White Iron Chain Of Lakes Association

News & Updates Blog

Congratulations Jo Kovach!

Congratulations to Jo Kovach, past WICOLA President and current WICOLA Board Member, for her new appointment to the Lake Co. SWCD Board! Jo will be finishing the term as District 1 Supervisor that was recently vacated. 


GLIFWC challenges direction of PolyMet Containment Flow

The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), one of the cooperating agencies in the PolyMet project, recently challenged the model provided by PolyMet which indicated that all waters from the project would flow south to the St. Louis River. GLIFWC’s analysis of the model shows that the major contaminant flow would run north into the Rainy River Basin. For more information, see a recently published article GLIFWC



Concerns Expressed about Dunka Pit Permitting

For recent information and concerns expressed about the Dunka Pit that flows into Birch Lake and the Rainy River Basin, read the article Dunka Pit


Twin Metals Hydorgeologic Study Permit Comments Due November 21

The USFS has released notification that the Superior National Forest has completed the environmental assessment (EA) for the Twin Metals Minnesota Hydrogeologic Study Special Use Permit and is providing a 30-day comment period on the proposed activity and analysis described in the EA. The EA “discloses the effects of special use authorization permits to access, use, and occupy national forest system lands in order to collect baseline hydrogeologic (ground water) environmental data. The proposed hydrogeologic study area is located near the South Kawishiwi River and Birch Lake approximately 7 miles southeast of Ely, Minnesota.”

The EA is available for your review at http://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=40756” along with instructions for providing written comments.

Note: The USFS indicates that “no mining has been proposed in the South Kawishiwi area.” As one of our members, who reviewed the proposal pointed out, this activity may not have immediate effects on our water, but could have implications in the future if mining activity occurs.


Winton Hydro Annual Meeting

On October 13, 2015 members of the WICOLA Board attended the Winton Hydro Annual Meeting. To help our members understand the purpose and importance of WICOLA’s involvement, the following is a brief summary of how this annual event began.

In 2004, ALLETE (Minnesota Power) was granted a new license to continue operation and maintenance of the 4.0-megawatt Winton Hydroelectric Project. This Project occupies 365 acres of federal lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service. This Project consists of 2 developments; the Winton Development and the Birch lake development.

·         The Winton Development consists of a 2,339 foot long concrete dam and embankments, a powerhouse containing 2 generating units with a combined installed capacity of 4.0MW, and 2,983-acre Garden Lake Reservoir comprising Garden Lake, Farm Lake, South Farm and Friday Lake.

·         The Birch Lake Development consists of a 227 foot long concrete dam and 7,624-acre Birch Lake Reservoir. The Birch Lake reservoir is used for water storage to supplement winter water flow used for hydroelectric power generation at the Winton Development.

ALLETE prepared its license application using the alternative licensing process, and filed an Applicant Prepared Environmental Assessment (APEA) with the license application. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a Public Notice once the APEA was ready for environmental analysis soliciting comments and recommendations. In response to comments received from the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, and the Minnesota DNR, ALLETE filed what is called a “Settlement Agreement” that includes conditions to Protect and Enhance fish and wildlife resources, recreational resources, and other related issues. In addition to ALLETE, the Settlement Agreement was signed by the US Forest Service, Minnesota DNR, White Iron Chain of Lakes Association, and Conservationists with Common Sense.

The Settlement Agreement sets out the background, purpose, use, implementation, general conditions, and terms for its execution. The agreement addresses the signatories various concerns related to project operation, fish and wildlife resource enhancements, recreation resources, and other related subjects.

Some of the agreement topics of interest to WICOLA include;

-          Target Lake Levels for Garden & Birch Lake

-          Streamflow gauges equipped with telemetry & real time online access

-          Erosion control plans

-          Water quality plan that may be affected by operations including water drawdown

-          Measures to protect, mitigate, and enhance terrestrial and fisheries habitat.

-          Recreational Plans and Enhancements


The Annual Meeting allows all parties to the Settlement Agreement the opportunity to meet and review; License Requirements, Settlement Agreement Terms, Monitoring & Operational Issues, Resource Protection, and any additional new business.


Minnesota Environmental Quality Board Approves “Beyond the Status Quo” Report, Identifying Water Quality and Sustainability Solutions

2015 Water Policy Report proposes solutions to Minnesota's pressing water challenges

St. Paul, Minn. (9/17/15)– Yesterday afternoon, at a meeting of the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board (EQB), a new study called Beyond the Status Quo: 2015 EQB Water Policy Report  was approved. The document proposes solutions to safeguard one of Minnesota's most valuable natural resources.  

“The Beyond the Status Quo report gives us a roadmap for promoting clean water and water conservation. It shows us how water can be a competitive advantage for Minnesota,” said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. “Minnesota companies and communities are developing new solutions to prevent water pollution and reduce water consumption. This report tells this story, and gives us excellent direction for how to make progress.”

The water policy report is the result of collaboration across state agencies to identify goals and propose solutions to preserve and promote water quality and sustainability. 

