Friends of the Eau Claire Lakes Area is pleased to announce Iris Wichman is the recipient of its first annual student scholarship. Ms. Wichman, a 2019 graduate of Drummond Area High School, will pursue a degree in environmental studies at UW-Barron County this fall. FOECLA board member Martin Olson presented Ms. Wichman with her $1,000 scholarship at the school’s Senior Scholarship Night on May 15.
“We created this scholarship to assist students who wish to enter any field of study that would promote our mission to protect and improve lakes, rivers, forests and wildlife resources,” said Kevin Shriver, FOECLA board president. “Now more than ever we need to support young adults like Iris who care about the environment.”
FOECLA also partners with the Drummond Area School District in providing a unique educational program for seventh grade students. The “Lake Ecology Education Program for Youth” (LEEP) provides students with classroom lessons and field experiences designed to prepare them for becoming life-long lake stewards. The curriculum meets Wisconsin education standards. “Creating this annual scholarship underscores our commitment to the education of our youth,” noted Shriver. “We are very happy to put our resources to such good use, and we congratulate Iris on her award.”
In addition to supporting the education of our youth, FOECLA also supports the following important programs:
- Town of Barnes AIS Committee – We provide financial support to the Town in its efforts to control the spread of aquatic invasive species, and we refer volunteers interested in monitoring their shorelines for invasive species.
- WDNR Citizen Lake Monitoring Network – This spring, we provided funding to purchase new water testing equipment for citizen monitors to use on area lakes. We also refer individuals interested in this program.
- Town of Barnes Clean Boats Clean Waters – We provide funding to support the hiring of monitors at boat landings who inspect boats and educate boaters on “aquatic hitchhikers”, and we refer individuals interested in becoming boat landing monitors.
- Town of Barnes Vatten Paddlar – We sponsor this annual race that highlights the beauty of our lakes. We also refer individuals interested in volunteering for the race.
- Annual Education Program – Every August, we host an educational program for the community at the Barnes Town Hall.
We couldn’t do any of this without the support of our members! If you aren’t yet a member, please consider joining or renewing today.
On the night of July 11, a severe rainstorm struck the Eau Claire Lakes Area, saturating woodlands, farms, lake properties and communities from Hayward to the Ashland area and Lake Superior overnight.
The next day we awakened to damage from 10 to 13 inches of rain that washed out roads, raised lake levels so high that docks and pontoon boats floated away, shorelines suffered and a man died near Cable. Contributing to the rainfall severity were rains that occurred some days before the torrential rainfall saturating the soils.
Rains this severe have not been experienced in a long time. Ron Kofal, a life-long resident of Gordon living near Lower Eau Claire Lake, has never seen the Eau Claire River this high. Highway 27 to Hayward from Barnes was closed due to water covering low areas and Highway 77 was closed between Hayward and Minong.
Bob Lang, Town of Barnes Roads Foreman, reported that the day after the deluge, several roads had washouts or water running over the road, including Denver Road, Tars Pond Road, Pease Road, James Road, Lower Lake Road, Pease Resort Road, and North Beaver Trail in Potawatomi.
There was a dramatic washout of part of Denver Road a mile or so south of Lower Eau Claire Lake and Cranberry Lake. The Ounce River, pronounced “oonz”, runs close to the road a short distance from Cranberry Lake Road. Commonly after rains in the spring, the Ounce spills over its bank and floods the woods draining through a culvert under the road to the north side of the road into another woods and wetland downhill. What happened after the torrential rain of July 11 created more than that; a potentially lethal hazard.
Lang reported that by the evening after the heavy rain, the water rushing over Denver Road had dropped “a couple of feet” but was still two feet deep.
I visited the Denver Road site a few days later and saw that trees and bushes on the side of the road had dried brown mud extending five feet high above road level, indicating that the water that had been rushing over the road days earlier was five feet deep where the Ounce River bends south very close to the road. The accumulated logs and brush bent against woodland trees evidenced a very powerful, high velocity flow. The five foot gush of water obviously surpassed the “too small” culvert’s capacity and flooded over the road, causing a crater on the south edge of the asphalt road, undermining it so that approximately 20% of the road’s width was missing asphalt for a stretch of maybe 20 to 40 feet.
Where the Ounce River is closest to the road and bends southward away from the road, there is a small unnamed tributary entering via its own small culvert under Denver Road where some people trap mink. It is usually a barely trickling wooded channel. Post-deluge markings show it was a raging stream, several feet deep that undermined a tree that became up-rooted and fell across Denver Road.
Luckily no vehicles tried to pass through Denver Road when water was rushing over the road following the deluge. The site is a good example of how a flash flood can suddenly appear and potentially drown people who accidently or purposely drive into the water. It is also a lesson that culverts should be overbuilt and oversized to handle major rainfalls like this one.
Even more dramatic was the washout of a section of State Highway 63 just north of Grandview and Drummond. Luckily no car traveled on the site during the rain as it collapsed underfoot or ran over the edge of the precipice.
The three dams of the three Eau Claire Lakes held back the water well.
