February 19, 2013 | 05:34 PMThe summer drought was hard on the water level in Geneva Lake.
But this winter is being generous.
Ted Peters, director of the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, said Thurday that lake level is now about 2 inches over the spillway at the Lake Geneva dam.
About 32 cubic feet per second (about 240 gallons per second) are now pouring over the spillway and through the dam into the White River.
Lake levels typically fall starting in July and continue to dip lower into January.
That hasn't been the case this year.
A wet December and a rainy January did much to replenish the lake's abundance of water, Peters said.
Lake Geneva recorded 3.5 inches of precipitation in December and another 3.4 inches in January, he said.
According to the Weather Channel website, the Lake Geneva area's average precipitation for December is about 2 inches in December and 1.64 inches in January.
Peters said the primary cause of low lake levels during the summer was evaporation.
Geneva Lake is fed by underground springs, precipitation and runoff from its watershed. It has no other source of water.
The 5,500 acre lake is in a bowl-shaped depression, with only 18,368 acres of watershed, or a ratio of about 3.3 acres of watershed for one surface acre of lake. Geneva Lake has an estimated mean depth of 63 feet.
By comparison, Delavan Lake, with a mean depth of 21 feet, has a surface area 1,906 acres and a watershed of 26,000 acres, for a ratio of about 13.6 acres of watershed per one surface acre of Delavan Lake.
Geneva Lake's only surface water drain is the White River.
A lack of rain and high temperatures dropped the lake to a low of nearly 10 inches below the lake dam spillway during the summer, Peters said.
As precipitation increased, the lake recharged and water began spilling over the dam spillway once more.
An added water level ally is ice, Peters said.
"We don't lose it as much to evaporation in winter," he said. And one of the reasons is ice cover.
Lamarr "Sparky" Lundberg, a member of the GLEA board, said he observed that the ice cap on the lake has actually lifted and is broken up along the shoreline because of the pressure from water pushing up from beneath.
While lake levels were low, the state DNR required 1.9 cubic feet continue to flow into the White River to protect the habitat of small fish that live in a 1,000-yard stretch of the river between the dam and the Burger King restaurant just east of Donian Park.
DNR officials indicated that they would cite the Geneva Lake Level Corp. $1,000 per day in fines if it did not comply immediately. The agency cited Wisconsin State Statutes 31.34 as authority for that requirement.
The GLLC began releasing water through the dam in July.
The Geneva Lake Level Corp., a private, nonprofit organization that owns the Geneva Lake dam, spillway and mill race just behind the chamber of commerce office in Lake Geneva, argued that the DNR requirements were stressing the lake even further.
The predecessor to the lake level corporation was founded in 1895 to control Geneva Lake's water level.
It became the nonprofit Geneva Lake Level Corp. in 1944. In 2003 the dam and gateway were renovated with the communities around the lake sharing the cost.
The GLLC's board of directors includes representatives from the town of Linn, Fontana, Williams Bay and Lake Geneva.
Several boat owners had to have their craft lifted from their moorings by crane because the water around their piers was too shallow.
Lakefront property owners expressed fears that if water levels remained low, their pier cribs would be damaged by ice, requiring thousands of dollars of repairs.
The GLLC went so far as to confront the DNR about the required release of water from the lake during times of extreme drought.
The corporation, which has no income, went to the lakeside communities and asked for $2,500 from each to pay for professional and legal assistance.
All of the Geneva Lake communities agreed to contribute.
That the lake appears to be returning to previous levels is not to diminish the impact the 2012 drought had on the lake.
During an interview in October, Peters said that the lake levels were the lowest since 2001.
At that time, the water level was 8.25 inches below the spillway. Peters said that was the lowest water level recorded for that time of year.
He said the closest recorded levels to that were from November 2005, when the monthly average was 7.4 inches below the top edge of the dam.
Larry Larkin, a member of the GLLC board of directors, said the current lake level will not affect the corporation's negotiations with the DNR. Larkin said the GLLC is proposing a two-stage approach to dealing with drought conditions. He said the corporation would agree to a 1 cubic foot minimum release rate until the water got to four inches below the spillway. Then the amount released would be reduced to a "minimum close to zero."
That proposal was made a month ago, Larkin said.
He said the DNR is now doing a study of groundwater inflow into the White River and is determining the natural flow rate in the river.
The DNR's primary concern is that enough water flow from the lake is introduced into the White River to support the fish life there.
Larkin said the GLLC and the DNR have the same concerns during most conditions, but the recent drought conditions highlighted the divergence in the concerns of the two groups, he said.
He said the current negotiations are to improve state and local cooperation should another drought like last year's happens again.