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Too dry or just right? Thoughts mixed on drawdown

August 25, 2010
MEREDITH — Lake residents told state environmental officials about impacts to their property on Winona and Waukewan after a drawdown: favorable for some, damaging for others.

Property owners gathered for the nearly three-hour meeting at Church Landing on Tuesday to speak on impacts to their property as a result of a drawdown at the Waukewan Dam as part of the state's Interim Operations Plan. A previous meeting moderated by Executive Councilor Ray Burton took place in July.

Sherry Godlewski of the Department of Environmental Services led the second meeting. Also on hand were Jim Weber and Steve Doyon from the DES's Dam Bureau; DES limnologist Jody Connor; Collis Adams from the DES's Wetlands Bureau; Darlene Forst, Shoreland Section Supervisor for the DES; Fish and Game lakes and fisheries biologist Don Miller; and biologist John Couley from the Loon Preservation Committee.

Doyon said the plan came about after the significant rainfall event in 2008 that created flood conditions for those along the Waukewan and Winona watersheds. Doyon said it is not uncommon for DES to receive such management requests after a rain event like that one, and DES wanted to make sure the dam owner had protocols in place for management.

A study was done of the dam and the water impacts on the watersheds between August of 2008 and April of this year. Two meetings were held in late 2009, where many shoreowners said their properties were suffering adverse effects from the high water. An electronic monitoring system was put in place by the dam in Meredith.

The decision was made to have a drawdown in the fall of 2009.

The DES continues to collect data as they review the Interim Operations Plan.

"You've seen the Interim Operations Plan as well-managed as it can be," Doyon said. "No one water level is perfect for everybody. Ultimately, the interim decision has proven challenging for some of you."

Weber said the Waukewan dam is "unusual" and has a limited discharge capacity and only one way for water to travel. Weber said the dam is similar to a flood control dam. The dam itself is safe and in good shape and some management improvements have been recommended to dam owner Rusty McLear.

The drawdown put the water level at 539.5 feet.

Adams said with the water drawdown, many shoreline ecosystems expand with new plants and species taking over the new sandy areas.

Godlewski said lake residents are being surveyed on the impacts the management plan has had on them. The survey is available on the DES website.

Around 45 people signed up to speak at the meeting. Many said the drawdown improved conditions on their waterlogged properties.

"I think for the first time in years the water is clear and the muck has disappeared," said David Riley. "It has suffered tremendously because of the high water."

Riley said trees and brush have died on his property because of the high water.

Deborah Corr had spoken at previous meetings on how the water level was damaging her property, including large pine trees. Corr said the trees were starting to look healthier.

"(If the) lake level stays where it is, I am confident these trees will once again thrive," Corr said.

"We are very pleased because we actually have a dry property again," said Wes Hays of New Hampton. "It's at a great level, we're comfortable with where it is."

Many others said the drawdown damaged their property. Some property owners said they are not able to bring their boats out safely into the water and propellers and boats are being damaged on rocks. Some said they have muddy areas and others said weeds are growing and tangling property and swimmers.

Glen Feener of Chapman Island said silt is forming on his property that makes getting out difficult.

"Just coming over tonight with three people in a rowboat, we got stuck 20 feet from our access," Feener said, saying his pontoon boat is still on rocks.

"We have almost no access to any water," said Helen Green. "We now have a wetland marsh front. I don't want more land, I don't want nine more feet of mud, I just want to use the land that I love and the lake that we have."

Boo Gershun said her trailer has gotten stuck trying to get in the water and hit rocks. She also said weeds are taking over the waterfront of her property. Gershun also spoke about how the falls at Mill Falls seems to be just a trickle.

"The lack of water falling into the waterfall is an eyesore," Gershun said.

"Right now we dug out rowboat across 25 feet of mudflats," said Mary Walker of Lake Winona, saying she has to "go 165 feet to be in two feet of water."

Walker said this is the water level that her children and grandchildren have to swim in.

Several lake residents asked that a compromise be reached and that the water level be raised by six inches.

Linda Heminway laid a lemon branch on the table, symbolizing an olive branch for peace on the issue. She said there has been much fighting back and forth on the issue already.

"I just ask you that you don't be dug in, that a compromise be examined," Rep. Fran Wendelboe of New Hampton said to the panel.

The Interim Operations Plan for later this year includes another drawdown to 538 feet with the drawdown proposed for Nov. 1. Weber said this number considers flood events that have been seen before.

"We do consider the decision that we've made to be an equitable compromise," Doyon said. "We're looking at all of these issues as a whole. (The) final decision might still be contrary you might want and see."

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