Friday, July 9, 2010

Introducing (and draining) Pelican Lake

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A couple of weeks ago, I dropped my kayak into a body of water that has been known, for a relatively short while, as Pelican Lake. This is not the famous lake by the same name that is in the Brainerd Lakes area… nor is it the one found near Barnsville in the west central part of our state. This Pelican Lake is a small body of water about four miles west of our home in St. Michael.

I had heard about the odd origins and even more peculiar destiny of Pelican Lake from various neighbors and acquaintances since we move here last year. Rumor held that the Department of Natural Resources was threatening to partially drain the lake, and sending the water into a wetland on the edge of town (coincidentally, an area right behind our home). From there, it would trickle into the Crow River via Regal Creek.

As with any land management issue, this idea had a polarizing effect. Hunters were in favor of the plan, as the land now covered by Pelican Lake would be more fowl-friendly and bring in more ducks and geese. On the other side, fishermen were opposed to the idea, because low water would almost assuredly result in the winterkill of the bass, crappie, pike and sunfish that call the lake home.
A couple of people had asked my position on the matter, but found myself unable to respond... as I did not have the facts that might validate an opinion. Recently, however, I had a conversation with someone who did have the facts, and learned a little more about this complex situation.

Pelican Lake was nothing more than a seasonal slough as recently as the 1960s. It would be mildly flooded by the spring melt, but sustain hay and other crops through most of the summer. Then, in the late 60s or early 70s, something changed. Nobody knows whether it was because of inappropriate ditching, maybe a shift in the way area farmers were draining their fields, or if perhaps a department of transportation project significantly altered one or more canals in the area… but for one reason or another, the spring flood did not recede as far as they once did. And over the years, what was once a slough became deeper and deeper, even drowning some farm equipment that had been stored on the lands there. Eventually, the place became a lake—literally. Pelican Lake, at this writing, has a couple of spots as deep as twelve feet, although the prevailing depths in the central areas of the lake range from five to nine feet.

That explains the origin of the lake. Now… here is its destiny, at least as I understand it.

The area is a designated waterfowl preserve, with the Litchfield Watershed Management District, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources each participating in its management. However, primary management responsibility rests with the DNR-Wildlife, and the parcel is managed for wildlife, not fish. (See details at the DNR website by clicking here.) Thus, whether the lake should be drawn down has never really been a matter for debate; the endgame was apparently known all along, so there is essentially no room or reason for debate on the matter.

As for me--for what it might be worth-- I’m in favor of seeing the land be placed in its original condition, before humans started messing with it. If that means un-doing the water table that has been artificially set, so be it (and that sounds like what they’re going to do). That is perhaps not likely to be a popular attitude, but it is mine.

© 2010 Mike D. Anderson. All rights reserved.


  1. As you said, no one knows why the water table in the area changed so it is unreasonable to presume that draining the lake down will return it to it's "natural" state. Perhaps it's natural state is as it exists today. How deep is the lake supposed to be?

    This is not unlike the ongoing global warming / cooling farce. What is the temperature supposed to be?

    As a frequent user of the lake I can assure you that the number of anglers who use the lake in it's current state outnumbers the number of duck hunters who do and or will use the lake at least 50 to 1. Government should always work to serve the greater good. This is a clear example of the corrupting influence introduced to the government process by many special interest groups, not that they don't exist in angling and most other human pursuits.

  2. Dear Anonymous,

    I agree that government should work for the greater good, but it is important to realize, also, that the majority's immediate opinion does not always represent the greater good. I am not an expert in watershed management, but it seems to me that decisions about Pelican Lake are being influenced by long-term consequences (the folks who will follow long after you and I are gone). That's an important part of this equation.

    Meanwhile, I'm not sure what any of this has to do with global warming. I will refrain from engaging you on that very complex issue; like many people in the world, I am still working very hard to understand all of the critical questions related to the matter of global warming, while you appear to already be quite confident of the answers.