The News Guard
Lakefront property owners packed into the offices of the Devils Lake Water Improvement District on Thursday, June 3, to oppose any alteration to the D River dam, which the district puts in place every year from April to October in an attempt to keep the lake level constant through the dryer summer months.
Current district policy is to set the dam at 9.53 feet, the maximum level permitted since a 2009 review by the Oregon Water Resources Department.
The district’s board of directors put the lake level issue back on the agenda for its June 3 meeting to discuss the findings of a depth study carried out by directors David Skirvin and Randy Weldon.
The pair took depth readings at docks around the lake in the last week of March, before the dam went in for the summer, with the lake level sitting at 9 feet.
They concluded that, with the lake at 9 feet, all but a handful of lakefront properties would have enough water in front of their docks to launch a boat.
Skirvin said the properties that did not have enough water – four at the end of the Thompson Creek canal and three at Horseshoe Bay – would be in the same situation whether the lake was at 9 feet or 9.53 feet.
“As much as I would like to be able to provide enough water to float back there,” he said, “it’s just not going to happen, even at the maximum water depth.”
However, several audience members said the study failed to take account of the fact that many property owners tie up their boats with the bow facing outward, meaning the motor is closer to the shore and in shallower water than the end of the dock, where Skirvin and Weldon took the depth measurements.
Mitchell Moore said that the study indicated his Sand Point property had 50 inches of water at the end of the dock but that the back end of his boat sits in 26 inches of water, with the propeller just 2 inches clear of the lake bottom.
“If the water drops 2 inches from a 9-foot lake, I have to repair my prop,” he said, adding that such a drop could easily happen as seepage and evaporation take their toll throughout the summer.
Lakefront property owner Mark Highland said any decision about changing the lake level should be made on the basis of an erosion study that shows the extent of any relationship between high water levels and damage to the shoreline.
“Logic would tell me that we wait until the erosion study is completed before a decision is made,” he said. “I don’t know whether I’m here in favor of a 9-foot lake level or a 9.53 lake level.”
The district has budgeted funds for an erosion study this year and is in the process of crafting a request for proposals from firms interested in doing the work.
Board member Joe Barnes said the controversy about the lake level is a setback for the board’s relationship with its constituents, which he said had been improving in recent months.
Barnes, who missed the May meeting at which his colleagues decided to add lake level to the June meeting’s agenda, said the board should take full blame for giving people the impression the lake would be lowered.
“I don’t know if the intention was to cram this down your throats,” he told the audience. “But that’s what that meeting gave you guys.”
Skirvin stressed that no board members have proposed lowering the lake level and that the item had been added to the agenda in order to allow discussion of his and Weldon’s depth study.
“This was not meant to be a discussion on ‘let’s pop this to 9 feet,'” he said.
Barnes proposed the board take no action on the lake level until the erosion study is complete and the public has had the opportunity to comment on its results in multiple weekend forums.
No one seconded Barnes’ motion but Board Chair Brian Green said the group’s consensus was to contract for an erosion study that compares summer and winter erosion rates to inform further discussion about the best level for the lake.
By consensus, the board directed Lake Manager Paul Robertson to craft a revised request for proposals for consideration at the board’s July 1 meeting.