Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

Council backs dam solution
Geneva Lake Level Corp. works toward agreement with DNR

by Chris Schultz

December 13, 2012

The Geneva Lake Level Corp. believes it may have a suitable way to end its dispute with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Larry Larkin, a member of the corporation’s board of directors, said the GLLC’s attorney, Bill O’Connor of Madison, has been meeting with lake specialists at the DNR.

“We believe we may have a solution in hand,” Larkin told the Lake Geneva City Council on Monday.

After hearing Larkin’s presentation, the council approved the resolution supporting the GLLC by a 7-1 vote.

The resolution has been, or will be, before the village boards of Williams Bay and Fontana, and the Linn town board, all of which govern significant portions of Geneva Lake shoreline.

The GLLC controls the dam near the city’s chamber of commerce building, which is the lake’s only outlet to the White River.

In July, the DNR sent a letter to the GLLC, directing it to open the dam gates and release 1.9 cubic feet of water per second into the White River. The DNR cited Wisconsin State Statutes 31.34 as authority.

The GLLC argues that the mandatory release of water is dropping lake levels well below a minimum, also set by the DNR. Larkin said the GLLC wants to set a minimum level for Geneva Lake. Any policies that would lower the lake’s surface below that minimum would first require an environmental impact study by the DNR, Larkin said.

Larkin introduced the resolution to the council which says that Lake Geneva would oppose any decline in the lake water level below the minimum authorized water level established by the DNR, or any attempt to modify the management of the dam by the Lake Level Corp.

According to Larkin, the minimum authorized level of Geneva Lake is about 864 feet above sea level.

Information provided by the Lake Level Corp. claim shows the authorized minimum at slightly less than a half foot below the top of the dam’s spillway.

Lake levels as of Nov. 17 were nearly a foot below that, according to information from the United States Geological Survey website.

Alderman Gary Haugen proposed an amendment to the resolution, calling on state elected officials to take measures to alleviate the drought and what he called its underlying causes, climate change and global warming.

Haugen said it was clear that certain kinds of energy production and transportation contributed to current climate conditions.

“If the drought continues, the lake will continue to drop,” Haugen said.

However, other members of the council said they weren’t ready to attribute the drought to climate change.

“By adding that amendment, we’re blaming the drought on climate change and global warming, and I don’t think we’re in a position to say that,” said Alderman Alan Kupsik.

Mayor Jim Connors said according to information from the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency, Geneva Lake has gone through worse droughts and dropping water levels.

Only Haugen and Alderwoman Ellyn Kehoe voted for the amendment.

Haugen was the only vote against the resolution.

The DNR ordered the water released from the lake because it is concerned about a 300-meter stretch of the White River from the dam to the Burger King east of Donian Park.

The DNR determined that fish in that 300-meter stretch of the river are stressed due to lack of water.

Beyond the Burger King, that section of the White River is below lake level and ground water feeds the river there.

However, Larkin told the council that there is no record of any fish kills in the White River this summer.

Its board of directors include representatives of the four communities holding major shares of the Geneva Lake Shore, the town of Linn, villages of Fontana and Williams Bay and city of Lake Geneva.

The GLLC was the lead agency in getting the communities to recognize the need to replace the former lake dam in 2003.

With the permit to build the new dam, the DNR included a requirement that the GLLC would release a specified amount of water into the White River through the dam. That has not been a problem until this year’s drought.

The GLLC believes that the lowered lake levels may have serious negative consequences for Geneva Lake levels and will affect the economic health of the entire area.

Lower lake levels in the winter might expose pier cribs to damage from ice shifts.

Lake Geneva’s watershed is unusually small for the size of the lake. In fact, the lake makes up 75 percent of its watershed.

Although there are springs that feed the lake, a majority of its water comes from precipitation. Without snow or water, the lake levels suffer.