It's a mixed bag for water levels on Minnesota lakes. On some lakes the water has dropped several feet, exposing acres of shoreline that were once submerged. On Lake Bemidji, where a crew of young men is installing an aluminum dock, water levels are down less than a foot.
Joe Eichstadt owns the dock company. His crew has put in close to 100 docks this spring. Eichstadt says water levels on lakes he's seen haven't been too bad, especially lakes that are fed by rivers recharged by spring snowmelt.
"The Mississippi River lakes are about average," said Eichstadt. "A couple of lakes, Movil, Little and Big Turtle are kind of down from last year, but up from last fall, but everything else seems to be alright."
Things were much worse last fall. Eichstadt says many of his customers had trouble getting their boats out of the shallow water. He says some lakeshore owners spent thousands of dollars extending their docks.
"A lot of customers were having us dig the legs out of their boat lifts so they can get more water," he said. "A lot of people were buying more sections to go deeper out in the lake, farther out in the lake."
State hydrologists say lakes in north central Minnesota have dropped an average of one to two feet. But things are worse for some lakes along the Canadian border, including Lake of the Woods and Rainy Lake. Wally Treat owns a cabin on Rainy Lake near International Falls.
"I would say it's at least three feet from normal, maybe even close to four feet," said Treat.
One of Treat's boathouses is unusable this season because there's dry dirt on the floor where water used to be. He says boaters will have to be much more careful this year because submerged rocks, sandbars and other obstacles once well below the surface are now shallow enough to cause a hazard. Treat says the low water will make it a challenge just to get in and out of boats along his dock.
“We do have a number of lakes that are just too shallow and people are going to need to be aware of that.”Tim Browning
"Normally, we'd pull our boats up there and the sides of the boat would be close to level with the top of the dock," said Treat. "Well now, if you're standing in the bottom of the boat, your shoulders would be level with the top of the dock."
DNR crews have been busy preparing some 1,800 public boat landing sites across the state. Tim Browning manages trails and waterways in the northwest region. He says on some lakes where water is low, crews had to dig holes to deepen the launch pool below boat ramps. Browning says the DNR didn't have the time or resources to fix every site.
"We do have a number of lakes that are just too shallow, and people are going to need to be aware of that," said Browning. "What we're telling folks is that if they're unfamiliar with the lake that they want to get on this spring, they should check with the locals and ask about the character of that particular access."
State hydrologists say rainfall this spring and summer will have to far exceed normal levels for lakes to recover quickly from low water. That's possible, but not very likely. Dan Thul, a hydrologist in north central Minnesota says the low water is alarming to some people. But he says it's not that unusual in the natural cycle of things.
"We just came off about seven, eight years of high water," said Thul, "and so a lot of people are used to seeing high water on our lakes. Then we get into a drought period like last year and this spring and it seems extremely low. But it's probably within the realm of normal fluctuations on most of these lakes."
The DNR says low water levels will probably cause delays at some boat launching sites this weekend. It's not expected to be a problem for Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who will spend the opening weekend on Leech Lake near Walker.