Mooney Dam impounds water to form Lower Eau Claire Lake and rose at least 7 inches immediately after the heavy rain. According to Mark Schroeder, Douglas County Parks and Recreation Supervisor, on the day before the deluge of July 11, the lake level at the dam was at 1045.5 feet above sea level. The target, a DNR order, is for 1045.44 ft. so it was an inch or so above target.
Douglas County Parks and Recreation Department staff measure lake levels at the dam daily and on July 12, the morning after the deluge, the level was 1046.1 ft (7.2 inches above target). A stop log was removed to let more water flow through the dam. That night it was likely higher than 7.2 inches since it takes a while to rise at the dam after a rain on our multi-lake lake chain.
The lake level was lowered an inch or so daily after that by removing stop logs one at a time, purposefully at a cautious, slow rate to prevent dangerous and damaging rises of the river downstream where levels were at record high already.
Schroeder stated that we were lucky that the heavy rain occurred this year instead of last year when Mooney Dam was being repaired. During repair work only half of the dam carried water while the other was blocked by a coffer dam to permit work replacing the lateral concrete abutment. Core sampling had shown that the lateral abutment contained crumbling concrete. Theoretically that could have weakened the dam sufficiently to result in major leaking or failure if the deluge had occurred last summer.
Surface drainage at the county park at Mooney Dam caused a deep gully where runoff flowed over the bluff into the Eau Claire River.
Many cabin dwellers reported various types of damage due to the high lake levels. At Upper Eau Claire Lake, Bob Cochrane estimated the lake level rose approximately 8 to 10 inches and seemed to drop an inch per day on subsequent days. Bob Cochrane and Jim Bakken noted wood docks displaced and erosion of shorelines around the lake. Cris Neff reported that a pontoon broke from its mooring and floated across the lake. Bob Cochrane noted that Upper was “murky” and that using the Secchi Disc at the usual “deep hole” at the north end showed that water clarity was reduced from 20 feet to 14.5 feet.
Tom Krob estimated that Robinson Lake was 7 to 8 inches above normal. Carol Lebreck reported that Bony Lake levels were quite high with levels still at an estimated 4 to 5 inches above normal 10 days later.
Lake levels persisted at high levels 7 to 10 days later at several lakes, especially at Upper and Middle Eau Claire Lakes, where dams do not have stop logs to lower the lake levels. Because high speed motorboats can create high wakes that cause shoreline erosion, the Friends of the Eau Claire Lakes Area issued a high water alert to boaters that “Minimizing your motorboat wake will help protect shorelines from erosion during these times.”
The deluge of July 11 resulted in a lot of damage and created potentially lethal flash floods and road closings. It brought attention to the future need of better preparedness.
During the summer of 2015, both Bayfield County’s Middle Lock and Dam on the Eau Claire River between Upper and Middle Eau Claire Lakes, and Douglas County’s Mooney Dam located where the Eau Claire River drains Lower Eau Claire Lake’s Mooney Bay, underwent significant repairs. Both dams were originally constructed of logs to impound and propel felled logs downstream during the late 1800s. They fell into disuse after logging ceased. Both of the existing, more permanent, dams were built in 1938 by the federal Works Project Administration during the Great Depression.
Repairs to Middle Lock and Dam
Middle Lock and Dam received repairs to crumbling concrete surfaces, improvements in riverbanks and restoration and improvements to the rare historic public lock. Repairs began around the first week of June and most were finished in time for safe portaging during the Town of Barnes Vatten Paddlar Canoe and Kayak Race on July 11. Repairs were by Pember Companies, Menomonie, at a cost of $131,500 with close supervision by the county’s chosen engineering firm of Cooper Engineering of Rice Lake.
The rare and historic, Middle Lock and Dam now has a repaired and improved lock for small watercraft navigating upstream or downstream around the dam. It is available for public use and operated when needed. It is truly a historic lock, only six-feet wide and manually operated by boaters and for small watercraft use only. A new metal railing was constructed along the lock for added safety. Extensions to the metal bars for opening and closing the gates now place the metal bars at railing level for easier operation. They are secured and will no longer fall into the deep lock. New lock operating instructions are now publicly posted. It promises to become a special recreational destination now more than before.
Repairs to Mooney Dam
The Mooney Dam located at the Douglas County Mooney Park was extensively repaired starting the last week in July and finishing September 8. Repairs were by Yahnke Company at a cost of $241,958 with close daily supervision by a representative from the county’s chosen engineering firm of SEH, St Paul, Minn.
Concrete surfaces were crumbling, but more importantly deep cores into the concrete of the north lateral abutment showed extensive degeneration and crumbling. Repairs included extensive replacement of both abutments along the spillway, surface repairs throughout the dam, new dam stop logs and removing trees and bushes from both earthen sides, new steps and a new safety fence on the walkway above the dam.
Work was delayed a week because of failure to sufficiently dewater the north coffer dam. This was due to the saturated sandy soil and the pressure of the water leaked up under the sheet piling. After installing a string of points into the sand to continuously remove water, the space became de-watered.