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Albert Lea Lake Management and Invasive Species Control

Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council FY2014 recommendation: $1,127,000

About the Albert Lea Lake Management and Invasive Species Control Project

The Shell Rock River Watershed District (SRRWD) encompasses 246-square miles in Freeborn County, Minnesota. Among the District’s 11 lakes is Albert Lea Lake, located partially within the city of Albert Lea and central to its tourism industry and identity.

The existing outlet structure and access bridge for Albert Lea Lake, installed in 1922, are in need of repair. The Albert Lea Lake Management and Invasive Species Control Project would replace the fixed-crest dam with a rock-arch rapids water-level control feature. A lake-level management structure would also be constructed, as well as an electric fish barrier to prevent carp and other bottom-feeding and bottom-rutting fish from entering the lake, including invasive species. This project is expected to result in improved aquatic habitat; improved waterfowl nesting, breeding, and feeding habitat; an increase in desirable fish populations; and improved water quality and clarity.

Three project components

The Albert Lea Lake Management and Invasive Species Control Project has three components that work together to provide flexibility and comprehensive management:

1. Rock-arch water-level control and fish passage: The existing fixed-crest dam will be replaced with a series of rock arches to provide a naturalized outlet to Albert Lea Lake; the upper-most arch will control the normal water level. The arches will also provide fish passage, allowing northern pike to move upstream from the Shell Rock River to the lake during their spawning season. This fish passage—in combination with an electric fish barrier activated to preclude carp at other times—will increase the population of northern pike, natural predators of carp. Albert Lea Lake populations of northern pike and bluegill are currently below Minnesota DNR norms for similar lakes.

2. Lake-level management structure: Installation of a structure to facilitate lake-level management gives the SRRWD flexibility to take action, as necessary, to benefit the health of the lake. Periodic lowering of lake elevations allows maximum in-lake sediment compaction, management of invasive plants and fish, improvement of water clarity due to reduction in wind-generated turbidity, and time for plant colonization of shoreline and shallow-water areas. The resulting improvement in aquatic plant health benefits the entire lake system.

3. Electric fish barrier: An electric fish barrier will be used to reduce the population of common carp in Albert Lea Lake and help prevent the introduction of Asian carp.

Concept Drawing:  A rendering of the rock-arch water-level control and fish passage, lake-level management structure, and electric fish barrier. The electric fish barrier will be used to prevent common carp and other bottom-feeding and bottom-rutting fish from entering the lake and disrupting aquatic habitat. It could also be used to protect the lake from the migration of highly destructive Asian carp.

 

Why is carp control so important?

Carp and other bottom-feeding and bottom-rutting fish uproot and consume aquatic vegetation and disturb and re-suspend phosphorus-rich sediments. The resulting increase in turbidity reduces light penetration— discouraging rooted plant growth—and contributes to algal blooms responsible for oxygen depletion. The destruction of aquatic vegetation by foraging fish also impacts waterfowl nesting, breeding, and feeding habitat; shoreline and littoral habitat; and game fish spawning habitat. This has adverse effects on fish, bird, mammal, and invertebrate populations.

Potential protection from Asian carp

Reports of Asian carp populations at the 5-in-1 Dam on the Cedar River in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, have raised concerns about their migration. The Cedar River and Shell Rock River join at this location, 100 miles downstream of the Albert Lea chain of lakes. While there is not, currently, general agreement about the threat posed by Asian carp in lake waters, if this does become a concern, the proposed electric fish barrier could be used year-round to support an alternative fish management plan.

Expected outcomes

The proposed outlet, fish passage, and fish barrier will work as part of the District’s overall management plan for Albert Lea Lake. The anticipated outcome for Albert Lea Lake is restoration of rooted aquatic vegetation and fish and wildlife habitat, as well as enhanced water quality— all of which will serve to increase community use of this important resource.

Measuring our success

Since the formation of the SRRWD in 2003, a strong emphasis has been put on monitoring the lakes and streams within the watershed. This monitoring program allows the SRRWD to track water-quality trends and measure improvements from the implementation of projects.

The Shell Rock River Watershed District—a record of success with fish barriers

The SRRWD has a proven record of success with fish barriers. The fish barriers upstream of Albert Lea Lake (at Wedge Creek, White Lake, and Mud Lake)—coupled with rough fish eradication procedures—have improved habitat and water clarity in the upstream areas. Improved habitat is demonstrated by increased sightings of aquatic fur bearers and waterfowl, with 15 waterfowl species sighted during the fall migration. Improvements in water clarity are demonstrated by secchi disk readings on Fountain Lake (connected to these water bodies), which were the best on record in 2010—averaging 2.7 feet of water clarity.

The northern pintail is one of several waterfowl species benefiting from fish barrier projects in the Shell Rock River Watershed District.

For more information, contact Andy Henschel, Shell Rock River Watershed District, 507-379-2964.

Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council FY2014 recommendation: $1,127,000