“Too often we see economic growth and environmental stewardship as incompatible,”said Will Seuffert, Executive Director of the EQB. “With a nation-leading water industry growing at a rate three times the state economy, it is apparent that we can protect our water resources and grow our economy at the same time.”

The report recommends options for reducing runoff, increasing infiltration on urban and agricultural lands, and identifying vulnerabilities to extreme rainfall to make communities more resilient.

“From farming to fishing, Minnesota’s water resources are vital to our way of life,” said Dave Frederickson, Chairman of the EQB. “This report looks at a range of steps that communities and individuals can take to keep our water clean and usable.”

This water report details both the industry’s economic status and opportunities to improve water infrastructure, efficiency and reuse.

“We are fortunate to have abundant lakes and river resources in Minnesota. We need them to be fishable and swimmable, and the choices we make today affect Minnesota for decades to come,” said John Linc Stine, EQB member and commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The EQB is made up of 9 state agency heads and 5 citizen members and is charged with developing long-range strategies to enhance Minnesota’s environmental quality. For more details about the agency, please visit; https://www.eqb.state.mn.us/


A Successful Water Monitoring Season!

9-15-15 (1) Water Monitoring_1.jpgThanks to all the volunteers who contributed to a successful water monitoring season! On Tuesday, September 15, volunteers from WICOLA, Bob D., Chris C., Dave S., and Teresa S., spent a beautiful fall day on WICOL to finish up the water monitoring season. Also, thanks go to WICOL volunteers Bud C. and Dave C. and the many other volunteers who monitored on WICOL, Birch and Fall Lakes this summer.9_15_15__2__Water_Monitoring.jpg


Heart of the Wilderness

On Saturday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. at VCC Theater, there will be a free screening of the movie, Heart of the Wilderness. The movie was filmed in May of 2014 on Garden Lake. In 2015, the film won the Duluth Superior Film Festival Maximus Lepus Award presented to the best film of the festival.


“Guess the Number of Rusty Crayfish” Winner

2015_7_26_Contest_Winner.jpgPaul Sires on behalf of Briana Nihart accepting the winning prize in the rusty crayfish count. Briana was one of three who guessed within one of the 116 crayfish in the two quart bottle. The rod and reel was donated by WICOLA members, Bob and Dolores Delaney.


Another Successful Blueberry Festival for WICOLA and Partner Organizations

2015_7_26_WICOLA_Booth.jpgVolunteers from WICOLA, Partner Organizations (Sea Grant, 1854 Treaty Authority, MPCA, Lake County, Lake SWCD, North St. Louis SWCD, Burntside Lake Association), and VCC Interns talked with approximately 800 visitors to the Blueberry Festival. Visitors to the booth welcomed the information provided about the spread and prevention of aquatic invasive species, and water monitoring in WICOL and surrounding lakes throughout the watershed. Thanks to all our volunteers and all those who continue to work to keep our waters clean!


Invasive Spiny Waterfleas Confirmed in Lake Vermilion

Minnesota DNR, 7-20-2015

spiny_waterflea.jpgAnglers reported suspected spiny waterfleas to Department of Natural Resources staff and supplied a specimen to the DNR fisheries office in Tower, where it was positively identified. DNR aquatic biologists surveyed portions of the lake with plankton nets and weighted lines to confirm the presence of spiny waterflea in the lake. Live specimens were located near J B and Ely islands in the east basin.

Lake Vermilion and the Vermilion River will be designated as infested waters, and signs will be posted at public water access points to alert boaters and other recreationists. Crane Lake, a downstream water, is already designated for spiny waterflea.

“DNR staff are coordinating with the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa and U.S. Forest Service to alert boaters and other recreationists of the risk of spread,” said Rich Rezanka, DNR aquatic biologist.

Spiny waterflea is a small crustacean that disrupts the food web and competes with small fish as it forages on animal plankton such as daphnia. Because of its long tail spike, the spiny waterflea is not eaten by small fish.

The species reproduces by a process called parthenogenesis. Most of the year, the species population is entirely female, which allows for rapid population growth. Microscopic spiny waterflea eggs are hardy and capable of overwintering in lakes, and their small size makes them an easy candidate for overland transfer in water or mud.

When populations are high, anglers can experience frustration with masses of spiny waterfleas clogging fishing and downrigging lines, and other water equipment.

Recreationists on these lakes should look for infested waters signs at public accesses. The signs remind people using the lakes to be aware of the finding and take additional precautions to prevent the spread to other lakes. Bait harvest for any purpose is prohibited in lakes infested with spiny waterflea.

Anglers, boaters and other recreationists are reminded to clean all aquatic plants, zebra mussels, and other prohibited invasive species from watercraft and trailers, drain water from all water equipment and drain bilges and livewells by removing the drain plug before leaving the boat landing, and dispose of unwanted bait in the trash.

