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Local lakes still struggling with high water

Tom Hintgen/FOCUS A family member at a lake home on the west side of Paul Lake displays a sprinkler system, now in lake water, that formerly sprinkled a front lawn. She points to where the beach used to be, prior to the onset of rising water in recent years.

Property owners on Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul lakes are still in talks with the county on a plan to relieve their high water issues.

 The three lakes, located west of Perham, are landlocked and have experienced rising water levels over the past decade, creating severe problems for property owners.

 Lake property owners who responded to a survey from the Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul Lakes Improvement District estimated total damages thus far at close to $6.3 million.

 Last Tuesday, members of the improvement district met with Otter Tail County Commissioners and other stakeholders to continue discussions on three possible outlet plans for the lakes.

 One option would involve moving water from the north side of Little McDonald Lake into the Otter Tail River to the north. Another would move excess water west to  Ditch 25, while a third would move water eastward to the Otter Tail River.

 Any final decision on a plan would hinge on environmental issues, downstream interests, aquatic invasive species and many other factors.

 Moving water from Paul to Little McDonald lake would involve a combination of a ditch and pipe. With the north outlet option, it’s estimated that anywhere from 1.5 feet to 3 feet of water could be lowered in the lakes annually.

 This plan, which would be costly, could be included in a bonding bill special session of the Minnesota State Legislature. State Rep. Bud Nornes of Fergus Falls, who attended last Tuesday’s meeting, said he is willing to put in a request for $4 million.

 “People have been devastated by the effects of high water at these lakes,” said Nornes. “For many people, these are their retirement homes.”

 Outlet engineer planning costs alone are estimated at $150,000.

 Nornes said it’s time for lawmakers to step up to the plate and assist lake property owners west of Perham, similar to assistance given to areas along the Red River during flooding at Breckenridge, Moorhead and other communities in the state.

 “Money that would go to help people at Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul lakes would be far less than what we’ve already provided for people along the Red River of the North,” said Nornes. “Gov. Mark Dayton would certainly agree, and it helps that he was just up our way talking to people in Otter Tail County about their flood-related problems.”

 County commissioners said assistance is needed to help lake cabin owners move water in order to save their property and homes. For some, it’s already too late.

 One major issue caused by rising water is mold. One property owner paid close to $78,000 to address a serious mold issue. In other cases, septic systems are failing.

 “Conditions in many places are extremely unhealthy,” said Roger Neitzke, president of the Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul Lakes Improvement District. “People are running out of land to back up on. They’ve rip-rapped everywhere and have invested far more than they ever thought would be the case.”

 In many cases, lake property owners have lost six to seven feet of shoreline. Passers-by see dead trees on the properties.

 County Commissioner Doug Huebsch, who represents the Perham area, said all sources of funding assistance will be sought. He said this includes not only county money but also state and federal dollars, Tax Increment Financing, grants and other sources of revenue to assist people at Little McDonald, Kerbs and Paul lakes.

 The county board and lake improvement district are working in coordination with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Soil and Water Conservation District and other agencies.

 Nearby, Highway 34 is down to one lane of travel, due to high water, just east of Little McDonald and Paul lakes. That roadway takes travelers eastward to Perham. The county has placed rocks between Highway 34 and Paul Lake, due to wave action eating away at the roadway on the north side of the lake.