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Army Corps of Engineers take action to maintain Minnesota lake levels during drought

Because of ongoing drought conditions, the United States Army Corps of Engineers is using dams in areas across Minnesota to help maintain lake levels. The Corps is also urging caution for boaters going out on the water.

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The United States Army Corps of Engineers recently announced that it's reducing flows from the Red Lake Dam at the outlet of Lower Red Lake. (YouTube screenshot)
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ST. PAUL — The United States Army Corps of Engineers in the St. Paul District is working to maintain lake levels and cautioning boaters going out on waters. The effort comes as Minnesota faces drought conditions nearly statewide.

Because of the conditions, the Corps announced in a news release that it's reducing flows from the Red Lake Dam at the outlet of Lower Red Lake in Clearwater County. The lake is now at 1,174 feet, while the average is 1,174.6 feet.

Both the recent warm weather and the lack of precipitation have resulted in lower water levels. The Corps is working toward a minimum outflow. The last time the outflow was reduced to minimum outflow was in 2012.

The Red Lake Dam serves a dual purpose that is designed to impound water in the natural reservoir formed by Upper and Lower Red Lake during flood periods and to release stored water for supply levels and pollution abatement during low-flow periods.

Another body of water affected is Leech Lake, which is at 1,294.15. Should the water reduce another two feet, the outflow will be reduced by the Corps.

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The agency is also urging boaters to go slow and use caution in lower-than-normal lake levels. The current drought conditions have caused the exposure of even more underwater obstructions. Even boaters familiar with a specific lake may find new hazards with low water. Boaters should also be cautious of floating logs or other objects that may show up in previously open water.

Residents should monitor water levels in connecting channels, as well as access to docks, boat lifts, boat ramps, etc. In some cases, boats may need to be removed from lifts earlier than normal this year, the release said.

Current Minnesota lake levels:

  • Leech Lake, near Federal Dam, is at 1,294.15 feet and outflow is at 120 cfs. When the pool reaches 1,292.7 feet, the outflow will be reduced to 60 cfs.
  • Gull Lake, near Brainerd, is at 1,193.7 feet and outflow is at 20 cfs. When the pool reaches 1,192.75, the outflow will be reduced to 10 cfs.
  • Cross Lake, near Crosslake, is at 1,229.06 feet and outflow is at 30 cfs. When the pool reaches 1,225.32 feet, the outflow will be reduced to 15 cfs.
  • Big Sandy Lake, near McGregor, is at 1,215.93 feet and outflow is at 20 cfs. When the pool reaches 1,214.31, feet the outflow will be reduced to 10 cfs.
  • Pokegama Lake, near Grand Rapids, is at 1,273.23 feet and outflow is at 240 cfs. Minimum outflow at Pokegama is the total flow being released from Lake Winnibigoshish and Leech Lake.
  • Lake Winnibigoshish, near Deer River, Minn., is at 1,297.65 feet and outflow is 100 cfs. When the pool reaches 1,294.94 feet, the outflow will be reduced to 50 cfs.

The lakes are expected to remain low until substantial and consistent rainfall is received in the area. Water levels can be monitored at water.usace.army.mil .

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