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Shelby Township

October 21, 2013

Stony Creek Lake level drops 6-8 feet for dam repairs

Visitors can see the creek that the lake replaced

By Sarah Wojcik
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Stony Creek Lake level drops 6-8 feet for dam repairs
The water levels on the south side of the north dam at Stony Creek Metropark have been greatly reduced; the water that is left reveals what Stony Creek looked like 50 years ago before the creation of the manmade lake.

SHELBY TOWNSHIP — While Stony Creek Lake, which covers about 500 acres, is lowered as much as 3 feet every year to help control soil erosion and prevent shifting ice from damaging piers and fishing docks, this year is different.

Gary Hopp, operations manager for Stony Creek and Wolcott Mill metroparks, said that the park hired a contractor to do repair work on the south dam — the large dam located near the boat launch — which required water levels to be further reduced.

“There is a large valve that is faulty, leaking water past it, and it needs to be replaced,” he said. “This was necessary — not something we wished to do. It was a project we were forced to take on due to the condition of that valve.”

Multiple valves besides the main valve are being replaced at the same time, as well as some loose parts. Hopp said the structure is 50 years old, so the maintenance was due, but he hopes the park will not have to endure such an event for quite a while.

“This extreme of a drawdown is quite unusual,” Hopp said. “Our goal is to bring the water level up as fast as we can to cause fewer problems.”

Park Interpreter Charlie Sheldon said the lake is down 6-8 feet, which is not incredible, but some of the wildlife has been affected, especially more stationary animals like the freshwater clams.

“It’s not actually such a bad thing,” he said, adding that migrating shorebirds are taking advantage of the opportunity to eat the exposed clams and smaller fish, and that the clams appear large, healthy and free of zebra mussels — a sign that the 50-year-old man-made lake is clean.

Ruth Glass, the nature center’s volunteer bird expert, said she also is worried about muskrats, which are aquatic, because their homes have been left high and dry.

“The water drawdown is a good thing to get rid of invasive seaweed,” she said. “But when the (water levels) fill back in, the water will be sort of oxygen-poor for a little while.”

Stony Creek officials lowered the lake to exactly where they needed to make the crucial repair by controlling the flow of water out of the lake through a floating dam. The floating dam is hinged on one side, and its structure holds a reservoir of water that rises or lowers by adding to or releasing the water inside.

Hopp said work started just after July 4 and consisted of lowering the lake 4-5 inches to measure the valve that needed to be replaced. Just after Labor Day, they began to drop the levels more drastically.

“You have to be real cautious about how much water you send down the river,” he said. “It affects residents beneath us, so you do it quite slowly in a measured amount to allow it to go downriver so that you’re not impacting those beneath us.”

Sheldon added that drawing the water out slowly also allows for more aquatic life to transition to deeper parts of the lake. He said the deepest parts of the lake are typically between 22-27 feet, but now are around 15-20 feet.

“The only issue is that it’s a little more crowded until the water levels come back up, but that typically isn’t a problem,” Sheldon said. “We don’t expect a need for restocking.”

A benefit of the lowered water levels is the opportunity to perform other maintenance work and shoreline rehabilitation. Hopp said the park routinely pulls out garbage cans and picnic tables from the lake when it is lowered, but the dam repair facilitated a more in-depth cleaning opportunity.

On Oct. 12, the Stony Creek Nature Center hosted its first group shoreline cleanup event. About 55 volunteers picked up more than 1,000 pounds of trash from along the Stony Creek Lake shoreline, according to Glass. Seven teams worked on eight sections of shoreline, and another team of kayakers handled the water near the north side of the north dam.

Volunteers retrieved thousands of yards of fishing line, which was the main target and problem, as well as ropes, pipes, hundreds of plastic bottles and bags, clothing, towels, blankets, tackle boxes, fishing lures, swim goggles, a boat’s manufacturer’s plate, and a copper urn, Glass said.

Sheldon said volunteers also pulled out a tire and discovered about a dozen picnic tables. One of them, he added, had lures hooked onto it still attached to fishing line.

Glass said through the effort, the nature center might also have identified potential Eagle Scouts willing to build and erect fishing line disposal receptacles as their project, which would help reduce animal accidents. Recently, a park eagle injured her leg when she became entangled in fishing line, which is what prompted the cleanup.

Hopp said that much of the valve work has been completed, that the final repairs are underway and that he hopes the project will wrap up before winter really sets in so the water levels can be brought back up.

As for bringing the lake back up once the winter is over and ice no longer proves to be a threat to docks and piers, Hopp said it is all dependent on Mother Nature.

“In a wet period, (levels) come up rather quickly, and when you have a dry period, it takes even longer,” he said. “Even in a very wet period, you’re talking potentially a week for that water to come back up.”

Sheldon strongly recommended checking out the south side of the north dam, which is near the bridge that patrons drive over in the park, for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: With the reduced water levels, the original Stony Creek is visible trickling along the lakebed.

“It’s the only time you’ll see in your life what (Stony Creek) looked like in 1963, 1964,” he said. “Right at the dam, you can see the creek. It’s only about a foot deep.”

For more information, call the Stony Creek Metropark office at (586) 781-4242.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at swojcik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.