by Dennis Dalman
A proposed drawdown of Little Rock Lake and the Mississippi River north of the hydroelectric dam at Sartell has been postponed until next year, according to an announcement July 25 by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The drawdown had been scheduled to start Aug. 1 and to last until Sept. 15 during which time the water level of the lake and river would drop by three feet.
The reason for the postponement is more time is needed for further review to satisfy all federal requirements.
Just last week, in an interview with the Newsleader, DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor Eric Altena said the only glitch in the plans would be a last-minute torrential downpour that could significantly raise the level of the river.
For many months, Altena has been meeting with residents to explain the planned lake-and-river drawdown at Little Rock Lake near Rice and at the Mississippi River north of the Sartell dam.
When Altena learned of the drawdown postponement, he acknowledged it was disappointing news.
“For a couple years now, a lot of agencies and people have been working toward the goals of better water quality and habitat this drawdown would bring about, so this delay is certainly disappointing,” he said. “It’s only a temporary setback, though. We’ll be back next summer with everything in order and set to go for the same timeframe.”
The message from the DNR states:
“Because the Sartell dam that would be opened to allow the drawdown is a hydropower dam overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a thorough review of potential impacts to cultural and historical resources is required before the project can proceed. Due to miscommunications, the historical-cultural review that was done did not meet strict federal requirements.”
For several years, the controversial drawdown has been presented and discussed at public meetings in the area, most often led by Altena, along with other lake and river experts.
The drawdown, which now cannot begin until Aug. 1 of 2019, is expected to improve water quality in Little Rock Lake and the river, as well as giving a boost to fish populations and healthy vegetation growth. For years, Little Rock Lake has been plagued with algal blooms at times so bad they pose dangers to animals and even children. By drawing down the water level, many parts of the lake (and river) will be exposed to air, killing off the bad vegetation and boosting beneficial vegetation. The drawdown is also expected to prevent future erosion problems in some areas of the lake and river.
After the drawndown in 2019, if indeed it takes place, the soonest another drawdown can take place, after the coming one, is at least 10 years, Altena said, with the decision being made by residents and hydrology experts with input from local governments and agencies. There are hopes the drawdown, along with runoff-prevention methods, will make the lake and river healthy for a long time to come.
This is the first time a drawdown will have been undertaken in the area, although drawdowns of lakes, rivers and streams have been done elsewhere in the state throughout the years.