Changes planned for Lake Ocheda damWORTHINGTON — A request by the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District to install fish barriers in all 10 bays of the dam on Lake Ocheda may lead to a change in ownership for the 1940s-era structure.
By: Julie Buntjer, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — A request by the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District to install fish barriers in all 10 bays of the dam on Lake Ocheda may lead to a change in ownership for the 1940s-era structure.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is responsible for the dam, which was constructed as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project in 1941, but DNR regional hydrologist Tom Kresko has told watershed district staff the state has neither the time nor the financial resources to do proper maintenance.
Until just a few years ago, the OOWD board believed the dam was owned by the district, according to board member Rolf Mahlberg. District staff members have monitored the structure for years and tested a prototype fish barrier on the structure for the past two years.
In December, OOWD Administrator Dan Livdahl applied to the DNR for a permit to install nine additional fish barriers on the dam to keep rough fish from crossing between Lake Ocheda and the channel that flows into Peterson Slough. As part of the permitting process, the DNR is in the midst of collecting comments on the proposal. The comment period is slated to end in a few weeks, Kresko told Livdahl on Wednesday. Agencies asked to comment on the request included the Soil and Water Conservation District, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and DNR Fisheries.
In a meeting with Kresko on Wednesday, Livdahl was told no negative comments have been submitted regarding the fish barrier.
“Tom Kresko and Ryan Doorenbos (area supervisor from the DNR Fisheries office in Windom) said they think we will get the permit for the fish barrier on the Lake Ocheda dam, but they want to give us the dam before that,” Livdahl said. “Building fish barriers on one of their structures is not something they encourage.”
If the DNR gives up ownership of the dam, Livdahl said it would be ideal to install the additional fish barriers yet this spring because water levels are quite low on Lake Ocheda.
During Tuesday’s OOWD meeting, board members discussed the pros and cons of owning the dam. The structure is considered to be in good condition and has been well-maintained over the years.
“In the future, we’ve talked about doing draw-downs,” said Livdahl. “It would be a lot easier if we owned the dam.”
He told the board the DNR would still control the water level in the lake, and that the watershed would seek DNR advice on any future plans.
Board members voted Tuesday to accept the watershed district’s ownership of the Ocheda dam, if the offer is extended by the DNR. Meanwhile, they also decided to move forward with construction of the additional fish barriers — spending up to $5,000 for materials.
Worthington resident Marv Rall constructed the prototype that has been in use on one bay of the dam, and he has agreed to construct the additional nine barriers.
In other news, the watershed board:
* Discussed applying for funding through the Clean Water Partnership to acquire permanent easements on grassed filter strips along Okabena Creek in the northern reaches of the watershed district. There is some concern that, because of the high price of commodities, farmers may not be willing to keep conservation practices such as filter strips intact as CRP contracts expire.
* Learned that the shoreline stabilization project on the Langseth property on the east basin of Lake Ocheda will begin by April. Paul Langseth reported construction should go more quickly than anticipated because of the low water level in the lake. Weather permitting, the project could be completed with 20 to 30 days of actual construction, he said.
* Viewed a presentation on the possible sources of algae blooms on Lake Okabena. Further discussions on algae in the lake and potential methods to control the blooms are planned at future board meetings.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer can be reached at 376-7330.