Last week’s world championship canoe and kayak competition did not cause water levels on Lake Nokomis in northern Lincoln County to drop, officials say.
But those assurances do little to assuage a long-held belief among Nokomis property owners that every time water is released to create the rushing current at Whitewater Park in Wausau, Lake Nokomis is drained. Nokomis is one of a series of reservoirs that feed into the Wisconsin River and regulate its flow.
“Our water level drops a ton whenever there is a (kayak) race in Wausau,” said Jim Christensen of Waunakee, who owns a lake home on the shore of Nokomis. “For me, it’s no big deal. I just get a bigger beach. But my neighbors get mud.”
That claim was refuted by officials with Wisconsin Public Service Corp., which operates the hydroelectric dam near Whitewater Park, and Wisconsin Valley Improvement Co., an organization that oversees the dams on the Wisconsin River and the reservoirs, including Nokomis. As of Monday, Nokomis water levels were just under 2 feet below maximum.
Sam Morgan, the operations manager for Wisconsin Valley Improvement Co. in Wausau, said the river essentially splits in two as it goes around Clark’s Island just north of the kayak course. The bulk of the water follows the west channel to Public Service’s hydroelectric dam. The east channel, which is controlled by a small dam under the Scott Street Bridge, leads to the kayak course.
The Scott Street dam is opened during whitewater weekends and competitions, raising levels on the course for canoes and kayaks. The dam is closed unless a competition or recreational release is scheduled.
The river typically flows at 1,500 cubic feet per second and the kayak course needs only 500 cfs, Morgan said. Dam operators can close gates on the Public Service dam to limit the amount of water that flows to the turbines that generate electricity. The remaining water is diverted to the east channel for the kayak course, without releasing additional water from reservoirs upstream, Morgan said.
“We do not modify the river flow one bit for kayak races,” Morgan said.
The only thing that’s lost is the amount of power Public Service can produce from the hydroelectric dam, said Kelly Zagrzebski, a spokeswoman for the utility company.
Still, Christensen and others living on Lake Nokomis believe opening gates for the whitewater course makes a difference. “I know, I know, I believe in the Loch Ness Monster,” Christensen said.
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