Outdoors almanac: Waterfowl lake near Hugo drained by mistake
June 26, 2005 ONOT0626
Rice Lake -- a small but popular public waterfowl hunting spot in the northern Twin Cities area near Hugo -- likely won't see much action this fall.
The lake was inadvertently drained this spring.
"Over half the lake is mud flats now," said Bob Welsh, Department of Natural Resources area wildlife manager. "The south end of the lake still has pockets of water a few inches deep. But you couldn't get in there with a boat."
The lake is part of the Paul Hugo Farms Wildlife Management Area, which is open to public hunting. Drained, it won't provide waterfowl habitat or recreation opportunities, Welsh said. The shallow 200-acre lake normally is 1½ to 3 feet deep, but it dropped precipitously after the Rice Creek Watershed District dredged a ditch that extends from the lake through the watershed, said Welsh.
Rice Lake: TodayThe watershed district did the maintenance work in March to reduce flooding downstream, but that activity apparently caused a "blowout" of soil between the lake and the dredged ditch, said Steve Hobbs, watershed district administrator.
The result was like pulling a bathtub plug. Despite recent rains, "there's very little water in the lake now," Welsh said.
DNR officials sent the watershed district a letter June 16 expressing dismay.
"DNR feels it is crucial to repair the runout and return Rice Lake to its previous condition," wrote Tim Bremicker, acting regional director. Without action, Welsh said, the area will become a cattail slough with no open water.
Rice Lake: BeforeWelsh said a water-control structure likely will have to be built to solve the problem. But that won't be easy. The lake's outlet is on private property. The soil is mostly peat. And the cost could be tens of thousands of dollars or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.
Hobbs agreed such a structure will be needed. He said the district board met last week and is eager to sit down with DNR and work out a solution.
As for cost, he said: "Rice Creek will certainly want to contribute some fair share to solving the problem."
DNR officials plan to meet this week. "This is a situation that must be fixed," said Brad Moore, DNR deputy director.
Janette Brimmer, an attorney with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said she fears the ditch work affected many other wetlands in the area. The group is considering legal action.
Meanwhile, it's unlikely Rice Lake can be restored by hunting season.
"Hunters probably won't be able to use it this fall," Welsh said. "They're going to go there expecting to put their boats in the water, and they're going to find mud flats. There will be some angry people."