Don Morgan remembers the days when his children headed to Lake Weyauwega to fish, boat or canoe.
“All the kids in the community did the same,” said Morgan. In 1967, he moved to the community where he raised five children.
These days, there is little recreational activity on the lake. Instead, it is full of weeds and sediment.
Morgan, who is the mayor of Weyauwega, was among those commenting last Wednesday, July 14, on the plan to draw down the lake.
North American Hydro Inc. of Neshkoro, in collaboration with Weyauwega Lake Restoration Inc., has applied for a permit for a drawdown of the lake. The estimated cost of the drawdown is $68,000.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources held a public informational hearing last week at the Gerold Opera House in Weyauwega. Approximately 25 people attended.
During that hearing, Scott Koehnke, who is the water management specialist in the Department of Natural Resources’ Shawano office, said the department has conditionally approved the plan and post-plan, and will be putting together conditions for North American Hydro, the operator of the dam, about how long the lake will be down.
North American Hydro collects electric power by using the dam and will have to suspend its operation during the drawdown.
“In early to mid-August, we will issue the permit,” he said. “The next step is working with North American Hydro on their timeline.”
Because the dam produces electricity, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licenses the structure. That means North American Hydro has to get permission to go outside of its normal operating procedure, Koehnke said.
Written comments about the plan will be accepted until July 24 and can be e-mailed to Koehnke at Scott.Koehnke@dnr.state.wi.us or by mail to him at 647 Lakeland Road, Shawano, WI 54166.
“The DNR has its process. Ours should relatively be done in mid-August,” he said. “We’re looking for the maximum amount of time possible for a drawdown.”
If the drawdown begins this September, the lake would remain dry until next August.
“We want to get it down during the summer so it bakes,” Koehnke said.
If the drawdown does not begin this fall, it could go from June 2011 through March or April 2012, he said.
The proposal calls for a drawdown at a rate of not more than 6 inches per day.
Weyauwega Lake Restoration has been working on the plan for about two years.
Bob Van Epps is a member of the group, and he said they look forward to forging partnerships with the city of Weyauwega, area schools, towns, Waupaca County, North American Hydro and conservation groups.
“We desire this lake to become a model for others,” he said.
Al Niebur is the senior fisheries biologist for the DNR’s Wolf River and Upper Fox River Fisheries Work Unit, and he said the department has a good database.
The fish population in the lake will continued to be monitored on a four- to six-year rotation and may be monitored on an annual basis after the drawdown to see where they are at, he said.
Several people commented about the condition of the lake during last week’s public hearing.
Ron Wiesman has lived on the lake for 35 years.
He remembers fishing with his children on the lake and is concerned with the steady decline of the lake.
“It has declined faster the last few years,” he said. “Eventually, we sold the boat and gave up. The lake is a detriment to the landowners and the city. It’s a body of water that used to draw people to town. Now, it’s unusable.”
Robert DeGodt recently retired there and asked what will happen to the ecosystem during a drawdown.
Niebur said that during the drawdown, some fish may migrate downstream to the Wolf River basin, while others will migrate upstream into the Waupaca River.
Those that migrate upstream will eventually migrate back into the lake. Fish that head downstream and go into the Wolf River will remain there.
“There will be a drop, but based on our experience from other drawdowns, it will be short,” Niebur said, explaining that the department will monitor the situation and stock fish into the lake if necessary.
Koehnke said the intent of the drawdown is to allow “Mother Nature to hit the reset button.”
Steve Hoffman, who is a wildlife biologist at Hartman Creek State Park, said that from a wildlife standpoint, a drawdown is good but that the timing is important so that species such as turtles and frogs are not impacted.
During the drawdown, area residents will see creatures that they usually do not see. Ted Johnson, who is a water resource specialist in the DNR’s Wautoma office, has studied the plant process in multiple drawdowns and said the community will probably see eight to 10 more species of plants after the drawdown.
Former Weyauwega mayor Howard Quimby was also among those commenting during the public hearing.
He, too, remembers the lake’s past recreational history and said what has happened to the lake is a complete disaster.
James Tolfa has fished on the lake since the 1950s.
“The lake isn’t what it used to be,” he said. “The only time I can go out now is ice fishing.”
Johnson said there will be a tremendous impact from the drawdown but that the effort will need to continue in the future with partial drawdowns.
Koehnke said every body of water is different.
“This is the first step in a long process,” he said. “As long as we have the commitment from the community, North American Hydro, the department and other