Lake Weyauwega will soon look more like a river than a lake.
That is what Scott Koehnke, who is a water management specialist in the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Shawano office, said Friday, June 17, minutes before the drawdown of Lake Weyauwega began late that afternoon.
“The DNR has been involved with this project for over 10 years,” he said. “I remember the first meeting we had back in 2000. There were a lot of things discussed that day. After 10 to 11 years, we got to the point where we’re able to do something. It has been a long process. A tremendous number of people were involved.”
North American Hydro, of Neshkoro, in collaboration with Weyauwega Lake Restoration, applied for a permit for the drawdown of the lake.
The DNR approved the permit last fall, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its approval this month.
FERC regulates hydro dams across the country, and the Weyauwega dam is one of them that it regulates.
North American Hydro generates electric power by using the dam and will have to suspend its operation during the drawdown.
The estimated cost of the drawdown is $68,000. Most of that cost will be to reimburse North American Hydro for a loss of income during the drawdown.
Last Friday, a short program was held by the dam, before the drawdown officially began.
Mayor Don Morgan called it a special day to many in the area.
“It is a benchmark of several years of strong effort by a group of people working within an organization we call Weyauwega Lake Restoration Inc. to try and rid this lake of its out of control weed growth and the strong stench of rotting vegetation,” he said.
The mayor said the drawdown process at about four inches per day is expected to last 30 days.
“This starts a new phase of lake management that is expected to last several more years,” Morgan said.
He thanked the many who have been involved in the process, including the DNR, members of the lake group, North American Hydro, the school district, the Waupaca County Extension office, First National Bank and attorney Dave Werth.
“On the city side, we need to credit (City Administrator) Sheryl Scheuermann for her help with grant applications and, lastly, I want to thank the council for their approval of $30,000 to help this project proceed,” Morgan said.
The mayor asks area residents to support the fundraising efforts of the lake group to help with future maintenance of the lake.
Robert Van Epps is a member of the lake group and he too called it a “great day for Weyauwega.”
He said it will be a six-year program. “We’re going to take the water down, keep it down at least a year, bring it back up and then look at a long-term maintenance program. We’re going to move on from here,” Van Epps said.
Koehnke said the project is about the lake’s future.
“It really is about the future, and I think the future of Lake Weyauwega is moving in a positive direction,” he said. “We’re not walking away. It will take everyone’s cooperation as we go through this.”
Koehnke said that in the short term, recreational activities on the lake, including fishing, will be impacted.
“But in the long term, with everybody playing together and working cooperatively, this will be a success,” he said.
Koehnke said that for those downstream, the water flow will continue to be the same as it always has been.
What those in that area will see, though, is dirty water, vegetation and some dead fish, he said.
“This has been discussed with the property owners downstream and the people on the lake,” Koehnke said. “Once it’s done, the cloudy water will be gone. After the 30 days, other than during heavy rain events, we don’t anticipate slugs of mud. Once it’s done, portions of the lake will green up.”
He said that after the drawdown is completed, the fish will come back.
“We will be monitoring the fish response,” Koehnke said. “We will be stocking fish once it’s back up.”
Throughout the drawdown, Lake Weyauwega will not be closed.
“People can continue fishing, kayaking, where they can,” he said. “They can continue to use the water as it is going down and is down.”