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Deer Lake residents ponder how to control water level

CLINTON — With the high waters of Deer Lake chewing away at the shoreline, residents are wondering what can be done to keep their waterfront properties from slipping beneath the waves.

A long and rainy winter has raised the level of the lake, and some residents have said they’ve watched as much as four feet of their property wash away. Homeowners said the damage comes from the relentless rain, a poorly functioning outlet pipe and boaters who create large wakes as they speed by. And a large group of residents met this week to search for possible solutions.

“This is the highest I’ve seen it in 25 years,” said Deer Lake resident Roger Simmons.

Simmons was one of more than 35 people who gathered this week in a meeting called by fellow Deer Lake resident Curt Gordon at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on Monday. Many at the meeting said they should think about resurrecting the long-defunct Deer Lake Owner’s Association to become the lake’s primary guardian.

Gordon and Simmons were part of the original Deer Lake Owner’s Association that formed in the 1970s.

Since then, the homeowners association went to court several times to try to get the level of the lake raised or lowered. Those court cases led to the installation of a 450-foot-long outlet pipe, and the mandate to keep the water level between 352.7 and 353.3 feet.

That pipe, according to residents, just isn’t enough. Simmons said the 18-inch pipe is operating at one-fourth of its capacity due to blockage and pipe failure.

“It’s not the amount of rainfall; it’s the lack of relief,” Simmons said.

Gordon grew up on Deer Lake, and recalled the past legal battles over the water level and the outfall pipe.

According to one court case, a camera was sent into the pipe to evaluate its structure and to look for clogs. Some debris was found and cleared, but the evaluation also discovered that the pipe had loose joints and poor ventilation that caused it to operate well under capacity.

“There was a block and it wasn’t plugged,” Gordon said. “It was joints loosened. The pipe’s bad.”

The call to bring back the homeowner’s association was met with caution by a few residents.

Ron Meade said he was worried about potential liability should residents form and join the homeowners association.

He asked Gordon and others to think about how they could be on the hook legally for any lake-related problems in the future, such as flooding, a pipe failure or someone being hurt on the lake. Meade also asked what responsibility they might face from property owners who are downhill from the lake in the event of an overflow or flooding.

Cameron Price suggested that some might prefer the lake with a higher level, because some uphill residents have duck ponds that rely on the high water level.

“We’ve always done the neighbors a favor,” Gordon added. “We’ve always had a blocked pipe.”

Other residents said water skiers and boaters were leaving large wakes and damaging lakeshore property. Rather than banning water recreation, some residents said they want to control the water level more efficiently.

Gordon said he was in favor of restarting the homeowners group, and told the crowd that an attorney would be asked to review any liability issues the association would face.

“My gut says we’d be better off starting out with a Deer Lake Owner’s Association,” he said.

At the end of the meeting, Gordon asked for a show of raised hands in support of resurrecting the association. The proposed annual fee was $100. Every hand went up in support.

Other ideas to better control the water level were suggested by residents.

One idea was to add two other outlets — one below the current 18-inch pipe and one above it as an emergency outlet. The preferred idea was to fix or reinstall a “true” 18-inch pipe that had ventilation and didn’t slope uphill at any point, which the current one does, Gordon said.

“As inefficient as it is, it’s taking on a lot of water,” Simmons said. He said he checks the outlet often, and even during stretches of dry weather, water is gushing  from the outlet.

With an emergency overflow near the top of the lake level, Gordon said that would be enough to adequately control the water level in both heavy rains and dry times.

During a rainy season, the pipe would be opened and the emergency overflow would prevent lakeshore property damage. In a dry season, the pipe would close to prevent the lake dropping too low. An ideal water level remained a mystery to the residents.

The group didn’t officially create the Deer Lake Owner’s Association at this week’s meeting, but made plans to meet again on July 25.

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