Big Changes Happening on August 7, 2019.

COUNTDOWN: DAYS HRS MINS SECS

Many voices help bring lake level issues to quick resolution

Sometimes, it pays to make waves.

As area boaters take to the water, especially during the upcoming Fourth of July holidays, they should take a moment, as do we, in congratulating the Shawano Area Waterways Management (SAWM) board and members for their timely and persistent campaign to get water levels raised.

We welcome the June 26 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) order that water levels at the Shawano dam be maintained at 802.9 feet above mean sea level (msl) until Nov. 15. As advocated by SAWM and supported by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the rise of 4-5 inches provides greater safety for boaters and more extensive access to the waters above the dam.

Walleyes for Tomorrow and Sturgeon for Tomorrow have countered that 802.5 msl is necessary for a healthy fishery in the years to come. As spawning is long past this year for walleyes and sturgeon, there should not be a negative impact through November.

Because this order is temporary, it gives all stakeholders time to take a collective deep breath and decide on how to set a water level that is in the long-term best interests of Shawano area waterways and the entire Wolf River Watershed.

We cannot pit walleyes against waterskiers or choose sturgeon over swimmers in finding a permanent solution to Shawano area water levels. What is critical is that all groups pool their ideas and goals into a single agenda. We must rely on fact and evidence.

After hearing from all sides, knowing the history of the controversy since 2015 and with information currently available, we believe that a definitive study will point to a compromise in matching water levels to dates that accommodate the fisheries as well as recreational boaters. We couldn’t say it better than Gary DeFere, SAWM president: “We really want the same thing. It doesn’t make sense to burn bridges.”

We appreciate the frustration of landowners and anglers in waiting for yet more work to be done. While we acknowledge that SAWM and other groups have already spent thousands of dollars and volunteers have devoted hundreds of hours to the subject, we endorse the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ suggestion for a three-year study.

As outlined by Jean Romback-Bartels, DNR secretary’s director, “We believe the initial need will be to acquire and place water level gauges in key rock and spawning areas in Shawano Lake and below the Shawano dam, as far downstream as Fremont and Lake Poygan if necessary,” Romback-Bartels said in a letter to FERC. She was commenting on the application of the Shawano dam’s operator, Eagle Creek Renewable Energy for the higher water level to FERC.

When the results are tallied, “The DNR will work with SAWM and Eagle Creek to close out this discussion (if no scientific impact is realized) or to reopen discussions on how to best manage the impact on the world class walleye and sturgeon population,” she said.

We urge all stakeholders to be willing to participate in the study, be willing to accept the facts and evidence generated and take the long view on the health of our area waters. And in the meantime, to enjoy their time on the water.