In-lake habitat work to begin soon in some areas of lake already dredged

Published 9:57 am Monday, April 8, 2024

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A contractor will begin mobilizing equipment next week for an in-lake habitat project that is slated to take place over the next three months in Fountain Lake.

Courtney Phillips, program and project manager with the Shell Rock River Watershed District, said the project involves placing sunken boulder clusters and rock reef barriers strategically in areas of the lake that have already been dredged.

Phillips said the district has largely dredged all of Edgewater Bay and a large majority of the main bay with the exception of the eastern side, as well as Bancroft Bay and its channel, which the district is in the planning stages for. The project will utilize the contour difference in the lake from dredging to implement the habitat features.

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Phillips said boulder clusters can provide shelter for fish, noting that smaller fish can hide in the crevices and can seek refuge from predators. They will also be a place that microorganisms can attach to and be a food source for smaller fish and invertebrates.

Walleye also use rock for spawning, and fish often forage around rocks looking for insects and other prey.

“It also creates biodiversity between the lake bottom,” Phillips said. “We dredged this area and left it based on the cut … now we’re implementing these habitat features back in.”

In addition to the boulder clusters and rock reefs, the Watershed District is also working with the city of Albert Lea to implement some shoreline restoration work, particularly utilizing toe wood for shoreline stabilization between Dress Island and the fishing pier to Dane’s Bay. This involves placing tree root wads along the shoreline and in essence allowing them to take the force of the waves in the lake.

The city is leading up a separate portion on shoreline work on the main bay along Bridge Avenue.

J.F. Brennan, the company that was used for the first phases of dredging, was awarded $1.3 million for the in-lake habitat work, Shoreline Landscaping and Construction was awarded the $105,000 bid for the toe wood portion, and Pember Companies Inc. was awarded the $181,000 bid for the city’s portion.

“It’s a pretty significant project,” Phillips said. “When we were dredging, that was a nutrient management project, removing the phosphorous sediment.

This is kind of an out-of-the-box type project of putting habitat back in for the fish following the dredging project.”

The district received funding through the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council to pay for the project.

She said she hoped the work would be a benefit for recreation for people who fish.

Planning was done with representatives from several entities, including anglers, Fountain Lake Sportsmen’s Club, Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

The staging area for the project will be the parking lot near the skate park, and crews will also use the Brookside boat landing to get equipment in as needed.

Phillips reminded people to be mindful of the barge on the water.

Based no the tentative schedule, work will wrap up in July.

She said the district hopes that once this habitat work is done they will be able to get additional funding for more habitat work on the final part of the main bay that is dredged and Edgewater Bay.