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Thursday, June 23, 2011

River Disappearing Act

Dear Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources:

You have a few customers who need your service – the Manitowish River, some lonely, sexually repressed sturgeon, and a bunch of my river rat buddies have been left high and dry. Cutting off spring flows to the Manitowish River to fill the lakes upstream is a real turn-off, if you know what I mean, for the sturgeon, musky and pike all trying to perpetuate the family name in the river system, and nearly 1600 acres of sedge meadow wetlands critical to the life cycle of myriad plants, animals and fish are quickly filling in with willow. The really silly thing is this cycle of draining the lakes in fall so people don’t have to risk ice damage to their piers and then refilling them in spring is also trashing the upstream lakes – a lot of plants die off when they’re exposed in fall, opening the door for invasive species to flourish. See my earlier post below, The “Man”itowish River - No Rest for Weary Wildlife for the background story.

With the help of a few well-placed cameras and a video recorder, we’ve now got footage of the dewatering of the Manitowish River wetlands. Historically in a dry year, this transformation from a continuous inundated wetland to a few pockets of standing water might have taken place over the course of 4 or 5 months well into the fall. Due to the mismanagement of the Rest Lake dam upstream, what you will see happened in a mere 22 days this year , leaving amphibians and fish stranded to die.

It ‘s not just the backwater sloughs and wetlands that are being impacted. The photographs below are of the main channel of the stream. In the first photo the flow of the river was 240 cubic feet per second. The second photo was taken only four days later after the flow had been decreased to a trickle (40 cubic feet per second) after they closed the gates of the dam.

Come on, DNR, the time really has come to fix this decades-old problem. Make a decision, and issue an order to operate the dam in way that truly protects all public interests, not to mention the lives of my fellow river dwellers. You could be heroes, and establish a legacy for a new way of managing river systems in Wisconsin. Not only would it save the Manitowish and its struggling sturgeon population, but it would bring Wisconsin’s dam management out of the dark ages and set the stage for a new way of doing business that manages the resource for all.

You know you’ve got the authority and all the information you need to put a stop to slaughter. I hear your new regime is all about customer service - the only question I’ve got is, who is the customer? Is it just the folks on Rest Lake who find it such a boring inconvenience to pull their docks in fall, or is it me?