LAKE SHETEK — For many homeowners in the kakes area of northern Murray County, flooding in June and July was a wake-up call.
When storms hit the region on July 3, some residents had their basements completely flooded. Boats, docks and some homes were effectively lost. Those living on Keeley Island were trapped when they found out the only road to land was under three feet of water.
Lake Shetek rose to 1,487.21 feet above sea level on July 6, the highest in its record history, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The lake has a very high watershed-to-basin ratio, meaning drainage into the lake is large relative to the lake’s size. With that, heavy rainfall drains right into the lake from nearby water sources, such as Beaver Creek.
A new group of Lake Shetek residents is aiming to prevent catastrophic flooding in the future, both to Lake Shetek and other parts of Murray County, by building new infrastructure.
“What we have in mind is to minimize the damages like we had in Lake Shetek this time,” said Lars Johansson, spokesperson for the group. “We need to protect the lakes, rather than just cleaning up the damage every time it happens.”
The group’s goal is to construct a number of dams by Beaver Creek and its tributaries, reducing the water that drains into Lake Shetek and Lake Sarah. The change would help other parts of Murray County hit hard by Beaver Creek flooding, such as the Slayton Country Club, which sustained more than $177,000 in flood-related damage.
“We try not to just focus on being the Lake Shetek association, because it’s so much larger an area that it involves,” Johansson said.
One of the group’s ideas is to get easements from farmers located by the tributaries to build the dams, and incentivize the farmers to comply by offering double indemnity on crops in case of severe flooding.
Johansson, a Tracy resident who has owned a home on Lake Shetek since 1988, has been successful at lake reforms before. He was instrumental in getting a grant from the state to make improvements to the Lake Shetek dam — which connects with Beaver Creek and the Des Moines River — in 1995.
He noted that Lyon County installed more than 90 dams, and was not affected as badly as Murray County by the June and July storms.
However, flooding isn’t the only problem for Lake Shetek. With increased use of drain tiling in farms, sediments are draining into the lake at high levels and filling the lake floor, leading residents to wonder how much longer it can survive.
“Sedimentation is a serious issue … the lake is becoming a holding pond,” Johansson said. “With all the tiling going on, it wouldn’t surprise me if we have no lake left in 25 to 40 years.”
Drainage is a top issue, but lakeside residents are also outraged with the road infrastructure near the lake. Along Murray County 31, the third “dyke” that connects the mainland with Keeley Island is lower than other parts of the road, and was completely submerged during flooding.
Murray County Engineer Randy Groves said he wants to make major changes to the road, both to raise it and improve it.
“Back when those roads were built, there were only a few cabins and a few people out there,” Groves said. “Now it’s like a small city, and the roads aren’t adequate to handle that volume of traffic and the pedestrian traffic. Really narrow roads and lots of people … it just doesn’t mix.”
Groves said the DNR has not shared his enthusiasm, however, preferring to keep a small footprint in the area.
“The DNR says maybe raise the third dyke, but don’t widen it,” Groves said. “Well, I’m not about to do a small band-aid type of fix. If I do anything, I want to go in and do it right.”
Clearly, challenges lie ahead for the newly formed group, which doesn’t yet have an official name. But Johansson stressed that support from state and local government will be crucial for real changes to get done.
“We have to do something if we’re going to save the lakes,” Johansson said.