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Renovated local lakes slow to fill

Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 10:28 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 17, 2013 10:43 a.m. CDT
A fisherman brings his boat to the main boat ramp at Green Valley Lake Monday afternoon. The ramp is open despite the fact that the lake is still about 3 feet below normal level, as shown by the fishing dock at left. Other access points and the ski zone will be opened as the lake reaches normal level after a recent restoration project.

“With a few good rains, everything will be back to normal at Green Valley State Park.”

That was a statement made 12 months ago by Alan Carr, Green Valley State Park ranger, as the refurbished state park was getting the final touches before turning 60 years old in September.

Carr is still waiting, thanks to the drought of 2012.

Officials hoped a normal year’s rainfall would bring the lake back to full level after a four-year process to remodel much of the infrastructure of the park. The lake bed was drawn down for dredging, fish habitat additions were installed and the shore line was stabilized.

A similar project undertaken at Summit Lake in Creston for a spillway reconstruction is now also awaiting enough rainfall to fill to normal levels. Because it shares part of a contributing watershed, Summit Lake is basically waiting on Green Valley Lake to fill first, although there has been progress.

“We’re waiting for more rain,” said Rick Reed, distribution superintendent for Creston Water Works. “It’s barely started to pond at the bottom.”

The spillway gate has been closed since last fall, but there hasn’t been enough moisture to fill the lake as quickly as anticipated. Reed wouldn’t make a prediction on the lake’s progress this summer.

“It’s up to Mother Nature,” Reed said. “The biggest problem is that Green Valley is still down, and that takes up one arm of the water shed. When Green Valley fills, we should double the amount we get. Also, as dry as it is, the subsoil is saturating a lot of it. When it’s saturated, then we’ll get the runoff.

“There’s not much we can do but wait,” Reed concluded.

Green Valley, meanwhile has been stuck at about 3 feet below full since it rose from the 9-feet drawdown during construction.

The spillway was closed in September 2011 to begin filling the lake. However, lack of snowfall runoff and a relatively dry fall only brought it up to 3 feet below full.

Then, last summer’s drought stalled all progress. Even with last week’s rain, Carr estimates the lake is still about 2.5 feet below normal. It will take several rains to pull it up all the way and allow for the opening of all the lake’s features.

“We’re gaining,” Carr said. “Once the drought hit, we hovered in that 2 to 4 feet below normal range for about a year. When we get a little higher, we can open the ski zone and allow speedboating.”

For now, the entire lake is no-wake speed, which allows fishing and pleasure boating. A lot of the new fish habitat in areas where speedboats would travel to the ski area is covered by 4 feet of water when the lake is full, but now has only about 1 foot of water cover.

Carr said that’s too hazardous to allow the ski zone west of the campground and to the north to be opened yet.

On the positive side, fishing has taken off at the lake since the fall of 2008 restocking.

“We have the main boat ramp (east of the beach) open, but we can’t get all of the docks in at this level,” Carr said. “Now, we have a couple of them in and we’ll get some boundary ropes in at the beach. For awhile, we’ll have a lot of beach, and not much swimming area.”

Like many observers, Carr said he’s seen signs that the drought is easing and is optimistic about the lake filling this year.

“Our subsoil is not fully charged yet, so the ground is still soaking up some of the rains,” Carr said. “But I’m seeing some tile lines flow and creeks are getting some water. We’re going in the right direction.”

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