Little Rock Lake drawdown postponed until next year

A planned drawdown of Little Rock Lake and the Mississippi River north of Sartell will be postponed for a year due to a need for further review to satisfy federal requirements, according to the Minnesota DNR.

Because the Sartell dam that would be opened to allow the drawdown is a hydropower dam overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), a thorough review of potential impacts to cultural and historical resources is required before the project can proceed. Due to miscommunications, the historical-cultural review that was done did not meet strict federal requirements.

“For a couple years now, a lot of agencies and people have been working toward the goals of better water quality and habitat that this drawdown would bring about, so this delay is certainly disappointing,” Eric Altena, the DNR fisheries supervisor who has spearheaded the project, said in a DNR news release Wednesday, July 25, announcing the postponement. “It’s only a temporary setback, though. We’ll be back next summer with everything in order and set to go for the same timeframe.”

The drawdown had been scheduled to begin on Aug. 1 with gates on the Sartell dam being opened until water levels were lowered there by three feet. It would have continued through mid-September. Lowering the water levels for six weeks would expose some 700 acres of shoreline, allowing it to dry out so that native plants could take root and grow there. The plants would stabilize the shoreline and help to prevent erosion, as well as using up some of the excess nutrients like phosphorus that otherwise cause unhealthy algae blooms. Shoreline vegetation also provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife. Water quality and water clarity are expected to be significantly improved following the drawdown.

At this point, completing portions of the project work are still being looked into, according to the release.

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