Rising water levels on Lake of the Woods cause concern

Water levels on Lake of the Woods continue to rise, fed by extremely high flows and record April precipitation in the Rainy River-Lake of the Woods Watershed.

In response to the influx of water, the Lake of the Woods Control Board opened the Norman Dam in Kenora, Ontario, on May 7 to increase the amount of water flowing out of Lake of the Woods and into the Winnipeg River, but water is flowing into the big lake faster than it flows out, the LWCB said.

Water is flowing into Lake of the Woods at about 100,000 cubic feet per second but flowing out at less than 45,000 cfs, LWCB statistics show.

As of May 9, the mean elevation of Lake of the Woods was approaching 1,061 feet above sea level. That’s approaching levels seen in June 2014, when Lake of the Woods rose to 1,062.8 feet above sea level and caused extensive flooding. The 2014 level was the highest level on Lake of the Woods in more than a decade and about a foot higher than normal summertime levels, Herald archives show.

In Warroad, Minn., city officials in 2014 constructed temporary flood walls along the shore of Lake of the Woods as a precautionary measure.

In a news release, the LWCB said it adjusted outflow from Lake of the Woods throughout the winter to create storage room in the lake in anticipation of high spring runoff from substantial melting snow. It gradually began releasing even more water in early April.

Unusually cold April weather delayed the start of spring runoff, and Colorado lows that pummeled the region in three consecutive weeks dropped heavy precipitation. April precipitation was the highest on record for the Lake of the Woods-Rainy-Namakan watersheds, the LWCB said, and the combination of rain, melting snow and frozen ground quickly resulted in extremely high flows from the Rainy River.

At Rainy Lake, dam operators are releasing “very high flows” as the lake quickly rises, the LWCB said, while tributaries to the Rainy River are adding more flow than the dam.

The result is exceptionally high inflow to Lake of the Woods, and the big lake has risen by 25 inches since early April, the LWCB said.

Even with dry weather — a rare occurrence, of late — Lake of the Woods is expected to rise toward the top of the legislated operating range for the lake of 1,061.25 feet by mid-May, the LWCB said.

Until water flows out faster than it’s flowing in, water levels on Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg River will continue to rise, the LWCB said.

That will depend on rainfall in the coming weeks. Wet weather could result in very high lake and river levels, and the LWCB said areas affected by previous high-water events should prepare for that possibility.

DOCK DAMAGE

Property owners on Lake of the Woods’ Northwest Angle already are feeling the impact as large chunks of ice, busted loose by rising water and strong current, have taken out docks on Oak and Flag islands, according to Frank Walsh of Walsh’s Bay Store Camp.

Walsh, who has owned the camp on Oak Island with his wife, Laura, since 1994, said he’s never seen the big lake this high this early in the year — especially with ice still covering parts of the lake.

“I think we’re going to see a lot of ice damage because things are breaking loose prematurely and (the chunks) have more mass than they normally do,” he said. “It’s got a lot more oomph, and when it hits something, it’s going to take it out.”

As lake levels continue to rise, Walsh on Tuesday said he already has placed large containers of water on each side of his docks to weigh them down and hopefully prevent them from breaking loose.

The water problems will persist, and perhaps worsen, if the recent stretch of unsettled, rainy weather continues. There’s only so much that water managers can do, Walsh concedes.

“I feel they do a very good job of controlling it as best they can,” he said of the LWCB. “I guess it’s like herding cats. It’s not an exact, ‘set the dial at a given level’ (science).”

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