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Reclaiming Lake Redwood to restore a popular southwest Minnesota recreational destination

Posted on August 15, 2022

Where anglers once enjoyed catching walleyes, and swimmers played in the refreshing cool, the crew of the Michael B. now toils night and day.

Their mission is to reclaim Lake Redwood and bring back those opportunities to swim, fish and paddle these waters at Redwood Falls.

“The community is really excited about having it back,” said Kerry Netzke, executive director of the Redwood-Cottonwood Rivers Control Area, which has spearheaded the Lake Redwood Reclamation Project.

She was joined aboard the dredge Michael B. last week by Ryan Sands. He is the project manager for the J.F. Brennan Company of La Crosse, Wisconsin, which owns the dredge and was the successful bidder for the project.

Since April 21, the dredge has been hydraulically removing sediment from the lake. The project began on a six-days-a-week, 24-hour schedule, but is now operating on a 24/7 basis, according to Sands.

It’s on track for an October completion. At that point, the dredge and its crew will have removed 650,000 cubic yards of sediment and restored the majority of the 67-acre lake to its original depth of 20 feet. As of last week, more than 56 percent of the sediment had been removed.

When the dredge arrived, the lake’s depth was measured mostly in inches, with an average depth of 3 feet. Even kayakers and canoers had given up on the lake. Their paddles mostly hit sand and muck, Netzke explained.

The sediment had built up behind a dam that was built in 1902. The sediment built up year by year. Major flood events, especially one in 1957, added large amounts, according to Netzke.

German immigrant August C. Burmeister built the dam to provide a source of power for his Redwood Falls Roller Mill. In so doing, he also created a popular recreation area immediately upriver of the scenic falls in Ramsey Park.

There was a public swimming beach at the city’s park on the lake. And for many years, a water slide on the river bluff allowed swimmers to reach the lake with a splash. Many years ago, a few youths used the slide to roll a few cannonballs taken from the Redwood County Courthouse into the lake. Now adults, they confessed to their shenanigans to alert the dredge workers about the cannonballs.

The dredge has not found the cannonballs as it chews away at the islands and peninsulas that formed over years in the lake, but it has brought up other artifacts from the past. The project manager’s mobile office at the lake includes a collection of the recovered items. They include an 1865 vintage kerosene lantern part, a portion of an ice pick once used to harvest ice from the lake, a set of keys, a class ring missing its stone, a Schlitz beer can, and a plastic Nemo toy.

The Redwood-Cottonwood Rivers Control Area and the city of Redwood have worked since the early 2000s to make this project possible. In 2007, $1.6 million in state funds was awarded, but the amount was not sufficient for the work, according to Netzke.

State Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, and state Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, were able to obtain $7.3 million in state bonding funds in 2019 for the project. The city of Redwood Falls committed $900,000 to make possible a $8.2 million budget for the project.

To make the project possible, the Redwood-Cottonwood Rivers Control Area acquired a 140-parcel of land for the sediment removed from the lake. A 18-inch diameter pipeline runs 4.2 miles from the dredge carrying water and sediment directly to the confined disposal facility.

There, the sediment settles and the water is allowed to run down a creek to the Minnesota River.

It takes a lot of power to operate the hydraulic dredge and large pumps that carry the sediment to the confined disposal facility. It all runs on diesel fuel at the rate of 100 gallons an hour, Sands said.

While the dredge is the heart of the project, some of the equally important work for this restoration happened years before its arrival. Since 1990, the Redwood-Cottonwood Rivers Control Area has invested more than $9 million in the upstream basin of the Redwood River to help cooperating landowners implement best management practices and reduce erosion. The sediment once filled the lake at a rate of 1.5 feet per year. That’s now been reduced to a rate of 1.5 inches per year, said Netzke.

Thanks to the reduction, she said project supporters are hopeful that the Redwood Falls community and area will realize another 100 years of recreational use in the lake. The restored depth should allow aquatic vegetation to return and help improve water quality, while also providing more holding capacity for the water powering a hydroelectric generator at the dam.

Briana Mumme, economic development director for Redwood County, echoed Netzke’s assessment that there is a lot of excitement in the area about the project. Improved water quality and the recreational opportunities it makes possible contribute to the quality of life for local residents, and attract visitors and economic activity, she pointed out.


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