By NANCY ALLEN
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.