In an effort to improve Nelson Lake’s walleye populations and facilitate repairs to the dam and boat launches, Sawyer County’s Land, Water and Forest Resources Committee on Feb. 12 voted to approve the drawdown of the lake by four feet starting Oct. 1, 2020. The drawdown would reach four feet by Nov. 1 and remain in effect over the winter of 2020-21.
Nelson Lake’s water level is controlled by the county-owned dam, which backs up the 2,716-acre flowage. The lake typically is kept at full pool to maximize recreational access.
The county’s action comes in response to the request of the Nelson Lake Association, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fishery biologist Max Wolter and the Town of Lenroot, which maintains public boat landings on Gerlach Road, Tagalder Road and at Nelson Lake Park.
According to the proposal, the lake level will remain down over winter and will be refilled as quickly as possible in the spring of 2021 when the snow melts.
Wolter said drawdowns are “a frequently-used tool in fisheries management that can have powerful effects, even where other management strategies have been ineffective. We find ourselves in that position with Nelson Lake, where walleye stocking, regulation changes and habitat improvements have been unsuccessful in increasing walleye abundance to target levels.
“A drawdown that exposes walleye spawning habitat in fall/early winter may improve spawning success,” Wolter said. “A similar plan has produced results on the Chippewa Flowage.”
During the drawdown and before freeze-up this fall, the Town of Lenroot plans to adjust six-ton cement pads in the deepest water at the public boat landings.
The Town also plans to lower a creek culvert on Jolly Fisherman Road by 30 inches, as ordered by the DNR. The lowering will be more than two feet below the current lake level, which would require damming on both ends during the work unless the lake is drawn down.
The Town says lowering the lake level will make this work much easier and will reduce potential environmental damage.
County zoning and conservation administrator Jay Kozlowski said the county also could inspect the dam while the lake is drawn down.
Lake Loretta dam
The committee also voted to apply to the DNR for 50% cost-share grant funds to repair deteriorating cement structures on the Upper Brunet River (Lake Loretta) Dam. The resolution now goes to the county board.
Consulting engineer Larry Gotham of Morgan and Parmley said the repairs will add 40 years to the dam’s life and the project would include a hand-operated gate system similar to the Tiger Cat Flowage dam. There are 20 to 30 cabins and a few year-round homes on the lakeshore.
“It’s a pretty dangerous dam to operate,” said County Zoning and Conservation Administrator Jay Kozlowski.
Gotham said that if the county gets the DNR grant and moves forward with the project, the repairs would be implemented two years from now. The cost estimate of $503,000 includes a temporary drawdown of the flowage while the repairs are performed. For a project over $400,000 including a coffer dam, the DNR would pay 25 percent of the cost up to $800,000.
Kozlowski said the Town of Draper is “super thrilled about this (project). They’ve been wanting repairs done to this dam for six-seven years.”
The committee held a public hearing on a draft animal waste/manure storage control ordinance and then approved the ordinance, forwarding it to the county board for consideration in March.
Jay Kozlowski said the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has reviewed and signed off on the draft and legal counsel also has reviewed it.
County assistant conservationist Tim Seidl said any new manure pit will have to meet NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) standards, including a nutrient management plan. Any old or abandoned pits that are no longer safe and functional would have to be inspected, closed and removed.
Exeland area dairy farmer Mike Robers said, “We already have to meet NRCS standards in order to put in a pit. We’re all good managers; we have to be efficient in the use of fertilizers and manure. It’s an advantage for the farmer to store manure and then spread it when frost is out so it soaks into the soil.”
Linda Zillmer said the county has had a manure storage ordinance since 1990 and Seidl sent the revised ordinance to the town boards for review “without any discussion (by farmers or town boards). There are multiple drafts out there. ‘Waste’ is not defined.”
Committee member Elaine Nyberg said farmers in the Town of Sand Lake “have no problem with this (draft ordinance).”
Town of Bass Lake representative Phil Nies said the ordinance “seems like a reasonable product, updating the old ordinance.”
Committee member Dale Beissel said only three large farms in Sawyer County qualify under this ordinance. “Any large facility now is checked regularly to meet specifications,” he said. “I would hate to push the small farmers with only 30 to 40 cows out (of business), because we don’t have many of those left. It’s not an easy thing to understand what nutrient management is nowadays.”
The committee agreed to discuss a potential moratorium on new or expanded concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) at its March 11 meeting.