What you should know about fluctuating lake levels
Fluctuating water levels affect property owners in many ways. Shoreline erosion, changes to water accesses and facilities, septic systems, wells, structures and access roads can be affected as water levels rise. Because of the unpredictability of high water levels on lakes that do not have an outlet, landowners should plan ahead to avoid or minimize the impacts of fluctuating water levels.
Staying informed about the water levels and the lake's natural outlet is an important way to better understand the lake level fluctuations and how and when property will be affected. Landowners should also determine the elevation through a land survey of their property. This type of information will assist in defining the level of any structures or facilities that could be damaged, the potential for higher water levels, etc. Where homes or other facilities (septic systems or wells) are at risk of flooding, the best insurance against damage is to move to higher ground, considerably above the natural lake outlet. Similarly, the water supply well and septic system should also be placed well above the natural outlet elevation to assure long term health and safety to the owners.
The best means to avoid damages from fluctuating lake levels is to locate all structures and facilities above the natural lake outlet. This outlet elevation can be significantly higher than current lake levels, but it is the only certain point at which water will leave the lake. Building anything below this elevation results in some risk of flooding or damages from rising lake levels.
Lake level, lake outlet and other relevant lake watershed information can best be accessed by contacting the local DNR area hydrologist . Lake level reports are also available from the DNR LakeFinder.
Local government officials can also be a good source of information about historic water levels and other information concerning public health and safety. Local officials should also be contacted early in the planning stages of any project to determine whether local building permits or land alteration permits are required. The state building code, on-site septic system rules and location of water supply wells are handled by cities, counties or townships dependent upon location in Minnesota. These local governments can assist in defining other sources of assistance and information. They are generally an excellent place to start asking questions.
Water level controls including pumps or gravity outlets (such as channels or ditches) are often proposed to provide relief to property owners. Such endeavors are costly and generally require a permit from the DNR. Because lake outlets can affect the biology and hydrology of the lake and the downstream receiving water bodies, it is important to carefully plan and study alternatives to simply passing the water on downstream. Before embarking on such a process, consult the DNR area hydrologist in your area. Often, a meeting of the lakeshore property owners and the local government officials is a useful step to develop a common understanding of the information needed to properly plan for an outlet project and assess the alternatives to constructing an outlet
In certain circumstances, damages caused by lake level flooding may be covered by a flood insurance policy. Purchase of flood insurance is another means to protect property interests. More than 90% of MN residents are eligible to purchase flood insurance. Before purchasing a flood insurance policy, ask many questions about the limits and extent of the policy's coverage. For more specific information on flood insurance, contact the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)'s publication center and ask for "Answers to Questions about the National Flood Insurance Program".
The phone number is 1-800- 480-2520. Also, details of flood insurance coverage can be directed to the National Flood Insurance Telephone Response Center at 1-800-427-4661. Additional information about flood insurance may be available on the FEMA web site.
Traditional flood relief programs that offer governmental assistance are only available after a federally declared disaster. If there is no disaster declaration, there are virtually no forms of assistance provided other than flood insurance. Knowing your risk for flooding and maintaining a flood insurance policy is the only reliable form of insuring your investments and minimizing the potential for financial loss.
Maintaining natural vegetation in shoreline areas will assure the most stable landscape to reduce erosion as water levels rise. Beaches, lawn areas and gardens have very little resistance to the erosive forces of water. Check the Lakescaping for Wildlife and Water Quality book for practical ideas for planting natural vegetation that will improve shoreline stability. Using sandbags, natural rock or other forms of structural shore protection can sometimes increase the potential for erosion. Consult with your DNR area hydrologist about which shore protection methods will be most effective.