Otter Lake

Hutchinson City Council is moving forward with plans for $20 million in improvements to Otter and Campbell lakes. The project would be completed in phases over several years and rely on state bonding funds.

If you support preserving Otter and Campbell lakes, and providing more and better recreational opportunities, there’s good news. The Hutchinson City Council is moving forward with another step in its efforts to protect and rehabilitate the city’s water resources.

In February, members of the City Council unanimously approved an agreement with Bolton & Menk to begin work on the first phase of a multiphase improvements plan of the city’s lakes and river.

“Today and in the future we have a number of projects planned for Otter and Campbell lakes,” said Todd Hubmer, a representative of Bolton & Menk. “They include stabilizing the riverbanks on the Crow River, expanding recreational opportunities — that can be access to Campbell and Otter lakes from either fishing piers or additional canoe carry-in sites, removing sediment to restore other accessible points for different types of boating, and also to add new habitat for areas for fish to reproduce … to provide forage and protection for rearing of young species — and then replenishing top soil by removing material from Otter Lake.”

The latest step is part of a decade’s long process the city has undertaken. Back in 2007, the city replaced the dam with a rock arch rapids that reconnected the lakes with the Crow River and allows for fish to pass. Then since 2015 the city has invested in water quality projects that remove pollutants from stormwater runoff.

“The city has been doing its part to protect these lakes as resources for future generations, and also to improve recreational capabilities,” Hubmer said, “and we know those recreational capabilities have been impacted by runoff over the past 100 years or so.”

The initiatives aren’t without public support, either. In the city’s 2015 National Citizenship Survey, 48% of residents said they strongly supported the city investing in studying and improving the community’s water resources. The city heard that feedback and today it lists seeking legislative bonding support for these projects as one of its top legislative priorities.

That lobbying paid off in the most recent state bonding bill, which included $3.1 million for the first phase of the project. In total the project is expected to cost approximately $20 million.

“It’s scheduled to be phased over a number of years to allow the project to proceed in an orderly fashion,” Hubmer said, “and what the Legislature would like to see and the way that we’ve geared this is to try to get the input of sediment under control before we go in and do in-lake treatments. So this first round of money is really looking at stabilizing the streambanks along the Crow River.

“It’s also looking at preserving some wetlands that can provide critical treatment in the upstream reaches to reduce the sediment load into the Crow River and the lakes,” Hubmer continued. “And also constructing a forebay that’s at the mouth of the Crow River entering Otter Lake to collect sediment in a location where we can monitor it and remove it easily from a maintenance standpoint.”

What’s a forebay?

A forebay, an artificial pool of water in front of a larger body of water, is a major part of the first phase of this project.

“It’s really going to focus on the area where the Crow River dumps into Otter Lake and that delta that’s formed there,” Hubmer said. “So the goal is to remove a lot of that sediment that’s been deposited there and then place a filtration — like a rock arch of some sort — that will allow water to pass through and around it and … allow sediment to drop out into a deeper pool that we can actually get in and manage that and pull material out on a regular basis so that it will protect the future investments that will be made inside Otter and Campbell lakes.”

Due to the river also being recognized as a state water trail, any changes will be made with input from the Department of Natural Resources so as not to disrupt boating and access.

With the agreement approved back in February, the city will pay up to $92,000 to Bolton & Menk for engineering services such as acquiring permits; preparing a preliminary design for the entire project with input from residents, stakeholders and regulators; and working with soil and water conservation districts to help with water quality and protective measures beyond the boundaries of Hutchinson. That money comes from the $3.1 million in bonding the city received.

“Once we do that, then we can come back and talk about the individual items the city wishes to move forward with in probably late fall of 2021 or next spring in 2022,” Hubmer said.