By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN An over abundance of snow last winter, and rain this spring and summer, have caused Howard Lake’s water level to remain higher than normal for an extended period of time.
While most area lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams are higher than usual for this time of year, Howard Lake’s water levels do not seem to be receding at all, said Howard Lake Watershed Alliance president Curt Forst.
“The rain has subsided, but the lake is not going down as it has in past years,” Forst said.
There is concern amongst the watershed alliance members, as well as members of the Howard Lake Sportmen’s Club, that the culvert running below the railroad tracks and Highway 12 is blocked.
Last Wednesday, a meeting took place at Lions Park in Howard Lake to discuss what can be done to correct the problem for Howard Lake.
Those in attendance included representatives from Wright County, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the city of Howard Lake, elected officials, the watershed alliance, and the sportmen’s club.
Jason Penaz of the Minnesota Department of Transportation led the meeting, saying it appears that riprap placed along the edges of the culvert has fallen into the culvert, causing a blockage.
The plans are to bring in a backhoe to clean the riprap, brush, and tree roots out of the entrance of the culvert to see if that will allow the flow out of Howard Lake to return to normal, Penaz said.
If that does not solve the problem, then a jetter will be brought in to blow high pressure water through the culvert to clear any other blockages.
Thursday morning, the fence blocking the culvert was moved to allow a backhoe to clear the culvert between the railroad tracks and Highway 12.
MnDOT was able to get the water to flow through the culvert, and a temporary fence was put in place.
This week, MnDot will continue to monitor the culvert to see if further action, such as using the jetter, needs to be taken, according to sportmen’s club member Jim Wackler.
How high is the water?
Records, which have been kept since 1944, show the ordinary high water level for Howard Lake at 998.6 feet, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The last recorded high water level, taken Aug. 5, shows the lake was at 1,000.43 feet, which is higher than the previous highest known water level of 999.05 feet taken Sept. 18, 1991.
“The lake is 30 inches higher than it ever would be,” Forst said.
High water affects on water clarity
The high water in Howard Lake means more nutrients have been washed into Howard Lake, Forst said.
The nutrients affect the water clarity, making it a cloudy brown color.
The nutrients also allow plants and algae to grow more rapidly, reducing the clarity as well, Forst said.
It takes seven years for nutrients to cycle through Howard Lake.
With all of the nutrients that washed into the lake in the flood of 2002, the watershed alliance was just beginning to see progressive clarity improvements in the lake, Forst said.
“But this summer, the lake has remained 6-to 8-inches higher than the 2002 flood for a longer period of time,” Forst said.
It is unclear what the long-term effects will be on the lake’s clarity, after remaining at such high levels this year.
Damage done to the shoreline by high water
Because of the high water level, Howard Lake’s shoreline is eroding.
“Along Wright County Road 6, the water is getting dangerously close to eating into the roadway,” Forst said.
The Wright County Highway Department is aware of the situation, and is monitoring both Co. Rd. 6 and 7, said County Engineer Wayne Fingalson.
“It’s not to the point, in our judgment, where it is undermining the road,” Fingalson said.
This fall, the county will be placing riprap along the shoreline of Howard Lake where it is eroding near the county roads, he added.
The watershed alliance has placed signs at the boat landings asking people to abide by a “no wake” rule within 500 feet of the shoreline in an effort to reduce erosion from waves.
Many trees along the edge of the lake have been standing in water since this spring, and will likely be lost, according to Forst.
Some trees have already fallen along parts of the lake, which may not be a bad thing because it creates habitat for fish and slows the action of the waves along the shore, Forst said.
Codger’s Cove has not had a beach all summer, according to manager Mick Nedegaard.
The beach at Lions Park is also under water, and the retaining wall around the edge of the beach has crumbled.
Also at Lions Park, the water has eroded the soil under the sod, leaving the sod sagging into the water.
The boat lifts are no longer high enough out of the water to hold the boats in place, and many have had to be retrieved after floating away, Nedegaard said.
Approximately half the usual numbers of docks were placed in the water by lakeshore owners this year, Forst said.
Those who have placed their docks in the water have seen them under water, or even the top sections floating away, said lakeshore property owner Jeff Granrud.
The shoreline has eroded 2-to-3-feet in places where there are no buffers or riprap to slow wave action, Forst said.
Shoreline property owners who have riprap have seen it fall into the water and needed to replace it, he added.
Memorial Park and the baseball field
At Tuesday’s Howard Lake City Council meeting, Mike Gagnon of Howard Lake’s baseball association approached the council about the issues at Memorial Park.
The association has been planning improvements to the park in the last year in preparation for the state baseball tournament in 2013, which will take place in Howard Lake, Delano, and Maple Lake, Gagnon said.
The baseball association and the Orphans plan to cover half the cost of the improvements, and would like the city to cover the other half, according to Gagnon.
He noted that the ballpark is a wonderful asset to the community, and was highlighted as one of the top 10 ballparks in Minnesota on WCCO’s website.
One of the biggest challenges to improving the park for the state tournament is the lake level, which, towards the end of the season, prevented the Orphans from playing home games there.
Any of the improvements that will take place, as well as hosting the state tournament, are contingent on the lake receding and the ballpark drying out, Gagnon said.
Some of the improvements are directly related to the fluctuation of the lake levels, such as adding drain tile and a sump pump near right field, which tends to hold a lot of water.
Other improvements include adding warm-up mounds, relocating the batting cage, repairing and adding fencing, and adding a storage shed for baseball equipment, Gagnon said.
The total cost of the improvements is estimated to be $30,000.
The city council approved sharing in half the cost of the improvements to Memorial Park up to $15,000, which will come out of the park fund.