Unclogging Lake Independence’s outlet

The Lake Independence outlet begins at the bridge on Independence Road. The outlet is so clogged with vegetation that some water is unable to flow out of the lake, which is keeping water levels high. (Pioneer staff photo by Amanda Schwarze)

The Lake Independence outlet begins at the bridge on Independence Road. The outlet is so clogged with vegetation that some water is unable to flow out of the lake, which is keeping water levels high. (Pioneer staff photo by Amanda Schwarze)

by Amanda Schwarze

The Pioneer

A plan is in place to lower water levels on Lake Independence.

The proposal to unclog the outlet that begins at the bridge on Independence Road will be presented to the public at a July 25 informational meeting at Independence City Hall. Officials from the firm Hakanson Anderson that performed a feasibility study on clearing the outlet will give a short presentation and Independence City Councilor Brad Spencer will moderate the meeting.

Lake Independence Citizens Association (LICA) President Mike McLaughlin said that water levels on the lake have been “very high” for more than a decade. The goal of the project is to bring the levels down closer to what has historically been a normal level.

McLaughlin said the plan involves clearing out the vegetation, mainly cattails, that have been blocking the outlet. He said that the vegetation is now so thick that it is not just slowing the water that is trying to flow out of the lake through the outlet, but that it is actually stopping it.

“It’s like a bathtub with a plug in it,” McLaughlin said.

The Hakanson Anderson feasibility study dated Nov. 14, 2012 states that “it was concluded that cleaning the channel from Independence Road to Pagenkopf Road will lower the average lake level.”

McLaughlin, who lives on the lake in Medina, said the high water levels have added to erosion and water quality issues.

“With each wave, I can watch the soil wash away,” he said.

The soil adds phosphorus, which lessens the water quality. McLaughlin said that every one pound of phosphorus can yield 500 pounds of algae. In addition, the erosion is starting to threaten projects that were put in place to counter the negative effects of the high water. According to the feasibility study, the Three Rivers Park District (TRPD) “invested $750,000 in a recent shoreline restoration project that is in danger of damage due to the high water levels.”

The cities of Independence and Medina have created a no wake ordinance for the lake in an attempt to keep wave damage done to the shoreline at a minimum during periods of high water. When the lake elevation reaches 957.8 feet, a no wake zone is established within 250 feet of shore.

McLaughlin said he appreciates the ordinance, but that not all lake users follow it. He said that he’s seen boaters create a large wake near his dock, which is a lot closer to shore than 250 feet.

“People don’t know what 250 feet is,” he said.

McLaughlin said that clearing the outlet should help keep lake levels low enough so the no wake ordinance doesn’t have to go into effect so often.

“The goal is to protect the lake and get water levels back to normal so we can keep working on water quality projects that won’t get washed away,” he said.

The plan to unclog the outlet has wide support, McLaughlin said. Some people, though, don’t want the water levels to get too low, he said. A weir on the lake, which is operated by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) controls how low the lake levels can become, he said. Currently, McLaughlin said, it is set at 956 feet.

The plan to dig out the cattails is less intrusive and expensive than another plan had been which would have included dredging. An estimate for the option that included dredging was about $277,000, McLaughlin said.

In addition to no dredging, the current plan could also be made cheaper if DNR officials agree to allow the vegetation that is removed to stay on the site rather than be disposed of elsewhere. McLaughlin said that DNR officials had given preliminary support, but not yet final approval.

If the vegetation doesn’t have to be taken away from the site, the cost of the plan could be about $46,000, said Becky Wozney, water resources specialist for Hakanson Anderson.

McLaughlin said that in order to proceed, formal approvals and permits will need to be obtained. In the meantime, the July 25 meeting was scheduled to inform people of plan. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

Contact Amanda Schwarze at amanda.schwarze@ecm-inc.com

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