Matthew Sexton fishing at new park

Matthew Sexton, 12, finds a good spot to cast his line last summer along Southwick Creek at the new Helen Rohner Children’s Fishing Park in Williams Bay. (File photo/Regional News)

WILLIAMS BAY — It might be better if Southwick Creek were somewhere else.

So village officials are asking state environmental regulators to consider two possible options for re-routing the creek, which empties into Geneva Lake.

In 2017, the village joined with the Geneva Lake Conservancy and the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy in studying the possibility of rerouting the creek for environmental purposes.

Moving the creek to the east starting north of the Kishwauketoe entryway to the creek’s mouth at Geneva Lake could improve water quality by keeping road runoff out of the creek and relocating the creek’s 100-year flood plain.

That would impact the village’s water plant, the new Helen Rohner Children’s Fishing Park just south of Kishwauketoe, and the brown trout who call the creek home.

The village’s engineering consultant, Baxter & Woodman, has drawn up two possible new routes for the creek.

Williams Bay village trustee Jim Killian said the state Department of Natural Resources is now reviewing the proposal for possible difficulties and complications.

“They are now the responsible party to the plan,” Killian said of state regulators. “They’re doing their due diligence.”

The first step was for the village engineering firm to come up with possible new routes for the creek.

The engineers sent two possible alternatives to the village: one redirecting the creek on a sweeping curve through Kishwauketoe, and one swinging east through the conservancy and then meandering more like a natural creek bed.

In December, the village board members decided that the meandering creek bed was more to their liking.

DNR officials now are considering both options.

“We’re in the very preliminary stages of the study,” DNR senior fisheries biologist Luke Roffler said.

Roffler said the Southwick project is important because of the creek’s value as a resource.

“We’re finally getting traction on getting a plan together,” he said.

In examining the proposed creek beds, the DNR survey will make sure no endangered species are in the path and will also determine whether the new creek route would cross over any buried utilities.

Southwick Creek was originally dug in the early 1960s as a drainage ditch along the east side of State Highway 67.

The creek generally follows the highway south to Geneva Street, where it crosses under the road through a culvert, and empties into Geneva Lake.

The creek has since become more than a drainage swale. At some point, brown trout from Geneva Lake swam into the creek to spawn, and now the creek is home to a colony of brown trout.

Roffler said he and other fisheries biologists were astonished at the numbers of brown trout they found in the creek during a recent fish survey. A recent DNR study noted that the cold-water creek had suffered through years of neglect and degradation.

“It’s incredible that it happened in a steam that hasn’t been shown that much love,” he said.

The new 5-acre Rohner Children’s Fishing Park, opened last year by the Geneva Lake Conservancy, uses Southwick as a fishing site.

Karen Yancey, the conservancy’s executive director, said it would be better if Southwick were moved away from the highway to keep road runoff from getting into the creek.

“We hope it will provide better habitat for trout in the Southwick Creek,” Yancey said.

Meanwhile, Williams Bay’s water plant, built in 1936, is in the creek’s 100-year flood plain.

If the creek is moved further east, that could shift the creek’s floodplain, clearing the way for the village to expand its water plant, if needed.

There is no immediate need to expand the plant, Killian said. But if the village grew through annexation or a major new water customer came along, he said: “That will be an issue.”

Neither Roffler nor Killian were willing to give an estimate of what it would cost to reroute Southwick.

The study conducted two years ago cost $10,000.

Although the state has rerouted other creeks, the differences in costs are extreme.

“The cost can vary a ton,” Roffler said.

Among those factors is the presence of utilities and the amount of “machine time” it would take to move them.

“If water, sewer, telephone or power lines have to be moved, the cost goes up,” he said.

Killian said that after the DNR review, the next step step is to have the proposal go to the village engineer for cost estimates.

“Those technical details need to be worked out,” Killian said.

Then comes determining the final costs and who is going to pay.

Roffler said it is possible that DNR crews would do the work. He said at least some funds for relocation of a trout stream could come out of the state’s fish license fund.

Chris Schultz has been a reporter for more than 40 years. He has been with the Lake Geneva Regional since 2010. He covers the Lake Geneva City Council and the Lake Geneva area schools.