Ducks Unlimited project helps improve flow, health of Upper Lightning Lake

Waterfowl in western Minnesota soon will have another quality spot for brood-rearing and migration stops thanks to an enhanced Upper Lightning Lake in Otter Tail County.

In partnership with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Section of Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited has finished Phase 1 of a project to manage water levels on the 720-acre shallow lake.

According to the Minnesota DNR, Upper Lightning Lake was traditionally known as an excellent waterfowl migration, staging and breeding area. A 1954 waterfowl survey reported more than 800 adult ducks and seven broods of ducklings. The lake also has a long history of waterfowl hunting traditions, with public access through a federal waterfowl production area adjoining the lake's east side.

Local residents and DNR wildlife staff noted a degradation of the lake in the mid-1980s. High water levels damaged the lake through an increased number of undesirable fish, poor water quality and reduced abundance of emergent and submerged vegetation.

As a result, the Minnesota DNR designated Upper Lightning Lake as one of only 54 state wildlife management lakes, which gives it legal authority to manipulate water levels to enhance habitat for waterfowl and other wetland-dependent wildlife.

The goal of managing water levels on Upper Lightning Lake is to increase the abundance and diversity of aquatic vegetation to enhance migratory waterfowl habitat and improve water quality.

Phase 1, finished in November, saw 10,500 linear feet of channel improved to facilitate water flow leaving the lake. Concrete boxes were installed as water control structures which allow water levels to be lowered by two feet.

Phase 2 of the project includes installing a lift station and additional inlet channel work to lower the water levels an additional 5.3 feet in in 2016-17.  This will help induce a natural fish winterkill event, reducing carp and other invasive fish, and stimulate the growth of aquatic plants and invertebrates in the shallow lake.

The project is funded through a 2014 state appropriation to Ducks Unlimited for shallow lake enhancement projects throughout Minnesota from the Outdoor Heritage Fund as recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

This area in southwestern Otter Tail County is rich with publicly owned wetlands and grasslands, including nine U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Waterfowl Production Areas totaling 2,338 acres, and four state-owned wildlife management areas totaling 748 acres, within a three-mile radius of Upper Lightning Lake.

 December 2015