APPLETON — Lake levels will remain lowered on Marsh Lake through the summer of 2021 in order to protect and strengthen the emergent vegetation established in 2020. This was a collaborative management decision reached by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Upper Minnesota River Watershed District, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to a news release from the DNR.
Marsh Lake is a 5,000-acre reservoir along the Minnesota River in Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, and Swift counties and is an important nesting area and key migration point for hundreds of thousands of ducks and geese, as well as one of the most important rookeries for American white pelicans.
According to the DNR, lowered lake levels mimic a natural drought and reset aquatic ecosystems. Drawdowns and dry conditions improve habitat and water quality by consolidating sediments on the lake bottoms while allowing vegetation above and below the water to get reestablished.
New vegetation reduces lakeshore erosion while also providing habitat for fish and wildlife. Lake drawdowns also help reduce common carp populations that degrade water quality through their feeding actions.
“We have seen significant common carp mortality on Marsh Lake due to the drawdown,” said Lac qui Parle area wildlife manager Walt Gessler in the news release. “The removal of common carp should allow more desirable species to flourish once water levels are brought back up.”
The lake drawdown is possible because of the Marsh Lake ecosystem restoration project, which wrapped up in early 2020. The nearly $13 million project with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided a stone-arch fish passage, dam realignment and new water control structure. It also rerouted the Pomme de Terre River back to its historic channel, which once again drains into the Minnesota River downstream of the dam.
The lowered water levels will limit angling opportunities this spring and summer before managers begin to refill the basin around Sept. 1 or as weather conditions allow. In the meantime, wildlife-watching prospects should once again be exceptional.
“The exposed mud flats on Marsh Lake will provide many shorebird watching opportunities,” Gessler said. “Last year alone, bird watchers documented 26 different shorebird species.”
Gessler added that he expects tens of thousands of shore birds this year, with the best viewing in spring and early summer. Spring waterfowl use of Marsh Lake is impressive this year, with hundreds of thousands of ducks, geese and swans using the lake.
“We appreciate everyone’s patience as this restoration project continues,” Gessler said. “We believe many people will be pleased with the improved fish and wildlife habitat and water quality resulting from this work.”
Details on the Marsh Lake ecosystem restoration project are available on the DNR website.