Thursday, February 7th, 2013
By Nancy Allen
Water discharge may go automatic
State's goal is to link tubes in spillway to computerized system
  GRAND LAKE - The state eventually wants to install an automated system to open and shut two tubes on the West Bank spillway to regulate Grand Lake's water level.
The second test to gain data to implement the system and establish an overall water level management protocol began Monday. The first was done last year.
Milt Miller, manager of the Lake Restoration Commission, said the test didn't start well Monday morning. Officials could not get one tube to fully open; they believe its gate was frozen.
"So we left one fully opened and the other partially," he said.
Two hours later, the solar-powered water level sensor on Beaver Creek at U.S. 127 showed the creek wasn't handling the increased water.
"It was rising quickly and to err on the side of caution, I ordered it (the partially-opened tube) to be closed," Brian Miller, manager at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park, said. "Some water got out of the creek and into the ditch line off the east side of 127."
One tube will stay open until the lake reaches normal pool, which is expected to take about 20 days, Brian Miller said. Last year's test showed the lake lowers an inch every three days with one tube open. The lake was 9 inches above the spillway notch - normal pool - before the tubes were opened.
The original plan was to open both 60-inch tubes for two days and then close one until the lake reached normal pool.
Milt Miller said he fielded numerous calls Monday from residents upset with the state for lowering the lake. Some in the community blame last year's low water level on the first release, but Miller said it had more to due with drought conditions, which began in the spring. The lake was 15 inches below normal by September.
"Once we collect enough data, the state would create a computer model that triggers the tubes to open when certain conditions exist in the lake and Beaver Creek (as detected by the sensors)," he said.
Ideally the sensors would be connected to an automated lake level management system run by a computer software program, Brian Miller said. Other sensors are located in the lake near the Celina Water Treatment Plant intake building and in the Wabash River at state Route 49.
"Right now this is just a pie in the sky," Brian Miller said. "We don't know how much it would cost at this point; we're just discussing it."
The state of Ohio manages the water level in 30 bodies of water in Ohio. None have automated, computerized systems, Brian Miller said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also manages some water levels, he added.
Before the new Grand Lake spillway opened in 1997, the state had drawn down the water level in fall and spring to lessen flooding downstream. The state discontinued the policy because the new, much larger spillway was meant to be self regulating.
The spillway tubes were installed for emergency purposes and have never been used as a lake level management tool. The tubes are opened for a short time twice a year for testing. One also has been used to wash fish into Beaver Creek when they become trapped in the spillway basin due to little water flow.
The state last year formed a local committee to develop a lake level protocol after lawsuits were won by property owners who blamed the spillway and the state's mismanagement of the water level for increased flooding on their land along Beaver Creek and the Wabash River.
On the committee are Milt Miller, Brian Miller, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer, Mercer County Commissioner Jerry Laffin, Mercer County Engineer Jim Wiechart, Liberty Township Trustee Ron Linn, East Jefferson Township Trustee Keith Houts, LIA President Tim Lovett, Rustic Haven Campground owner Greg Gast and Celina Safety Service Director Tom Hitchcock.
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