Dredging

February 2022

From the Leader-Telegram:

EAU CLAIRE — A unique process is underway to rid Lake Altoona of sand that has presented constant challenges, particularly in recent years.

Construction crews this week began dredging about 30,000 cubic yards of sediment from the Eau Claire River in an effort to preserve the lake’s future.

This is the first large-scale sand dredging near the lake in several years, but it could be a yearly sight if all goes well, said Michele Skinner, chairwoman of the Lake Altoona Rehabilitation and Protection District.

Dredging is required because the Eau Claire River carries sediment downstream into Lake Altoona. If enough sand isn’t cleared, the lake may eventually no longer be a lake.

“If nothing is done to dramatically change what is currently happening, (the lake) is going to be gone in another 50 years,” Skinner said. “Instead of living on a lake, we’re going to be living on a marsh.”

‘Protect what is outdoors’

The mechanical dredging project should be completed by March 1. The project costs about $300,000, which is mainly funded by a special tax levied by the Lake Altoona Rehabilitation and Protection District on properties around the lake.

Mechanical dredging should be more cost-effective than hydraulic dredging, which has occurred in the past. Mike Berry, treasurer of the Lake Altoona district, said hydraulic dredging would cost about $1 million.

Skinner said the lake district receives about $250,000 per year from the tax levy on lake properties.

“Right now it’s simply the homeowners who live on the lake who are bearing the costs of keeping the lake going for these kinds of projects,” Skinner said. “We know it’s do or die … Do you want to continue to live on a lake? That’s the bottom line.”

To fund future dredging, Skinner said the Lake Altoona district is working to receive more funding from Eau Claire County and grants from the state Department of Natural Resources. According to supervisor Joe Knight, Eau Claire County Board member on the Lake Altoona district, the county is funding about $37,000 of this year’s project.

Sand has presented ongoing challenges for the man-made Lake Altoona, which was formed in 1938 when a dam on the Eau Claire River in Altoona was built. A channel has been overrun by sand in recent years, blocking lake access for several residents with boats.

Skinner, who has lived on the lake for 22 years, is one of the residents who had their access blocked. She said the dredging costs are necessary to preserve the lake for boaters, fishers, swimmers and the public.

“There’s recreation right at our doorstep, and to just let that go and fill up with sand, it’s stupidity,” Skinner said. “We can’t let a natural resource like that go … If we want to live on this earth and enjoy being outside, we need to protect what is outdoors.”

Berry agreed. He has also lived on the lake for 22 years and often takes boat rides with his wife at sunset.

“The people that live there get a lot of enjoyment out of the lake,” Berry said. “That’s the motivation for those of us who live in the lake district to be willing … to pay these taxes and make sure that the lake is there for the long term.”

Dredging process

The dredging is taking place at a sand trap on the Eau Claire River east of Lake Altoona. Employees from construction company Veit worked Wednesday to dredge and haul sand from the trap and will continue to do so for about two weeks.

During the dredging process, Veit workers will build a temporary road made of frozen sand taken from the river. The road goes from the shore to the middle of the river, allowing access to the sand trap.

The road was completed Tuesday, and dredging began Wednesday. Trucks dump the sand at a nearby county spoil site. The road will then be deconstructed when the project is finished.

The sand trap is a massive hole in the river built many years ago in an effort to stop sand before it reaches the lake.

Adam Vandenhouten, Veit project manager, said the sand trap allows for more convenient removal because “it consolidates the material that needs to be taken out.”

Vandenhouten said the project is on schedule and should be completed by late February, barring unpredictable weather. For example, if temperatures get too warm, there could be increased water flowing through the river, which could wash out the temporary road. Temperatures were in the single digits Wednesday, which Vandenhouten said was ideal.

‘Trying to do the best we can’

Before making the decision to do mechanical dredging, the Lake Altoona district received input from the nearby Lake Eau Claire district, where effective mechanical dredging has occurred annually for years.

“I’m very hopeful that if we follow (the Lake Eau Claire) example, we will have the same type of results,” Skinner said.

The Lake Altoona and Lake Eau Claire districts are also sharing equipment that monitors the bottom of lakes for water depth. That will reveal how effective the dredging is and if a second sand trap needs to be built on Lake Altoona.

Knight said if this process goes well, dredging should take place annually.

“It really needs to be done every year,” Knight said. “If we’re going to keep the lake from filling in, we need to get into a regular pattern.”

Sand accumulation has long presented difficulties for Lake Altoona. This year’s project is a new attempt to get rid of sand, and lake district members are hopeful that consistent dredging will extend the lake’s life.

“We’re just trying to do the best that we can and save the lake,” Skinner said. “We need everyone’s help and input. We want to save it for all of the people in the area for future generations.”

February 2016

From the Leader-Telegram:

ALTOONA – On Friday afternoon Lake Altoona looked just like normal, its mostly calm surface sparkling as it reflected the sunlight and bright blue sky above. 

But two portions of the lake – the delta where the Eau Claire River enters the body of water and the spot where Five Mile Creek flows in – have significantly less sand, thanks to dredging in February and March.

In recent years those lake entries had become clogged with sand pushed there by the river and creek. As the lake filled with sand at those points, boat travel became difficult.  

Sediment filling portions of Lake Altoona has been an ongoing problem in recent decades and has necessitated periodic dredging of those areas. Past hydraulic dredgings have proven costly for the 300-plus residents who live near the lake and are part of a lake district.

When district chairman Paul Johnson learned the lake would be drawn down 9 feet during the winter for repairs to the Lake Altoona dam, he figured it would be a good time for a different, cheaper type of dredging. On Feb. 3 the lake district board approved spending $1.14 million to remove sand from portions of the lake with heavy equipment, a process made possible by the lake drawdown. 

Knowing the lake would be refilled in late March, lake district officials sought a reduction in the normal permitting process from 150 to 60 days, a move that won the approval of state Department of Natural Resources and Eau Claire County officials. 

Johnson praised the work of the DNR and county, adding “without the quick action of the property owners of Lake Altoona, this project would not have been completed.”

Haas & Sons of Thorp began removing sediment on Feb. 15 and lake district officials hoped the weather would cooperate to allow for sediment removal. It did, and the work was finished on March 8. 

“We were thrilled to see how quickly Haas & Sons were able to finish this project,” Johnson said.

The areas dredged average 3 to 4 feet deeper than they were. In all 214,000 cubic yards of sediment was removed from the lake, at a cost of $4.82 per yard removed. Removing sediment hydraulically would have cost between $16 and $20 per yard, Johnson said, and he estimates the ability to dredge while the lake was drawn down reduced project costs by nearly $3 million. 

“Having that lake drawn down turned out to be a big break for us,” Johnson said. 

In another bit of good news, the project cost $1.03 million, or $103,916 less than budgeted. In fact, lake district board members, DNR and county officials are so pleased with the project they hope to use it as a blueprint for similar efforts.

“This sets a precedent for successful cooperation between these organizations in the future,” Johnson said. 

The lake was most recently dredged during a couple of years beginning in 2008. Prior to that dredging occurred in 1996. Lake district residents are about to pay off the last dredging and will maintain annual $175,000 payments to fund the recently completed dredge through 2026. 

Video of dredging