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Water level report draws crowd

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The International Joint Commission, along with the International Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Board, held its annual public meeting here last Tuesday to discuss water level initiatives.

Held at La Place Rendez-Vous, the meeting was an opportunity to report on last year’s high water levels here but also for area residents to offer their comments.

A report highlighting last year’s findings was distributed to those on hand.

It indicated water levels were abnormally high last summer.

The report attributed a series of events to the high water levels, starting with a substantial snow pack melt in April, followed by significant rainfall in mid-May and then record high rainfall during June.

High inflow to Namakan and Rainy Lake from June’s rainfall was what exceeded the capacity of the dams at both lake outlets to pass water.

This ultimately led to an uncontrolled rise in the water levels.

But the report also said the flow changes made by the dam owners were “timely, prudent, and in compliance with IJC’s regulations.”

Board co-chair Col. Daniel Koprowski said this year was no comparison.

“You don’t need me to tell you that water level conditions were a lot different here this year than they were last year,” he noted.

“Last year, large snow packs, a late melt, and heavy rains in May and June led to some unprecedented high waters in some places.

“This year, we had less-than-normal snow pack, earlier snow melt, and average May and June rainfalls,” Koprowski added.

“So despite a few heavy rain incidents in July, now we are kind of at average level in Namakan [while] Rainy is a little bit below average levels.”

Koprowski said repair work on the dam here, which started at the beginning of June, will cause some interruptions with water flow, resulting in some fluctuations.

Wayne Jenkinson, one of the experts who spoke last Tuesday, said the water levels are monitored through the use of a rule curve.

“A rule curve is really a guideline or a set rule for guiding how we manage water levels on reservoirs,” he explained.

Jenkinson formally introduced an 18-month review which the IJC will be overseeing.

The International Rainy and Namakan Lakes Rule Curve Board has been created to help modify the most recent rule curve, used since the early 2000s.

The rule curve will be evaluated using factors such as emergency high and low water levels, flooding damage to structures, hydropower production and tourism, as well as environmental indicators, such as wetland health, loon nesting, and fish spawning.

Jenkinson said the goal is to gather information from area residents.

“This review will involve direct public input, as well as the public advisory group,” he pledged.

He added information from the public will be complied into a “shared interest model.”

“Those values in the model are weighted through consultation,” Jenkinson noted.

“There’s not a strict mathematical formula that tells you that ‘x’ is worth more than ‘y,’” he said.

“These weights are assigned through consultation with people in the rule curve project group, scientists, and engineers.”

Afterwards, Jenkinson said introducing the review was essential to the annual meeting and he was happy with the turnout.

“It was critical that we let the local public know how we are progressing and how they can be involved in the process,” he stressed.

“The review will include many opportunities for public engagement,” Jenkinson said.

“We were encouraged to see a lot of public interest in supporting the public advisory group, particularly from cottage owners and First Nations’ groups.”

Dr. John Spencer, who attended the meeting, said he didn’t agree with a few things in the 2014 evaluation on water levels.

“We did have a flood last year and the water was unbelievably high, and the curve they follow is not specific enough,” he argued.

Dr. Spencer said he doesn’t think the area will have to deal with these conditions again in the near future, but believes there can be some quick fixes to deal with the levels more reasonably.

“Normally in the spring, because of the so-called rule curve, they allow the water to come up too quickly in the spring and they are resistant to opening the gates to discharge the water because the power company wants to make electricity,” he remarked.

“That was not mentioned at all during the meeting about where the power company comes in.

“There didn’t seem to be any understanding that the rule curve was allowing this water to come up too quickly in the spring, which prevents the wild rice from germinating and floods the loons nest, and probably has other bad effects,” Dr. Spencer stressed.

He hopes to have some involvement by contributing his findings, but is unsure if the board will take them into consideration.

“I don’t get the impression that they are really listening,” Dr. Spencer said.

“I ride a bicycle, and I go around Point Park most days if it’s not raining and I observe the river,” he noted.

“I have a cabin by the lake and I’m a duck hunter, so I know about the lake levels.

“Those people had made up their mind and they have their excuses on the printout,” he charged.

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