Letter to the Editor

Citizens concerns addressed in West Swan Lake renovation plan

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

West Swan Lake is an important shallow lake in need of renovation because as it stands, it is not in a healthy state. The fishery is poor, waterfowl and other wildlife use is almost nonexistent and, as a public lake, it provides minimal recreation benefits to Iowans.

When we presented our plan to renovate the lake at the September (Emmet County) Board of Supervisors meeting, concerns were raised about certain aspects of the project, primarily sediment entering Jack Creek and that the project would change the water level of Ingham Lake.

To address downstream sedimentation, part of our plan includes a survey of Jack Creek prior to the project and take appropriate steps during the project to minimize any sediment to the drainage ditch. To help minimize that impact, we will excavate a wide channel in West Swan Lake near the outlet to provide a path for the water and excavate a pool to collect water and sediment prior to the water entering the creek. We have an agreement with an adjacent landowner to place the excavated material on his three acres.

We have no plans to take any water off Ingham Lake. Any future Ingham Lake improvement project would be discussed with area residents during the planning stage.

At roughly 1,000 acres, the West Swan Lake restoration is a big project, and we expect it will positively impact Emmet County. We will hold a public meeting in the next few months to discuss this project. The goal is to get this lake into a healthy state and once that is established, other benefits will follow.

We plan to lower the water level 3-4 feet for about two years to expose part of the lake bed to get native aquatic plants established, which is an important step for these shallow lakes to become healthy.

During this temporary lowering of the water level, we will complete the construction phase which involves installing a new drawdown structure at the outlet of West Swan and a new fish barrier at the outlet of Ingham Lake. We will also be completing some repair work on the water control structure for East Slough, located between Ingham and West Swan lakes.

West Swan Lake has a large carp population, which contributes to its poor water quality and the drawdown will also encourage a winter fish kill. After these important steps, the lake should remain healthy for many years, but we anticipate this process will need to be repeated in the future if water quality and habitat decrease or common carp populations get out of control again.

It is important to note that a healthy system includes aquatic plants. Aquatic plants are key to good water quality and preferred by fish and wildlife. The goal is to have vegetation around the lake edges out to 3.5 feet of water. With most of the basin around 5 feet deep, there should be open water to enjoy. We expect that the now-clear West Swan Lake will see plants under the surface return for most of the lake.

Once the lake is back in a healthy state, the water will return to its present level and it will be restocked with native fish and support a diverse wildlife population. Other shallow lake renovations have seen an increase in use by bird watchers, paddlers, hunters and anglers and we expect West Swan Lake to follow that trend.

Mike Hawkins, Fisheries Biologist at Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery

Rob Patterson, Wildlife Biologist at Prairie Lakes Wildlife Unity at Ruthven