Beaver Lake’s new, lower level causes ripples

Candy Neal/The Herald
The Jasper Utility Service Board asked Brian McKenna, director of civil design for Christopher B. Burke Engineering of Indianapolis, to review the water level at Beaver Laker. About 20 people attended Monday night's meeting to hear his explanation.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — The lead engineer whose company designed the Beaver Lake dam’s new spillway said Monday that the lake’s level is a few inches lower than before the new spillway was constructed.

Those who have docks at the lake and were listening to his explanation during the Jasper Utility Service Board’s meeting say the difference is much more than a few inches.

City and utility officials have been getting calls that the lake’s level is lower than it was before the new spillway was constructed. Because of that, the utility service board asked Brian McKenna, director of civil design for Christopher B. Burke Engineering of Indianapolis, to review the matter. About 20 people attended the meeting to hear his explanation.

The new spillway, which was completed in June, fulfilled a mandate by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Should the area get what the state agency considers the area’s maximum possible precipitation, 26 inches of rain in eight hours, the excess water must pass over the spillway and not the dam.

In his report to the board, McKenna said the lake’s crest elevation with the old spillway was 497.71 feet above sea level. With the new spillway, it is 497.67 feet above sea level, which is a little less than half an inch less than the old one, he said.

He said he did not inspect the docks or high-water marks around the perimeter of the lake. But based on the old and new designs’ crest elevation, the lake is a few inches lower than it was before.

“But we don’t see any evidence that suggests it is dramatically more than that,” McKenna said.

Some people said that their docks and the perimeter are telltale signs that the lake is lower.

“With all due respect, the information that you have is incorrect. The only question is why is it incorrect,” said Scott Messmer, who has had a property at the lake since the 1960s. “I can show you 20 different places where it is obvious the lake is lower. Even the dam where the rock was put by the city to stop erosion doesn’t even come to the water’s edge anymore.”

Steve Messmer said that in 1966, his family built a 20-foot dock on the east side of the lake near the main boat dock. “The level was 4 feet deep. We would dive off that dock,” he said. “Now, we’ve got a 13-foot walkway, a 10-foot dock and (the water) is 18 inches deep. I walked out 5 more feet and it’s 2 feet deeper. So now we’re talking 20 feet from the bank and it’s only 2 feet deep. That’s our complaint. We’ve been out there 47 years and the water was 4 feet deep, and now it’s 18 inches. We can’t make any sense of it.”

Gas and Water Manager Mike Oeding said the water department had dredged in that area, removing dirt that had filled that part of the lake. “It is sedimentation from runoff,” he said. “That is moving out slowly and filling that finger.”

McKenna suggested other factors that could be causing a difference in the surface level.

The old spillway channel that led water from the lake to the spillway was narrow and long. “It is possible that there could have been debris building” with the old spillway, he said. “That could have plugged the channel up slightly and could have caused an increase in the water surface elevation.”

The new spillway is wider and more efficient than the old one, he said. As water flowed though that old channel, it is possible that the surface water level increased if water was going over the spillway.

“During times where there maybe is a little bit of water going over the spillway, that old channel could have restricted the flow and caused an increase in water surface elevation,” he said.

Utility board President Wayne Schuetter suggested that dock owners observe over the summer how the level of the lake goes back to normal after a rainfall more quickly than it did in the past, which is because of the new spillway.

“If you’re out at the lake when you get 1 inch of rain over a day’s period, with the old spillway the lake would come up and go down slower. It may have stayed up higher for a longer period of time. With this new spillway, it’s not going to do that,” he said. “With 1 inch of rain, it will go down to the normal level within hours. If we get 4 or 5 inches of rain over a couple of days’ period, it is designed to go back down to normal levels within a few hours.”

The lake will be monitored over the summer, Schuetter said. He said dock owners should monitor as well and make markings on their docks, in case the docks may need some adjustments that could be made when the lake is lowered to winter pool in the fall.

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