More information about spiny waterfleas, how to inspect boats and other water-related equipment, and a current list of designated infested waters is available on the DNR website; http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/aquatic/index.html


Visit WICOLA at the Blueberry Festival

Attending the Blueberry Festival which runs from Friday, July 24th, to Sunday, July 26th? Then come by the WICOLA Booth (#175) and take this opportunity to visit, check out the AIS (Aquatic Invasive Species) materials, and enter the “guess the number of Rusty Crayfish” contest to win a special prize. WICOLA members and representatives from partner organizations will be at the booth to answer questions, to provide updates on AIS in Northern MN and to share AIS prevention information.

See you there.


Upcoming AIS and Water Quality Events


WICOLA members may be interested in the following events on July 21 and July 22 that address AIS and other potential impacts to water quality. The Speaker for these events, Dr. Lee Frelich, PhD., Director of the University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology, is being sponsored by “Save the Boundary Waters”.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ely Tuesday Group: Climate Change and Invasive Species Impacts – The Boundary Waters Ecosystem

                Location and Time: Grand Ely Lodge, 12:00 p.m.

                Summary:  Dr. Lee Frelich will present “Ecological Impacts of Climate Change and Invasive

                Species in the Boundary Waters.”


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Vermilion Community College: Sulfide-Ore Mining Impacts – The Boundary Waters Ecosystem

                Location and Time: VCC Fine Arts Theater, 6:30 p.m.

                Summary: Becky Rom and Dr. Lee Frelich will present “How Sulfide-Ore Mining Threatens the

                Boundary Waters and Voyageurs National Park: The Science”. Dr. Lee Frelich is the Director of

                the University of Minnesota Center for Forest Ecology. He has found research that has shown

                that proposed sulfide-ore mining would negatively affect both the direct footprint of mine

                facilities and a larger secondary footprint that extends into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area

                Wilderness. Dr. Frelich will also discuss impacts to the waters and wildlife.


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Forest Hike with Dr. Lee Frelich

                Location and Time: Dry Lake Trail, 9:30 a.m. – Meet at the Bass Lake parking lot by 9:20 a.m.

                Summary: Learn from an expert about the evolving forest due to climate change and invasive

                Species. A 2-3 hour morning walk on Dry Lake Trail led by Dr. Lee Frelich.



Additional Information on Lake Water Levels

As a follow up to the recent article in the Summer Newsletter “White Iron Chain of Lakes and Its Water Levels”, Minnesota Power has now published on their website the Garden Lake and Birch Lake Operating Band Charts. These charts graph the “Target” lake elevations as well as the “Upper” and “Lower” Operating Bands (Located at the lower left of the webpage). These charts can be used along with the “Current Elevations Data” to help you determine where water levels are forecasted to be and how that might affect your shoreline and dock positioning.

To stay informed about the current water level elevations, flow, and conditions, please check the Minnesota Power webpage at;



Lake County Board Meeting

The Lake County Board of Commissioners will convene at the Fall Lake Town Hall on Tuesday, June 16 at 6:00 p.m. The purpose of this Lake County Board Meeting is to meet face to face with local citizens. This meeting is an opportunity for citizens to ask questions and express concerns specific to Lake County directly to the County Commissioners.


WICOLA Water Monitoring

Neither rain, sleet, snow or below freezing temps the night before could stop the WICOLA water monitoring team from going out at 8:15 am today to complete the first of six monthly water monitoring / testing excursions on our chain. They were wrapped up ready for the cold temps...but fortunately the sun came out once the team hit the water!!


Need Information on Lake Water Levels?

To stay informed about the current water level elevations, flow, and conditions, please check the Minnesota Power webpage at;


And the USGS stream flow report covering the inflow to Birch Lake Reservoir at;



“Spring” Lake Ice Observations “Ice Out”; April 17th 2015

White Iron Lake, Farm Lake, Garden Lake

Some stubborn lingering ice remains is some bays and isolated areas. Most of the lake is ice free so the unofficial call is that the ice is out.

Other Area Lake Reports

Robinson, Clear Lake & Armstrong are all out.


Wildfire - Pledge to Prepare

Wildfires often begin unnoticed. These fires are usually triggered by lightning or accidents, igniting brush, trees, and homes. They spread quickly, especially with the current extreme conditions we are facing in Lake and St. Louis Counties due to a combination of high winds, warm temperatures, low humidity and little significant rain in the forecast until Sunday (4/19). Reduce your risk by preparing now - before a wildfire strikes.

There are critical steps to follow “Before”, “During”, and “After” to protect your family, home, and property. To learn more and to become better prepared, go to; www.ready.gov/wildfires and click on the Before, During, and After Tabs.


“Spring” Lake Ice Observations “Update”; April 15th 2015

White Iron Lake

Although the area between the ring rock points was iced in part 24 hours ago, as of noon today (4/15) it is open all the way across and the high winds continue to erode the ice quickly. There is a large open area off the boat ramp on South White Iron road and it extends up to the narrows at the ring rock points. Ice on both the East and West ends continues to deteriorate quickly.

View from White Iron Lake near the Ring Rock Points




PO Box 493
Ely, MN 55731

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