WILLMAR - Work will start soon on a long awaited project for Lake Wakanda to improve the diversity of the lake's ecosystem and natural habitat.

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners awarded a contract Tuesday to Lambert Construction of St. Cloud for $757,957.

Work is expected to be completed by the end of the year, according to Mel Odens, Kandiyohi County Public Works director.

The project consists of two water control structures with fish barriers and two concrete box culverts with fish barriers.

Kandiyohi County received a one-time Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council grant of $921,000 last year to implement the project, which has been in the making for more than 20 years.

Lake Wakanda, south of Willmar, contains 1,754 acres of critical, shallow lake habitat for fish and wildlife. The lake is one of a few dozen designated Migratory Waterfowl Feeding and Resting Areas in the state, which protect waterfowl from disturbance.

It is part of a prairie chain of lakes that includes Eleanor, Little Kandiyohi, Kasota, Swan, Minnetaga, Big Kandiyohi and Lillian lakes. It also is the headwaters of the South Fork of the Crow River, which flows into the Mississippi River.

Multiple partners are involved in the enhancement project, including Kandiyohi County, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, Kandiyohi County Soil and Water Conservation District, Crow River Organization of Water, the Wakanda and Big Kandiyohi Lake Association, Blomkest Sportsmen's Club and Ducks Unlimited.

Together they form the Lake Wakanda Steering Committee which has been actively working to address declining habitat conditions documented at Lake Wakanda and water quality affecting downstream waterways.

The Lake Wakanda plan was a grassroots effort to help with restoration of the lake's ecosystem, said Marilee Druskin, a member of the Lake Wakanda Steering Committee and a resident on Lake Wakanda.

"I've lived on this lake my whole life," Druskin said in a news release. "We as a group are trying to be a strong voice for a healthy ecosystem on Lake Wakanda."

The new water control structures will help the lake function and allow nature to rebound, she said.

Kandiyohi County Public Works will be working with the steering committee and the guidelines listed in the Lake Wakanda cooperative enhancement plan to partner with the DNR for active water level drawdown, fish management and routine maintenance.