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DNR wants to designate Smith Lake as a wildlife lake

Oct. 13, 2008

DNR met with Cokato Township residents Wednesday about plan

By Kristen Miller
Staff Writer

COKATO, MN – Cokato Township residents were invited to an informational meeting Wednesday in regards to the designation of Smith Lake for wildlife management.

Smith Lake is a 330-acre shallow basin located north of Highway 12 on Wright County Road 5. The average depth is 4 feet, with a maximum depth of 5.8 feet.

In the past 20 years, surveys have shown higher water levels, lack of winterkill, and an abundance of carp and bullheads, which have contributed to poor water quality well below Pollution Control Agency standards, according to Nicole Hansel-Welch, shallow lakes program supervisor.

Despite efforts in 2005 of installing a fish barrier at the outlet of Smith Lake, it has not improved water quality due to lack of winterkill prior to installation.

The proposed designation would allow the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources the authority to conduct periodic drawdowns, or temporary lowering of water levels, to control existing fish populations.

Temporary drawdowns of water levels would also improve waterfowl habitat and water quality.

According to state statute, drawdowns cannot be conducted for more than 2 consecutive years in a 10-year period.

Department of Natural Resources Area Wildlife Supervisor Fred Bengtson said a partial drawdown of approximately 3.5 feet would be enough to cause the lake to freeze, and only one growing season would likely be needed.

It was also noted that drawdowns cannot be done in a way that would negatively impact land downstream, in this case, Cokato Lake.

At the end of the drawdown, water levels would be established, as well as aquatic vegetation and the planting of some wild rice.

Wild rice provides brood cover for breeding waterfowl and is an important food source for migrating waterfowl, according to Welch.

The designation would also restrict boats to non-motorized watercraft or those with electric motors (a 12-volt maximum motor size).

One resident questioned if this would include driving over the lake when it was frozen over. It was stated this would not be included in the restrictions.

Another resident who farms in the area questioned if there was a potential for an increase in the number of blackbirds.

Bengtson answered there could possibly be about 50 percent more cattails than there currently is and his office hasn’t received any complaints regarding blackbirds.

“We don’t want a lot of cattails,” Bengtson said, explaining many of the plants will be submerged.

Duane Dahlman from Wright Soil and Water Conservation District, and a Cokato Township resident, asked about the cost of the project and who was going to pay for it.

The estimated cost for the project would be between $150,000 to $200,000 which would include some excavating to install the drainage pipe and construction of the structure, which would include stop logs, allowing for the lake to drain slowly.

The cost of the project would be paid for through Ducks Unlimited duck stamp funding, as well as a possibility for bonding.

Dahlman also asked if this would affect the nearby wetlands.

As a project of the DNR, Bengtson said it would have to follow the same wetland laws, and that the nearby wetlands would maintain themselves even through the drawdown.

Easements will also be needed for the project to advance.

“All the pieces have to come together,” Welch said.

The goal is to start construction of the structure next fall, but before that can happen, there needs to be a public hearing. Comments will be taken and a possible revision of the management plan will be done. The plan will then be reviewed internally before a public hearing can take place. Following a public hearing, the management plan will then be reviewed by the DNR commissioner.

Comments will be taken until 4:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31 and can be submitted to DNR Area Wildlife Supervisor Fred Bengtson, 940 Industrial Drive S., Suite 103, Sauk Rapids, MN 56379 or to DNR Shallow Lakes Program Supervisor Nicole Hansel-Welch, 1601 Minnesota Driver, Brainerd, MN 56401. Comments can also be e-mailed to fred.bengtson@dnr.state.mn.us or nicole.hansel-welch@dnr.state.mn.us.

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