Chris Schultz

Outdoors Column

By Chris Schultz
Herald Journal

April 5, 2004

Ice-out marked by low water levels

Ice out did come a bit early this year.

Officially, the ice left Howard Lake Friday, April 2.

Last year, ice out on Howard occurred April 8.

The earliest recorded ice out date on Howard Lake happened in 2000, the date was March 15.

The average ice out date on Howard Lake is about April 15.

The ice on many of the smaller lakes in our area occurred just about a week earlier.

Warmer then average weather, an early snow melt, a few drops of timely rain, and heavy spring winds all added up to an earlier than normal ice out.

With the snow and ice finally gone, it’s not hard to notice how low the water levels are on the lakes, rivers, streams and sloughs in our area.

At this time of year, the Crow River, both forks, is usually full to the brim, and nearly overflowing its banks.

Potholes and sloughs are usually full of water, lake water levels are high, and, at least, low spots in fields are muddy.

This year, the opposite seems to be the case.

The river is at its mid-summer level, small sloughs and potholes are almost dry, water levels on area lakes are low, and even low spots in fields are basically dry.

A local gravel pit I work my dog at was about six feet below it’s normal level last fall, and this spring the water level is the same, may be even lower.

At this point in time it’s hard to predict what might happen.

We could have heavy spring rains, and some flooding again, and water levels would come up fast.

We could have average spring rains, and water levels might rebound a little, but not much.

If rain falls are below normal, and we have a very dry spring, water levels could continue to drop, drying up the small sloughs, reducing the flow on the Crow River to just a trickle, and creating some tough conditions on area lakes.

Higher water levels in the spring create more areas of shallow water, giving fish in our area lakes more places to spawn.

Low water levels are also a factor in weed growth.

On lakes like Mary and Howard, low water levels allow weed beds to grow thick and expand, often taking over an entire part of a lake.

The north ends of both of these lakes are good examples of how dense vegetation can take over during periods of low water.

Boat accesses are also affected. Low water levels on many of the smaller lakes in our area, like Ida, can make it darn tough to get a boat in and out of the water.

Waterfowl and other wildlife that depend on small sloughs, and potholes, will also feel the pinch of dry conditions.

Duck habitat in our neck of the woods is already in trouble, and a few more dry sloughs is the last thing nesting ducks need.

Again, time will only tell what happens to the water levels this spring.

However, even if we get normal spring rains, and the Crow River and streams in the area fill with water, our lakes and potholes may still remain low or dry.

Because, the reality is, we have done such a good job of getting rid of water and sending it down stream, instead of letting it collect in small sloughs and potholes, that our lakes and the sloughs we have left may never recover to normal water levels.

If they do, that recovery period will be much longer than it used to be.

Outdoor notes

• On Saturday, Lake Waconia was about half way open.

Winds had pushed much of the ice to the east half of the lake, and the west half was open.

• The spring crappie bite has begun on lakes in our area.

Several anglers reported they had already been out fishing shallow bays, and were picking up a few crappies.

• Those same anglers noted low water levels and that several boat landings in the area were in tough shape.

• For good crappie action this spring try the south end of Lake Mary, and northwest portion of Swan Lake.

The pier on Swan can be a great spot for spring crappie action.

Winsted Lake can also provide some good spring action.

• The Wright County Chapter of Pheasants Forever will hold its annual spring banquet tonight (Monday) in Buffalo.

• Wright and Carver Counties are part of spring burning restrictions placed by the DNR.

The no burning restrictions in those counties went into effect Thursday, April 1.

• Take some time to watch spring happen. This year spring seems to be on the fast track, don’t miss it.

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