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High waters lead to major concerns for shore erosion at local lakes

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

SPICER -- High waters on Green Lake have residents concerned about shoreline erosion and the possibility of greater ice damage next year if the wet trend continues.

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The lake's water level ranks in the top 15 percent of its high-water records. It's currently less than one foot from reaching the all-time high recorded on the popular lake, according to Ethan Jenzen, hydrologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in Spicer.

Other area lakes, Nest among them, are experiencing identical high-water issues, he said.

"Extremely wet'' is the norm at the mid-summer point in lakes and rivers throughout west central Minnesota.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is hoping to begin throttling back the discharge of water from Lac qui Parle Lake today at the Churchill Dam near Watson, if expected thunderstorms overnight don't add to the inflow, according to Randy Melby, supervisor with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Watson. The current pool in Lac qui Parle Lake is at an elevation of 937.67, or well above the 933 norm for this time of year.

The Corps was discharging water at the dam Tuesday at 5,410 cubic feet per second.

The discharge had peaked earlier on April 7 at 18,900 cubic feet per second.

Similarly eye-opening numbers are being reported at monitoring locations through the region.

Cory Netland, director of the Hawk Creek Watershed Project, reported that Hawk Creek ran at essentially three times its normal volume during much of 2010. From March 12 to Nov. 1 of 2010, it carried 101 billion gallons of water, or enough to fill Lac qui Parle Lake 10 times over.

Netland said he never thought he'd see those number topped, but now he's not so sure. Water flows this year are right on track to match or exceed the 2010 records. He noted that not once since the open water season began have flows on Hawk Creek fallen below the level needed for kayaking. That's very unusual, he said.

Those are also the sentiments of Vanessa Glieden Henjum with the Middle Fork Little Crow Watershed Project in Spicer. She noted that water levels in the river are too high for staff members to safely wade in the river and collect some of the monitoring data, a situation that has not been experienced in recent years.

One of the most telling measures needs no numerical gauge. There is usually 1½ to 2 feet of space between the water and the walking bridge at the Olde Mill Inn on Green Lake. When she checked the bridge on Tuesday, there was an inch of water on it.

The economic tolls of the high water are difficult to measure, but a real concern. Jenzen said saturated farm field soils and water-filled potholes have caused crop losses throughout the region.

Ditches are running at high levels, and soils are unable to absorb the heavy rains that have come with the summer's thunderstorms. As a result, there is a rapid "flush'' of water during storm events. The high flows and energy are causing significant stream bank erosion problems throughout the region.

The high flows on Hawk Creek are rapidly accelerating bank erosion on the waterway downstream of Maynard to the Minnesota River. The stream is being forced to handle more water than it is able to, Netland said. The consequence is irreversible damage to portions of the channel and significant degradation of water quality.

Higher-than-normal precipitation levels are to blame for the high water levels, but there is also another factor at play. High humidity levels this summer have also reduced the evaporation rate, and consequently more of the water stays in the system, Jenzen said.

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