CLEAR LAKE - According to two lake experts, there may be a silver lining to the low water conditions on Clear Lake.
On Friday, Clear Lake measured 28.56 inches below crest at the weir, which is the point of reference for lake levels on Clear Lake.
That’s nearly half a inch lower than the 28.08 inches reported on Tuesday and more than six inches lower than the level reported on Aug. 17.
That may sound grim as boaters grapple with how to get their boats into the water with several hundred feet of dry shoreline lake bed, but experts say dry cycles are good for the lake.
“It is healthy for a lake to go through water level cycles like this,” said Iowa Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist ScottGrummer.
“It isn’t healthy for it to be at or over crest 100 percent of the time. Nobody wants to see low water but there is some lake benefit to it.”
David Knoll, director of the Clear Lake Enhancement and Restoration (CLEAR) project, said low water allows sunlight farther into the lake and helps encourage the growth of beneficial aquatic vegetation which helps to gobble up nutrients such as phosphorus.
The vegetation also helps to keep waves from stirring up the sediment on the bottom of the lake and damaging water clarity.
“In some ways it is kind of like hitting the reset button on the lake as far as aquatic vegetation goes. It does help improve the density and diversity of aquatic vegetation,” Knoll said.
Grummer said the negatives to the low water levels involves problems for humans rather than the lake.
“People are having more difficulty getting their docks and hoists removed for the fall and also there are navigation hazards including the shallowness of some of the reef areas which need to be avoided,” Grummer said.
While the lake sits more than two feet below crest today, that’s still far from the record low of 46.20 inches set on Nov. 21, 1989.
Jeff Nicholas of Clear Lake grew up on North Shore Drive. The dock at his parents’ home in the 1100 block of North Shore Drive stretches more than 300 feet from shore right now.
“I don’t care how low the lake is. I am putting my dock out as far as it needs to be to get to the water,” Nicholas said.
He doesn’t get too upset about these conditions.
“Soon it will be full again,” Nicholas said. “When I say soon, I don’t know exactly what soon means. Every time this happens people say, ‘oh, it will never come back. It will never come back’ and every time it always comes back.”
He remembers the low water of 1989.
“We put our dock together with some neighbors (down the street) and we had 512 feet of dock,” Nicholas said. “I figured it was a half a mile walk for me to get out of my bed , go down the street and get to the end of the dock. It was almost a half a mile.”
Grummer said there are some concerns going into the winter with low water levels.
“The health of the fish in years like this is an issue when you have more than two foot of the surface gone off of it and then you put a thick layer of ice in the winter on top of it. You lose quite a volume of water out there,” Grummer said.
“There’s always concerns about winter mortality due to low dissolved oxygen, but we have the benefit of lake aeration in Clear Lake.”
What will it take for the lake to bounce back?
Following the low lake levels recorded in 1989, Paul Fredriksen, chief operator for the city Water Department, said Clear Lake came up 50 inches in 365 days.
It all depends on Mother Nature.
“A person doesn’t have to look back too many years. 2008 was a real wet year. People can remember times when there were 6 to 10 inches of water spilling over the spillway for several months,” Grummer said.
“Weather patterns that would duplicate 2008 would take a real short time for the lake to respond. If it continues with the below-average precipitation we’ve been having, it will take more time.”