Mississippi River projects

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This is an aerial view of McGregor Lake, also known as Horseshoe Lake. (Photo by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).


McGregor Lake Project third on priority list, 

other habitat restoration projects move forward

By Ted Pennekamp


Numerous Prairie du Chien area residents became interested in the proposed McGregor Lake Habitat Restoration Project in the Mississippi River following public meetings and presentations in 2014 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Iowa and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources.

The study was still in its infancy in 2014 and members of the public viewed charts, asked questions and gave their opinions as to what they saw as the problems and possible solutions to improve the habitat of McGregor Lake and the surrounding area.

Possible activities in and around McGregor Lake include dredging to increase water depth and thereby creating more dissolved oxygen in the lake, placing dredged material on forested areas just to the north of the lake to benefit trees, and installing erosion protection (mostly to an area bordering the northeast part of the lake) to improve water clarity and quality. A possible stop-gap culvert in the northeast section to improve water flow in the winter was also mentioned. 

More than likely, dredging will be done. Many area residents mentioned several springs that used to be prominent in McGregor Lake many years ago. Dredging may help to uncover these springs once again. More ground water flow does not increase oxygen but will make those areas much colder than they are now in the summer. Hopefully, increased depth and other measures will increase dissolved oxygen. 

It is hoped that the clarity of the water in McGregor Lake can be improved as well. With deeper water, more oxygen and improved clarity, McGregor Lake should attract a number of fish species that have been lacking in the past several years due to shallow, muddy and too warm water. If springs re-assert themselves, one species they will attract will be large, female northern pike in the heat of summer if prey species are also present.

Another possibility that was mentioned in 2014 was to raise the islands to the north of McGregor Lake a little. This might be possible by placing dredged material on the islands. Anyone who has been out on the Mississippi River has noticed that silver maples have taken over in many areas. It is hoped that, possibly, through forest management, the ages of the trees and the species of trees can become more diverse again and, after some years, could become a permanent, self-sustaining forest. 

If diversity in age and species of trees could be achieved, it would lead to more diversity and increased wildlife in the area just north of McGregor Lake. 

Another possible improvement to McGregor Lake would be to increase aquatic vegetation to a degree. McGregor Lake is relatively shallow, with an average depth of 2.5 feet. In 1989, about 75 percent of the lake had aquatic vegetation. Since then, aquatic vegetation and depth have decreased because of increased sedimentation and turbidity resulting from erosion of the barrier islands. Increased aquatic vegetation would provide cover and food for young fish.

The public was enthusiastic in 2014 but has not heard much about the McGregor Lake Project since. 

Corps of Engineers Project Manager Tom Novak said the project has not been forgotten and will proceed in the future, but it has been put on the back burner for now due to less-than-expected federal funding.

Novak said a feasibility study was completed 18 months ago as well as soil and water depth testing. 

“We’ve completed initial data collection, borings, mussel surveys and sediment testing,” said Novak. “Unfortunately, there are not much finances left and McGregor Lake has been placed third on the priority list.”

Novak explained that Northern Sturgeon Lake in Pool 3 and Conway Lake in Pool 9 have taken precedent. The Conway Lake Habitat Rehabilitation and Enhancement Project is located immediately upstream of Lansing, Iowa. The Conway Lake Project area includes Conway Lake, Phillipi Lake, Shore Slough and Zoll Lake, as well as the adjacent island and slough habitat. The entire area is approximately 1,170 acres.

“The financing has not been as robust as it has been for the past three or four years,” said Novak, who noted that when Northern Sturgeon Lake and Conway Lake are further along, McGregor Lake will move to the forefront.

McGregor Lake, locally known as Horseshoe Lake, is a 200-acre backwater lake near Prairie du Chien, Marquette and McGregor. It is bordered on the west by islands separating it from the main channel, and on the east by a peninsula separating it from the east channel. 

The McGregor Lake Habitat Project is being planned under the authority of the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program. 

Project design and construction costs would be 100 percent federal because the project is on lands managed as a national wildlife refuge. Operation and maintenance costs would also be 100 percent federal, a responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Capoli Slough project

Novak said the successful Capoli Slough Project that restored islands near Lansing and Ferryville will have a dedication ceremony in Ferryville on May 13. He said the dedication details haven’t been finalized yet.

Capoli Slough is a side channel/island complex located on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River about five miles downstream of Lansing. 

The project has restored and also helps to stabilize islands to protect the area from large wind fetches. Breached areas were stabilized using rock sills, and partial-closing structures were constructed to reduce the effect of main channel flows. Material to restore the island complex was dredged from the immediate vicinity to provide additional deepwater fish habitat benefits. 

The project has provided both fish and wildlife benefits by creating a “shadow” effect behind and downstream of the islands. About 820 acres of backwater habitat was directly affected.

The project was turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the summer of 2015 to operate and maintain.

Mississippi River islands re-appear near Lynxville

Another river project that is coming along is the Harper’s Slough Project.

Many boaters and other river users may have noticed construction equipment once again in the Harper’s Slough area, across from Lynxville. Island construction continues this year in Pool 9 (river miles 650-653) by Newt Marine Service of Dubuque. Hydraulic dredging is scheduled to start this week to continue the $12 million project which was planned and designed cooperatively with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and Iowa and Wisconsin DNRs.

Since the creation of Lock and Dam 9 in 1937, many of the natural islands in this area and the floodplain forests they support, have eroded and disappeared. This reduced habitat available for migratory birds. Much like the McGregor Lake area, there has also been a loss of forest habitat. Island loss allows more wind and wave action in backwaters, keeping sediment suspended. The suspended sediment in turn makes it difficult for sunlight to penetrate the water and reach aquatic plants. This results in the loss of valuable aquatic plant beds that migrating waterfowl and fish use for food and cover.

The islands will be built using material dredged from the main channel and from the Harper’s Slough area backwaters. To prevent the new islands from eroding, rock will be placed along sections of shoreline and vegetation will be planted. The islands will help protect and enhance existing islands and aquatic vegetation in the Harper’s Slough area, and dredging the backwaters will create deeper holes for fisheries overwintering habitat. Trees will be planted on the higher portions of islands to improve the floodplain forest. Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2018.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, when the Harper’s Slough Islands Project is completed, there will be seven new islands and overwintering fish habitat. This project is designed to provide many recreational opportunities for the public, as well as restored habitat for migratory birds, turtles, frogs, fish, mussels, beaver, mink and otter.

For safety, river users are urged to stay away from construction activities, equipment and the hydraulic dredge pipe.

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