WORTHINGTON — Beavers continue to be a bother for the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District as it attempts to lower the level of Lake Ocheda in hopes of a winter kill of the rough fish that harm the lake’s water quality.

The planned drawdown began Sept. 8, but because of multiple factors including a summer drought, a vegetation-filled slough and some persistent beavers, it took three weeks before the water flowed out of Lake Bella.

Peterson Slough, shown in an aerial photograph taken by Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl, is one area where water from the drawdown of Lake Ocheda, on entering the slough from the bottom right, slows down due to vegetation. (Submitted photo)
Peterson Slough, shown in an aerial photograph taken by Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl, is one area where water from the drawdown of Lake Ocheda, on entering the slough from the bottom right, slows down due to vegetation. (Submitted photo)

The beaver dam across the Ocheyedan River, located on OOWD land, was discovered last spring, but because it could potentially hold back floodwater and reduce the amount of sediment in the lake, the Minnesota DNR and the OOWD opted to leave it there at that time.

On Sept. 14, Rolf Mahlberg, president of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Board of Managers, used an excavator to pull apart and remove a sizable chunk of the dam, and water started moving more quickly after that. Just two days later, though, stacks of sticks had appeared in the water once more, showing that the beavers were rebuilding.

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Two days after part of the beaver dam on the Ocheyedan River was taken out, sticks begin appearing in the water again, showing that the beavers were trying to rebuild. (Submitted photo)
Two days after part of the beaver dam on the Ocheyedan River was taken out, sticks begin appearing in the water again, showing that the beavers were trying to rebuild. (Submitted photo)

After another week, the sticks stopped appearing, and it started to look like an effort to trap the beavers had succeeded in solving the dam problem … until Monday, when Dan Livdahl, administrator of the watershed district, went back out and saw some fresh sticks positioned near the water.

“I think we have more beaver that moved in there,” Livdahl said.

A beaver dam near the Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area, shown here in early spring , was expected to slow water from the Lake Ocheda drawdown on its way to Lake Bella. (Photo courtesy of Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District)
A beaver dam near the Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area, shown here in early spring , was expected to slow water from the Lake Ocheda drawdown on its way to Lake Bella. (Photo courtesy of Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District)

It isn’t the first time beavers have caused problems in the area. Just south of Lake Ocheda Dam — the official, human-built one — there are two culverts passing beneath a road, and last year a contractor working for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources trapped 11 beavers there.

“That’s been an entertaining spot for us for years, for beavers wanting to plug those culverts,” Mahlberg said at the watershed district’s regular board meeting Tuesday.

Maggie Gross, a shallow lakes specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, examines the vegetation-covered beaver dam located on property owned by the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, near the Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area. The dam was expected to slow water from the Lake Ocheda drawdown on its way to Lake Bella. (Photo courtesy of Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District)
Maggie Gross, a shallow lakes specialist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, examines the vegetation-covered beaver dam located on property owned by the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, near the Worthington Wells Wildlife Management Area. The dam was expected to slow water from the Lake Ocheda drawdown on its way to Lake Bella. (Photo courtesy of Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District)

Whether the beavers continue to be a problem or not, the main obstacle slowing the drawdown now may be the thick vegetation of Peterson Slough, and the recent rains that have filled Lake Ocheda up almost as quickly as the water can drain away aren’t helping either.

“Nature has to cooperate with us, one way or another,” Livdahl said. “... maybe we can drain that water before winter sets in.”

Water flows through the gap after part of a beaver dam in the Ocheyedan River was removed on Sept. 14. (Submitted Photo)
Water flows through the gap after part of a beaver dam in the Ocheyedan River was removed on Sept. 14. (Submitted Photo)

It will be the second consecutive drawdown for Lake Ocheda, after an attempt last year had unsatisfactory results due to warm weather conditions.

“The lake didn’t freeze, so the fish didn’t die,” Livdahl explained. “We didn’t have as good a kill as we were hoping for.”

Drone purchase approved

Livdahl has been monitoring the drawdown, and though the site of the beaver dam isn’t that far from town, it takes about half an hour just to get there due to the uneven terrain.

Mahlberg got an idea: Why not purchase a drone for scouting projects, looking at difficult-to-reach locations and taking aerial photos of watershed land?

“It’s gonna be a lot more efficient,” said Jeff Rogers, a member of the watershed board of managers.

“Until this year, I never thought they’d be particularly useful,” Livdahl said. “I think we will use it. ... I would have used it a lot last month.”

After a brief discussion of drone issues relating to privacy and private property, the board voted to approve spending up to $3,000 for a drone.

In other news Tuesday, the board:

  • Agreed to meet with the District 518 Board of Education at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 19 regarding the construction of a large pond area on property southwest of its new intermediate school. If built, the pond could improve water quality in Lake Okabena by reducing runoff from agricultural land, and could potentially be paid for with a Clean Water, Land and Legacy Grant from the state.

  • Heard that Livdahl has begun marking the Worthington storm sewers that drain to Lake Okabena with 4-inch vinyl decals, reminding people not to dump anything into them. While he wears an orange hat and vest to improve his visibility, Livdahl said he felt safer walking to the beaver dam alone or taking aerial photos from a plane, as some drivers seemed to be trying to run him over.

  • Decided to support another attempt to sein rough fish from Lake Okabena this year, subsidizing it up to $3,000.