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Drought drying up streams in Minnesota's lake country, but lake levels remain within norms

While stream beds and topsoil in the area may be running dry, it hasn't affected the water levels of area lakes, according to officials.

Stagnant water sits in the dry Campbell Creek creek bed during a summer drought on July 22, 2021 near County Road 149 in Becker County. The creek feeds into North Floyd Lake. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- Precipitation in Becker County has been sparse in recent weeks as drought conditions have continued to plague the region, but, while some river beds have dried up, the water levels of area lakes have remained in the normal range, according to measurements from local lake associations and the Pelican River Watershed.

Using data as of July 20, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources said 72% of the state was experiencing severe drought conditions, up 19% from a week ago.

While elevated water consumption hasn't translated into lower water levels in area lakes, the streams and rivers that feed those lakes are starting to dry up.

"Everything is down," said Adam Mortenson, water resource coordinator for the Pelican River Watershed District. "I do know that there are years in the past that this has happened, it's not completely out of the question for (a stream) to dry up, but it hasn't happened for a few years now."


Minnesota DNR weekly stream flow report. July 18, 2021.

Currently, Campbell Creek, which fills North Floyd Lake, he said, has a dry river bed and no running water is moving through the system. Stagnant lakes can have both positive and negative affects of the lake ecosystem, he said.

A culvert opening for Campbell Creek sits motionless with no water flowing into the creek bed during a summer drought on July 22, 2021. The creek feeds into North Floyd Lake. (Michael Achterling / Tribune)

"With the lakes being lower and a lot of our lakes having improved water quality than we had 20 years ago, our water is clearer and the sunlight is able to penetrate the water column deeper," said Mortenson. "And that is increasing water temperature and a lot of people have been noticing algae blooms out there … and that's a function of the temperature."

Mortenson said some area lakes temperatures have reached up to 80 degrees on the surface of the water. With the algae blooms, as the micro-organisms live and eventually die, they decompose in the water and can suck the oxygen out of an area, which can affect fish and wildlife. He added they haven't noticed any fish-die-offs in mass this season due to the increased blooms.


Lake Sallie water levels. Feet above sea level, ordinary high water level. (Pelican River Watershed District)

Lake Melissa water levels. Feet above sea level, ordinary high water level. (Pelican River Watershed District)

Dick Hecock, former administrator of the Pelican River Watershed, said Detroit Lake is well within its normal water level, as it has been for years. He added the reason some residents feel the level is dramatically lower is because the water level in the lake has remained higher than average since about 2018.

"Clearly the water levels have dropped since last July, where they were very high," said Hecock. "They've dropped a little over a foot since that time … and the average range within the open water season is a foot."

Detroit Lake water levels. Feet above sea level, ordinary high water level. (Pelican River Watershed District)

Currently, he added we are only slightly below the ordinary high water level for Detroit Lake and we started from a very high level.

"We've had a series of high precipitation years, so everybody got accustomed to that," said Hecock. "And then, all of a sudden, it's gone back to significantly lower in precipitation and that's what we're facing right now."


He's also an active member of the Lake Detroiters , a non-profit group that promotes the protection and enhancement of Detroit Lake.

In a Facebook post to the group's page, Hecock said, "While it appears we are headed lower, we are not yet as low as the lake was in most of the seven of the previous nine years. At present, we are still about six inches higher than the lows of 2012 and 2014."

USDA drought monitor. July 20, 2021.

In a July 15 forecast, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that drought conditions are expected to persist in Minnesota through at least Oct. 31.

NOAA drought forecast July 15 to Oct. 31.

Lead Multimedia Reporter for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus.
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