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Creeping water sparks calls for lake outlets in Minnesota

The rising water level in Boyer Lake, east of Lake Park, is getting close to the edges of Highway 10. The stretch of road was raised several years ago because of high water. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Six years ago, the Minnesota Department of Transportation raised U.S. Highway 10 by three feet to stay ahead of rising water on Boyer Lake, just east of Lake Park.

Today, Boyer Lake is again threatening the roadway, but this time MnDOT is considering an alternative to bumping up the highway.

The agency has approached the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District about the possibility of installing an outlet for Boyer.

And Boyer isn't alone.

Last fall, residents of LaBelle Lake in Becker County asked the watershed district for an outlet, and the watershed district has put the project on a fast track.

The watershed district is also looking at possible outlets for a group of small lakes and sloughs adjacent to Highway 34 between Barnesville and Dunvilla.

"There's a whole series of little lakes, some are named, some are unnamed," said Bruce Albright, watershed administrator.

Albright said before an outlet gets approved, alternatives are explored, such as raising roads, or moving buildings out of harm's way.

He said in the case of Boyer Lake, MnDOT is hesitant to raise Highway 10 again because it can cost as much as $1 million and there's always the chance the lake will continue to rise.

Albright said it's possible both Boyer and LaBelle will get outlets this summer.

If so, the one installed on LaBelle will have to be large enough to accommodate water that will flow from Boyer to LaBelle, Albright said.

In the meantime, he said, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has set up a siphon to help drain LaBelle.

While the lake already has a natural outlet, Albright said it only allows discharges when water levels are very high and it doesn't allow for a shutoff, which he said would be useful for helping control flooding on the Buffalo River.

Lakes in western Minnesota have been plagued with high water since the region entered a wet cycle in the early 1990s.

The watershed district set up an outlet for Turtle Lake on the Clay/Becker County line about 10 years ago.

Running almost continuously since then, the outlet has managed to just keep even with the rising water, according to Albright.

Who pays?

Outlets for LaBelle and Boyd lakes could cost a total of $150,000.

When it comes to paying for an outlet, the watershed district first looks to state and federal funds as well as its own resources, though in many cases a percentage of the cost is also assessed to property owners.

An outlet recently installed on Grove Lake in northwestern Otter Tail County was covered 50 percent by the sate, 37.5 percent by the watershed district and 12.5 percent by landowners.

Sometimes lake levels creep up, and sometimes they leap.

In the case of LaBelle, the lake took a jump this spring when a beaver dam on Little Boyer Lake failed and that lake drained into LaBelle.

"People on LaBelle got all of the water on Little Boyer in a matter of hours," Albright said.

Rising water on Boyer Lake has covered part of a shoreline landscaping project the Sunnyside Care Center undertook with a grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Katie Lundmark, the center's administrator, said the project was aimed at helping protect shoreline and it appears to be working.

She added, however, that high water will delay putting in a dock, so residents will have to wait a bit for their first summer boat ride.

Albright said when the wet cycle eventually starts to abate, it will take time for lake levels to drop.

"Some of these sloughs, lakes, wetlands, have been on the rise for 15 years.

"It will take years for these things to go back down to what people would consider normal," he said.