The Kolls raised five children on Lake Shamineau, watching them smack volleyballs in the sand court near the water. Two were married on the home’s deck.
Over the decades, the family created a classic Minnesota lake sanctuary — a fire pit, an apple tree out back, a nesting platform for the loons who return each year.
And they’re watching it slowly disappear underwater.
The Morrison County lake — about 20 miles west of Brainerd near Motley — is about 7 feet higher than when they moved in, the Kolls say. It has swelled about 3 feet in the past decade, swallowing the old shoreline that’s now at least 20 yards out into the lake.
With no natural outlet, the landlocked lake is overflowing as Minnesota’s changing climate pours down more rain, and development around it, such as roads and houses, causes more water to drain in. Lake Shamineau’s residents now find themselves in an increasingly common race against nature around Minnesota, home to hundreds of lakes with no natural outlets.
Chronically flooded now, Lake Shamineau has consumed trees, roads, part of an RV park and cabins. It’s left the Kolls battling to save their home of 50 years with a new concrete wall, an expensive set of sump pumps in the basement and sandbags for a shoreline.
“It’s just awful,” said Cheryl Koll, a retired speech therapist. “You hurt for your friends and neighbors, too, because all the businesses in the area are affected. There’s a whole ripple effect.”
Lake Shamineau residents are now pursuing a $3.7 million permanent pumping scheme — a project years in the making that has pitted some residents against each other. The goal is to remove 2½ feet from the 1,400-acre lake. That’s a lot of water — more than a billion gallons, enough to fill the Dallas Cowboys’ football stadium 1½ times.
Lake Shamineau is not unique.
“We’re dealing with a saturated landscape,” said Mark Anderson, a state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hydrologist for Morrison County. “Water, water everywhere and there’s nowhere for it to go.
“It’s happening all over the place.”
There are about 27 outlet projects around the state now — 10 in Otter Tail County alone — and the numbers are picking up. Otter Tail’s “prairie pothole topography” means the receding glaciers pocked the terrain, creating bowls filled with water.
Most of the outlet projects involve pumps. Costs vary from a few thousand dollars to more than $10 million, the DNR said. And they require ongoing maintenance.
They’re a “forever expense,” said Tom Hovey, a supervisor in the DNR’s Ecological & Water Resources division.
A complicated fix
Lake Shamineau’s excess water has to go somewhere, residents realize.
The Lake Improvement District — Bob Koll, a retired school principal, is on the board — is now on its third version of the High Water Outlet project, as it is called. Earlier versions ran into opposition.
This latest plan calls for pumping water out of the southwest corner of Shamineau, south along Hwy. 10, through a culvert under the highway, into Todd County and Fish Trap Creek, discharging into the Long Prairie River.
It’s not a done deal. The district still needs numerous permits and approvals from different agencies, and the support of about a dozen downstream property owners.
Then there’s the money. The district hopes to get up to half the construction cost funded through the DNR’s Flood Hazard Mitigation Grant Assistance Program, which provides 50-50 cost-share grants financed by state bonding money. So far, the district has received $65,000 in grant money to study Shamineau’s flooding and engineer solutions, and expects another $52,000.
The Shamineau project was included in the state’s latest bonding package that fizzled in a chaotic legislative session.
“The wild card is, will we have money?” said Pat Lynch, the DNR flood plain hydrologist who runs the program.
On a bright note, a recent vote showed more than 70% of lake residents now support the project, said Lake Improvement District Chairwoman Cindy Kevern. That’s the most yet.
“We’re very excited,” Kevern said.
Under the current proposal, Kevern estimates residents on the lake will pay about $711 per residential parcel for preconstruction costs; and, if the state bonding goes through, about $9,000 per residential parcel for construction.
The Shamineau group hopes to break ground next year.
Make way for water
Minnesota can’t plumb its way out of climate change, some environmentalists note.
Besides taking drastic measures to slash carbon emissions and slow global warming, Minnesotans will have to change how they use the land, and do a better job of holding more water on the land, in marshes, for example.
There are low-lying parcels on Lake Shamineau that should have been deemed flood plain and never developed, said Shannon Wettstein, district manager of the Morrison Soil and Water Conservation District. But many structures were built before the state’s Wetlands Conservation Act in 1991, which essentially prohibits filling or draining wetlands unless they are replaced by equal wetlands, or before the state adopted flood plain and shore land zoning regulations about 50 years ago.
“Lake Shamineau is really a lesson in land use,” Wettstein said.
Julie Aadland, DNR area hydrologist for Otter Tail, Wilkin and Traverse counties, said pump outlets are a reasonable solution if water is affecting roads and major structures. But as more lakes reach this stage, she said, “that’s not a solution that’s always going to work.”
Aadland said the state needs to store more water in its watersheds and flood plains — the flat areas next to waterways. And we’ll need to adjust to lakes being higher.
“I think there’s some opportunity in future development to make sure that our lowest floors are a little higher on structures, and setbacks are increased and our flood plains are intact — that we’re not developing the flood plains because we need that capacity for the additional water,” Aadland said.
Kevern, at the Lake Improvement District, said she doesn’t necessarily disagree.
But it’s important to realize, she said, that residents relied in the past on local governments for advice on how and where to build. And it’s not easy to suggest someone should walk away from a cabin that’s been in the family 100 years.
“This is almost a Minnesota culture thing,” Kevern said. “Everybody wants to be on a lake.”
The Kolls, for one, are staying put. They’re bent on finding a solution.
“We bought our property in good faith,” Bob Koll said. “I’m going to try to do whatever I can to keep the water away from consuming our home.”
“Who would have expected that the water is going to come up 7 feet?”