When the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance created a survey regarding boat groundings in Lake Pepin, they weren’t sure what to expect for responses. They received a couple of surprises.
One pleasant surprise was that 350 people filled out the survey. Another surprise was that of those respondents, 40.7% had been involved in at least one boat grounding. Almost 20% said they had been grounded “a few times,” and 5.7% reported they had been involved in boat groundings “too many times to count.”
“This is a really good turnout for a survey like this,” said Riley Hince, executive director of LPLA. “We usually focus on the upper portion of Lake Pepin and the boat groundings happening there just because that is where it is filling in with sediment, but what we also found through the survey is that a number of people had experienced boat groundings further downstream in Lake Pepin.”
Respondents cited several locations where sediment coming into the lake from Mississippi River tributaries had created sandbars that had caused groundings.
“The overwhelming majority do happen around Lighthouse Island, which is where the main channel opens up into the lake,” Hince said. “If you’re heading downstream, it is on the left and is the island that extends farthest into the lake.”
Hince said it is often a problem when boaters are heading upstream and hit the sediment which makes the lake very shallow as far as 300 yards below the island.
It is hard to tell if groundings are increasing from the data in the survey, according to Hince, but she did highlight two factors that may have caused some of the boat groundings this year.
“In 2019, we had so much high water,” Hince said. “That is a key indicator, because if we have high water, there is probably going to be less boat groundings, but on the other side, all that high water moves a lot of sand and a lot of material. This year we have had lower water relative to last year, and we had all that sediment come in, so it makes sense that there has been a lot of boat groundings this year with lower water and the influx of sediment from the high water last year.”
While most boaters are able to get themselves out of a grounding, several each year hit hard enough that they require a tow, according to Hince. A hard grounding can also damage a boat and can result in broken bones, chipped teeth, and other personal injuries to passengers, who are not wearing seat belts as they would be in an automobile.
Hince said that one other concern is recreational boats meeting barges in narrow parts of the river.
“It kind of pushes recreational boats to the outer edges of the channel, and if they are not careful, it gets shallow so quickly,” she explained. “You need to be really careful if you are going beside a barge.”