Scott Rall: We are getting so close to cleaning Lake Ocheda
What costs about $350,000 and takes 55 years to complete?
The answer is the Lake Ocheda drawdown. I sit on the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed Advisory Board and have done so for about 15 years. As a member of the advisory board, I was able to get my hands on some watershed meeting minutes from many decades’ past. In those minutes it talked about how bad the water quality was in Lake Ocheda.
The lake is really three connected basins, but they all go by one name. The east basin is a waterfowl refuge. As the word indicates, there is no duck or goose hunting on this most easterly basin.
The center basin is a waterfowl production lake or a wildlife lake, if you like that term better. All three basins are about the same size, and when the water is really high, they are about 4-5 feet deep. The west basin has a residential/recreation designation. There are several housing developments on the west basin.
The term residential/recreation title on the west basin is kind of misleading. The reason I say this is that even though water recreation is a potential use on the water, there is little to no recreation taking place there. Just take a guess why. The water quality is so bad and the carp numbers are so high that I have never seen two boats on the water at the same time, and the ones I do see are almost all pontoons taking a slow-and-go ride.
I took my duck boat out there and all I did was hit carp with the motor’s lower unit.
The watershed district has been mulling over what to do about the situation for decades. It was about five years ago they made a formal motion to manage the water levels in Lake Ocheda for the betterment of water quality.
This started the ball in motion. There was pre-engineering, funding efforts and multi-agency coordination. After 55 years of documented poor water quality, there was now a plan in place to actually make a difference. As I have written here before, the plan centers around the reconstruction of the lake’s outlet structure.
The alterations to the dam allow the lake to be lowered by gravity to a depth of about two feet if Mother Nature cooperates. The engineering and construction crews are on the site now doing those modifications.
This includes digging a diversion channel around the existing outlet to allow the lake to continue to drain. Damming is done up the channel directly upstream and downstream of the dam, and water is pumped out in between those dikes. This has been done, and the structure modifications are in progress now.
Work is scheduled to be finished within three weeks, and when I was out there it looked like they were ahead of schedule. When completed, all of the boards will be removed and the lake will be allowed to drain down to its lowest natural level.
If we can get limited additional rain and a very cold winter, it is designed to winterkill each and every fish in the system.
The grand goal is unlikely to be achieved but even a 90 percent winterkill would make a huge difference.
It might take several years of trying to get a satisfactory fish kill accomplished. If that is the case, so be it. We have sat around in meetings and looked at the problem for more than 50 years, so a few more years to achieve success is just chump change.
If you have never seen a muddy, smelly, carp-infested algae-covered lake basin restored, you are in for a treat. When the carp are pretty much gone, the lake will again have aquatic vegetation that stabilizes lake and shoreline sediments, and filters pollutants and chemicals from the water.
A clear water state can happen in just one year with a successful invasive fish kill. The lake will get restocked with game fish when the carp are gone and this will help limit their ability to repopulate the lake.
It is a very exciting time if you value-clean water, wildlife and scenic beauty. Remember, in addition to all of these benefits, all of the water from this site sits atop the Worthington community’s water supply.
Better water entering the well should require less water treatment and a safer water supply. A win/win 50 years in the making. Kudos to the Okabena/Ocheda Watershed board. I can wait to see the results.