Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources officials got a look at how the Waupaca River looks downstream of Lake Weyauwega when they took canoes down that portion of the river last week.
Ted Johnson and Scott Koehnke were joined on the Oct. 3 trip by two other DNR staff members, as well as by three local residents.
They made the trip from just down of the dam to the mouth of the Wolf River.
“It looked very good. I was impressed,” said Koehnke, a water management specialist in the DNR’s Shawano office.
The drawdown of Lake Weyauwega began on June 17, 2011, and ended last April.
During the drawdown, sediment passed through and in certain areas of the Waupaca River, downstream of the lake, the river narrowed, said Johnson, a water resource specialist in the DNR’s Wautoma office.
“Lake Weyauwega had been a giant sediment trap on the Waupaca River,” he said.
Prior to the drawdown, the river was too wide and as a result, shallow, Johnson said.
The river today
During last week’s canoe trip, which took them about 2 1/2 hours, Johnson said they saw areas where the sediment deposited.
“Vegetation is growing, and it has created backwater ecocystems,” he said. “We saw great blue herons and ducks.”
Johnson said there are now islands on some parts of the river.
“Where the river splits is a natural phenomenon,” he said.
That is something seen on the Fox, Wisconsin and Wolf rivers, Johnson said.
Koehnke said it was striking to see the amount of sediment which had deposited in the Waupaca River.
“The most impressive part,” he said, “was the narrowing down of portions of the river.”
Johnson said as they got to the lower end of the river, it seemed to narrow even more, increasing in velocity.
Instead of sand and muck, they saw exposed gravel at the bottom of the river.
Johnson said that is a good thing, because that is what smallmouth bass spawn in and it is also an indicator of a stream’s health.
In addition to smallmouth bass, they saw redhorse, suckers, bald eagles also a couple of sturgeon.
For Johnson, last week was the fourth time he took a trip down the Waupaca River, and it was the first time he had seen sturgeon in the Waupaca River.
The area residents, who were also on the trip, told him they had seen sturgeon before.
“They were big. They just sat there and didn’t move,” Johnson said.
Koehnke has seen thousands of sturgeon on the Wolf River. “On a smaller river like that, it’s impressive to see a couple sturgeon,” he said of what they saw on the Waupaca River.
Tom O’Day owns a small bait shop about a mile up river from the Wolf and has lived on the Waupaca River since 2002.
“I was surprised at how good it looked,” he said. “There were some stretches that look better than before the drawdown.”
He was among those joining the DNR on last week’s canoe trip.
“I have taken that canoe trip a couple times, about three times before the drawdown. This is probably my first time since,” he said.
O’Day said, “From the dam down to the bridge at River Road, I would say the river is excellent.”
He said the river looks “pretty good” from the Black Bridge to his place.
Concerns on a channel
O’Day said the problems begin downstream of his property.
He was referring to his neighbors who own property on a manmade channel off the Waupaca River, near the mouth of the Wolf.
Vegetation has grown in the channel.
He said they were innocent bystanders in the process. They did not ask for the situation they face today.
Of that area, Johnson said, “It appears some sedimentation has taken place on the west side of the island where the vegeation is.
He said property owners may manually remove a 30 foot width of vegetation on their property.
They do not need a permit from the DNR to remove a 30 foot width of vegetation, because it is a navigation exception, he said.
He encourages the property owners to talk to him about it. The vegetation removed from the channel would then have to be disposed of in a non-wetland area, he said.
Dredging that area would also be an option.
Johnson said it would not be necessary to also dredge the other side of the island, because while there is also sedimentation there, there are open areas.
Koehnke said next spring, the water may also be high enough for those property owners to get back out on the channel.
“If they start using it in the spring time and go in and out of the channel on a daily basis, it will clean out on its own,” he said.
Johnson said in his opinion, overall, “the river is in better shape now than it was before the drawdown.”
Koehnke said the DNR will continue to follow up on such things as the depth of Lake Weyauwega, while also looking at the fisheries and habitat on the system.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said. “It’s a dynamic system, always changing. Everyone has to be actively engaged and involved in the process.”
Of what they saw on the Waupaca River, Johnson said, “It’s absolutely beautiful down there. I encourage people to take the trip.”