By Doug Martin
Ottertail County is paving the way for Dead Lake to receive additional water from Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul (LMKP) lakes near Dent by approving the use of Ditch 25 to expand Dead Lake’s watershed to reduce flooding for those lakes.
Dead Lake Association representatives and the other downstream lake representatives have attended Ottertail County Commissioner meetings and voiced concern that our lake’s water quality may be compromised, there may be potential for flooding and that Aquatic Invasive Species such as zebra mussels, Eurasian milfoil, etc. may be introduced to our lakes.
At the end of July, the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners approved an Operation Plan and draft that authorizes an outlet to be used to help control water levels on Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul lakes.
The Dead Lake Association and other downstream lakes submitted letters opposing the current Operation Plan because it doesn’t provide enough specific, measurable, objective standards for determining when the Outlet Gate should be opened and closed.
As the Dead Lake Association’s representatives, Mark Steuart and I participated in an Otter Tail County AdHoc Committee Meeting and worked with the other downstream lakes to influence the wording of the proposed LMKP Operation Plan.
The original Operation Plan developed by the LMKP Lake Improvement District (LID) proposed that the LMKP LID would control the Outlet Gate, that water would be vented downstream if Dead Lake’s water level was less than Ordinary High Water (OHW) and the plan didn’t include specific wording to address the issues of water quality and the prevention of Aquatic Invasive Species from entering our lake.
Although the representatives from the Dead Lake Association felt that the conditions of Outlet Gate Operation Plan aren’t specific enough, there are some safe guards that have been built into the approved LMKP Operating Plan that would probably not have been included without the active involvement of the downstream lake associations. The Outlet Gate will now be operated by the Ottertail County Public Works Department, water can’t be vented down stream unless Dead Lake’s surface level is at least four inches below Ordinary High Water and the Outlet Gate will be closed if the Minnesota DNR and Ottertail County engineer determine that there is a likely risk of declining water quality or the introduction of Aquatic Invasive Species to the downstream lakes.
The outlet route, west of Perham, will extend in a southwesterly direction. Water will discharge from Little McDonald Lake to Berger Lake, in turn flowing through Big McDonald, Round, Star, Dead, Walker and Otter Tail lakes. Then the water will flow into the Otter Tail River.
It is still unknown when construction will begin on this project. The plan will proceed depending on approval by various state and federal agencies. Many regulatory hurdles remain before the drainage plan can become a reality.
Should the Outlet Gate be built, the Dead Lake Association will continue to work with the other downstream lakes to monitor and amend the Operating Plan in an effort to protect our lake’s water quality, prevent flooding and prevent aquatic invasive species from entering our lakes.
Ditch 25 Time Table
The Final Draft of the EAW for the Ditch 25 Project will be made available to the public and given to the County Commissioners on April 10, 2012.
The Commissioners will have one week to review the document and then discuss at the April 17, 2012 board meeting. As of today the EAW will be on the Agenda at 1:00 pm the 17th.
The County Board will vote on the accepting the EAW as written or determine if more information will be required if they come to that conclusion they will then be required by law to order that EIS be completed.
For those of you that are wondering what is Ditch 25 and the alphabet soup that is in the message above here is the Readers Digest version on Ditch 25, for those wanting more detail the link to Ottertail County/Ditch 25 is attached.
Little McDonald Lake is a land locked lake and due to the wet cycle since 1993 the water level has risen about 5 feet (at it’s highest level) it is still about 3 feet above its ordinary high level. Little McDonald has petitioned the county to connect to the existing Ditch 25 drainage system. If granted the water from Little McDonald would flow through Berger Lake, Round Lake, Star Lake and into Dead Lake and then down the Ottertail chain. Any project of this magnitude usually has to complete an EAW (Environment Assessment Worksheet). After some prodding by the downstream lakes the EAW was submitted this triggered a 30 day comment period. All of the downstream lakes including Dead Lake submitted comments that reflected environmental concerns. The petitioner is required by law to respond to these comments. That response to comments will be the subject of the discussion on April 17th. If all the concerns are addressed in the final draft of the EAW the project can move forward if all of the concerns are not addressed the county will order the petitioner to complete an EIS (Environment Impact Statement) which is another information gathering device. The petitioner will also be required to go through the Condition Use permitting process and get approval from the Corps of Engineers plus get easements to cross private land and the railroad right-of-way.
Separate from the EAW process is the determination whether the work that would be done on the existing Ditch 25 be a repair or an improvement. If it is determined that the work would be an improvement this would complicate the process further.