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01-07-04: SWCD seeks to keep lake level normal


Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District board members will be asking state officials to release water from the West Bank Spillway anytime the water level in Grand Lake St. Marys is above normal.
SWCD officials at a Tuesday meeting said they plan to send a letter with this request to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in the near future in hopes that the state changes its management of the spillway.
The 500-foot-long horseshoe-shaped spillway contains a 50-foot-wide notch that allows water to flow into Beaver Creek. The spillway also contains two 60-inch tubes at its base that can be opened to let water out of the lake.
The SWCD is asking the state to open the tubes at the base and let water out of the lake anytime water begins to overflow the spillway notch into Beaver Creek. They are hoping this will prevent flooding along the creek during heavy rains.
Attending Tuesday’s SWCD board meeting was Charles Zumberge, 6345 Meyer Road, who farms land near Beaver Creek that often floods. He also is the brother of Steve Zumberge, one of five Mercer County farmers suing the Ohio Department of Natural Resources over flooding of their farmland they claim is caused by the spillway and how ODNR officials manage it.
“We’re not asking to pull it (the lake level) a foot below, just that the state keep the level at its ownership line,” Charles Zumberge said Tuesday.
After heavy rains throughout 2003, the lake’s level was reported 19 inches above normal on Monday. The SWCD letter says the excess water would be released only after it was determined that Beaver Creek could handle the additional flow.
The SWCD board first agreed at its Dec. 11 meeting to request a drawdown of the lake’s water level after some farmers living west of the lake complained of flooding on their farmland near Beaver Creek and the Wabash River.
During times of heavy precipitation, excess water flows from the lake over the notch in the West Bank spillway and into Beaver Creek, which empties into the Wabash River. The land along both waterways is considered a floodplain, and those who farm that land have complained about crop loss due to flooding.
“The rains that fell last year during July caused massive flooding up and down the Beaver Creek watercourse. We are well aware that if the lake had been maintained at a lower level, it would not have prevented all damage. However, it would have decreased the amount of acres of farm ground that was flooded, thus reducing the crops lost,” the letter by SWCD Chairman Rick Muhlenkamp states. “Agriculture is a vital part of the economic base of Mercer County, and the protection provided by developing this policy will help support the producers along the Beaver Creek watershed.”
Since the SWCD board went on record in support of a lake drawdown, other groups also have stated their opinions on the matter.
The majority of members of the Wabash Watershed Alliance during their meeting on Dec. 18 also said they supported a lake drawdown.
On the same date, the nonprofit Lake Improvement Association’s Lake Restoration Committee (LRC) said it opposed the drawdown, saying it would be too risky because there is never a guarantee that rains will come to replenish the lake if water is let out. LRC members, many of whom live around the lake and/or own businesses around the lake, also said a low lake level would hurt lakeside businesses and tourism as it did in 1999 when the lake’s water level dropped to two feet below normal.
On Monday, members of the private Lake Development Cor-poration said they too opposed a lake drawdown for the same reasons stated by the LRC.
Also at Tuesday’s Mercer SWCD meeting, members:
• Heard district conservationist Jim Will report the SWCD office most likely does not have the expertise to construct a proposed wetland south of the Lakefield Airport runway west of Montezuma. Members of the LRC have proposed building a wetland area on the land, which lies where Beaver Creek flows into the lake. Mercer County Commissioners are checking with Federal Aviation Administration officials about the feasibility of building a wetland on the site where the county owns roughly 100 acres of land that is being leased to a farmer. A wetland would act as a filter to help reduce the amount of sediment (soil) and nutrients that get into the lake.
• Appointed the SWCD board members to the following positions: Rick Muhlenkamp, chairman; Leisa Boley Hellwarth, vice chairman; Don Broering, secretary; Leroy Johnsman, treasurer and Ed Kahlig, public relations coordinator.
• Kept the dates and times for the board’s regular meetings the same at 7 a.m. the second Thursday of each month from May through October and at 8:30 a.m. the second Thursday of the month from November through April.
• Appointed Boley Hellwarth, Johnsman and Muhlenkamp to serve on the Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed Project joint board of supervisors, Kahlig and Johnsman to serve on the Wabash Watershed Alliance board, Don Broering to serve on the Loramie Valley Alliance board and Jonny Dicke to serve on the USDA’s Top of Ohio Resource, Conservation and Development Council.
• Approved the prices for seedlings and wildflowers the SWCD will sell later this year: American arborvitae, Colorado blue spruce, Norway spruce, Scotch pine, eastern white pine, Austrian pine, pin oak, black walnut, white flowering dogwood, sargent crabapple, shagbark hickory, hummingbird blend, American wildflower and bird and butterfly mix.
• Accepted the evaluation of SWCD administrator/education specialist Nikki Hawk following a two-hour executive session called to evaluate her job performance.


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