plan for 2010," Doyon said. "The intent is to get the interested parties back together and assess (the) 2010 summer recreation season, devise a long term plan including whether or not folks are interested in annual drawdown," or one every for or five years or so.

Doyon said from a flood management perspective "I'm a proponent of it. They help. It's not a cure but it certainly is a help."

"I encourage you to contact DES with any thoughts or information on the matter," McLear wrote.

Matin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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