CLITHERALL, Minn. — Residents of Spitzer Lake near Clitherall, Minn., about 30 miles east of Fergus Falls, have been battling high water for years.

Even with drier conditions holding sway over much of the region this spring and summer, the problem shows no signs of going away, according to Gary Olson, president of the Spitzer Lake Association.

"We're still way above where we need to be," said Olson, who noted some property owners on the lake are mulling whether to collectively pay about $40,000 to commission a study that would explore what is making the water rise, as well as options that might resolve impacts of the flooding.

The water level on Spitzer Lake has been rising for decades, but over the past seven or so years it has gotten to the point of flooding homes and making it difficult to get to and from certain properties around the lake while remaining on dry land.

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Olson and other property owners have asked officials at various levels of government for help, but they say they receive the same answer each time: If they want a solution to the high water, they'll have to come up with it themselves.

Olson said an engineering firm is willing to do a study that will attempt to identify causes and solutions for the high water, but it will cost about $38,000, and property owners will have to foot the bill.

According to Olson, the study could suggest a number of options, ranging from taking no steps to exploring potential outlet projects.

Gary Olson, president of Spitzer Lake Association, talks Friday, June 25, 2021, about the flooding that has destroyed building and threatened roads on Spitzer Lake in rural Clitheral, Minn.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Gary Olson, president of Spitzer Lake Association, talks Friday, June 25, 2021, about the flooding that has destroyed building and threatened roads on Spitzer Lake in rural Clitheral, Minn. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Buyouts of properties experiencing serious flooding might be another route to explore, he said.

On the subject of outlets, Olson said, a single culvert drains from Spitzer Lake into a small, nearby body of water called Twin Lake, though he said it is more a large slough than a lake.

Last winter, he said, township officials discovered the culvert had a clog that was successfully removed.

After the clog was cleared, the water level on Spitzer Lake dropped somewhat before stabilizing at its current level, according to Olson, who said although the lake level dropped about a foot, it remains far above the historic high-water mark.

Olson said it is unknown how much of the recent drop in the lake level is due to the culvert being cleared and how much is due to dry conditions much of the region is experiencing.

Also unknown is why the lake level rose in the first place, Olson said, adding some suspect increased drainage from surrounding land may play a role.

It's only one question a study might help answer, Olson said, though he noted some property owners on Spitzer Lake already threw in the towel.

Among them is Inspiration Point, a Christian Bible camp and retreat that recently closed its camp on the shores of Spitzer Lake and moved its operations to property it owns near Vining.

The main building of Inspiration Point Bible Camp sits empty Friday, June 25, 2021, on Spitzer Lake in Otter Tail County, Minn.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
The main building of Inspiration Point Bible Camp sits empty Friday, June 25, 2021, on Spitzer Lake in Otter Tail County, Minn. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Information on the Inspiration Point website outlines the history of the camp and its difficulties with rising water, which the website said began with a wet summer in 1993.

As part of that story, the website points out the lake level rose more than 5 feet since the 1990s, and damage on the camp property includes more than 100 dead or dying trees.

Even if additional draining or pumping of the lake received approval from the necessary government officials, the website states, such a step would take time the camp no longer has.

"While we are sorry that we are in the position of making this decision, we see God's hand working even in this situation," the posting on the camp's website reads.

"You have our word that we will do our very best as we plan for an exciting summer at our new property, Inspiration Point at Twin Oaks," the website said.

A camp official declined to comment for this story.

Though Olson is concerned about water encroaching on his property — he's lost about 35 feet of shoreline and about half a dozen trees — he said others have it much worse, including his neighbor, Ron Christensen, who purchased his home on the lake about six years ago.

Ron Christensen pumps water from around his home constantly because of the encroaching Spitzer Lake as seen Friday, June 25, 2021, in rural Clitheral, Minn.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Ron Christensen pumps water from around his home constantly because of the encroaching Spitzer Lake as seen Friday, June 25, 2021, in rural Clitheral, Minn. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Christensen keeps pumps going at all times to keep water from filling his basement, and last fall he lined his shoreline with about 400 sandbags in a bid to protect his yard from the rising lake.

"We didn't know what the winter was going to bring, but like the winter before, we knew we were going to be in trouble," Christensen said.

Olson and Christensen said the township has been doing what it can to keep roads in the area passable, but their frustration with the situation continues to rise along with the water.

Olson, who has owned his property on Spitzer Lake about 30 years, said he believes an expanded outlet is the clear and most effective option for dealing with the rising lake level.

He's also hopeful a study will be completed that will help guide local and state officials to the same conclusion.

Dead and dying trees are Friday, June 25, 2021, in floodwaters of Spitzer Lake in Spitzer Lake in Otter Tail County, Minn.
Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Dead and dying trees are Friday, June 25, 2021, in floodwaters of Spitzer Lake in Spitzer Lake in Otter Tail County, Minn. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

"That (existing) culvert, to me, is not an outlet," Olson said, adding he believes an expanded outlet draining water from Spitzer Lake to the southwest would be workable.

The lake association has about 35 members, roughly half the total number of property owners on the lake, he said.

If each property owner who is a member of the association contributes to the cost of the proposed study, he said, it might come to about $1,000 per property.

"Some people have said they'd give more, but people are a little apprehensive," Olson said. "I mean, we could do all this and still nothing would happen."