By Rylee Main, Executive Director, Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance - Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance
1. What is the restoration project?
The restoration project at the upper end of Lake Pepin is designed to improve fish and wildlife habitat in the areas most impacted by shallow, muddy water. Constructing new islands and extending peninsulas will protect vulnerable areas from wind to create pockets of clear, undisturbed water that support healthy beds of aquatic vegetation.
The project is viable because special federal funds are available to utilize dredge material from the navigation channel to construct the base of the islands. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is covering 65 percent of the projects costs plus an expected $6 million for material transportation.
Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance is responsible for fundraising the local cost-share, estimated between $3-5 million.
2. Why is restoration needed?
The amount of sediment flowing into Lake Pepin is 10 times above normal and annual loads are equivalent to a city block filled to the height of the Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis. As a result, the upper end of Lake Pepin is impaired for turbidity, or cloudy water, that occurs from suspended sediment. Right now, the level of turbidity exceeds ecological thresholds that predict ecological collapse.
Of course, sediment also accumulates on the lake bottom, causing additional habitat loss, community isolation, and record boat groundings in the area. Without action, the impacts will become more severe and proliferate downstream. Eventually, restoration may become cost-prohibitive.
LPLA hopes to secure multiple benefits through this project by improving habitat, boat safety, and recreational access to impacted communities.
3. How has Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance been involved?
Back in 2014, this project was just an idea. LPLA regularly attended meetings with the Corps of Engineers and other stakeholders involved with the Upper Mississippi River, and kept asking questions. What can be done in Lake Pepin? Is the Corps concerned about future dredging in the area? How do we get started? Can LPLA help get things started? Eventually, a door opened.
In 2015, LPLA and Audubon Minnesota jointly submitted a request to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study the feasibility of constructing islands at the head of Lake Pepin, and in the summer of 2016 our request was formally approved.
In the spring of 2017, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources became the official non-federal sponsor of the project, with the understanding that LPLA would fundraise for the local cost-share and provide public outreach.
LPLA has been updating municipalities around the lake every step of the way and secured the first gift from the city of Red Wing for $100,000. Other grant proposals and local contributions are still pending.
4. Why should people attend the public meeting?
The public meeting on April 4 is an opportunity for everybody who loves Lake Pepin to shape project designs before concepts are finalized.
Restoration is officially designated as a habitat restoration project but is also expected to benefit other public interests (fishing, boating, accessibility). Public input is critical at this juncture to ensure the project achieves its full potential by meeting a wide-range of ecological and social needs in the area. Without it, agency agendas may default to a narrower vision for the project.
LPLA is focused on ensuring the public interest is well-represented. Specific examples of features that will be discussed at the meeting, and their ancillary social costs and benefits, are described in our public meeting guide on our website. www.lakepepinlegacyalliance.org
5. What are the next steps for restoration?
A final report that evaluates project alternatives and recommendations is expected by the end of 2018. If the local cost-share for the project is successfully fundraised by that time, it is possible that construction would begin in 2019. Otherwise, construction will begin when the funding is secured.
Either way, the project is likely to be constructed over a couple of years through a phased approach.
To limit potential delays, LPLA is working hard to secure the local match and encouraging individual LPLA memberships to attract large donors and leverage political support.
LPLA is also developing a long-term vision for the area that includes sediment reduction efforts and future restoration projects designed to sustain healthy conditions and uses of the lake. As such, we are approaching the current restoration project as a pilot that could be expanded to other areas.