Hunters and anglers will continue to see lowered water levels on Marsh Lake in west-central Minnesota as the result of a three-year ecosystem restoration project that will provide habitat for fish and wildlife and improve water quality.
The lowered water levels on the lake located west of Appleton are part of the $13 million project that included a new water control structure, fish passage and a reroute of the Pomme de Terre River into its historic channel below the Marsh Lake dam.
Water levels on Marsh Lake are currently less than a foot deep, and boat access is not possible. Boating conditions below the dam on Lac qui Parle Lake have not been impacted and remain open to boat traffic.
“The signs so far are encouraging,” said Walt Gessler, Lac qui Parle wildlife area manager. “Native vegetation is re-establishing where we had hoped, which will provide a tremendous benefit for clean water, fish and wildlife.”
That re-established vegetation is the product of lowered water levels. Lowered water levels mimic drought conditions, which allows aquatic vegetation to grow. Once water levels rise, vegetation helps hold the lake bottom in place, resulting in clearer water.
“The lowered water levels really represent a significant step in this ecosystem restoration project,” said Dave Trauba, regional wildlife manager. “The drawdown and vegetation growth are critical for improving water quality and habitat for fish and wildlife. That vegetation needs time to build strong roots before we can allow the water to rise and submerge that plant community.
By next summer, vegetation is expected to be established well enough for wildlife managers to raise water levels once again. After that, the plan calls for water levels to fluctuate naturally dependent upon weather conditions. Future drawdowns will depend on habitat and water conditions.
One benefit to the current drawdown is that the exposed mudflats are providing excellent feeding conditions for thousands of migrating shorebirds, which has created excellent birdwatching opportunities.
Once the lake’s water levels rise to normal levels, the area is expected to draw large numbers of waterfowl and provide high quality habitat for a variety of fish species, access to the lake for the boating public will also improve when water levels return to normal levels.