Swan Lake drawdown to continue for second year

Nicollet County’s Swan Lake will remain in drawdown for a second consecutive year to help improve water quality and habitat conditions, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced Thursday.

At more than 10,000 acres, Swan Lake is the largest prairie pothole wetland in North America and is a regional destination for waterfowl hunters; however, the lake’s emergent vegetation stands are declining due to persistent high-water levels.

Several factors kept the lake from reaching necessary benchmarks in 2021.

Despite regionally dry conditions last year, the Swan Lake watershed received some large rain events. Additionally, a restriction on the amount of water that area wildlife managers are allowed to discharge from the lake slowed progress. These restrictions protect reptiles and amphibians, while also ensuring protection of private property downstream of Swan Lake.

“Our goal in 2022 is to reach full drawdown earlier in the summer,” Nicollet Area Wildlife Supervisor Stein Innvaer said. “This should provide enough time for emergent vegetation to get established, unlike last year when our desired level was reached too late in the growing season to get the desired response from the vegetation.”

Wildlife managers are optimistic about this year’s goals since Swan Lake’s water levels are already two feet below ordinary high-water levels. Managers lowered water levels three feet last year and hope to lower them another three feet in 2022. That means a likely impact to the 2022 waterfowl hunting season this fall.

Lowered water levels simulate a natural drought, which can act as a reset to a shallow lake by reducing common carp populations and allowing new growth of vegetation. Plans call for allowing precipitation and snow melt to begin refilling the lake in the spring of 2023.

“There will likely be no outboard motor access from the three public landings this fall, and we understand the disruption this causes to hunters,” Innvaer said. “However, this is a necessary step if we are to manage this lake to its full potential.”

Swan Lake is one of only 60 designated wildlife lakes in Minnesota. The wildlife lake designation allows the DNR to temporarily lower lake levels periodically to improve wildlife habitat.