White Sand Lake high water threatens homes

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BAXTER—With water already in the basements of an estimated 18 homes on White Sand Lake, other homeowners fear those numbers may climb this spring.

Water held at bay by white sandbags, retaining walls or dismantled docks may find its way closer to homes once the spring thaw moves the lake ice expansion, or spring rains add to the existing high water.

Residents sought assistance from Baxter City Council, appealing to council members during the council's open forum Tuesday.

"I've lived on the lake since '87 and this is the highest it's ever been since I've been there, and I know it's not going to handle that much water if it's left the way it is now," said Scott Harrison, a White Sand Lake property owner who lives along Memorywood Drive. Harrison said he just wanted to make the council aware of what was happening.

Harrison said when he moved there, the water was so low the kids played baseball on the sand. At the time, they had worries the lake would dry up. But the lakeside residents who'd been there longer told him everything was cyclical, and in seven years the water would come back up. And it did. It rose and fell on the cycles. But for the last five or six years, Harrison said it has gone up and up and stays there.

Changes in the city, development pressure on one side and overgrowth for a ditch that once did help move water in the watershed, are part of it. White Sand Lake, in the heart of Baxter, covers 410 acres. Red Sand Lake to the north receives drainage from White Sand Lake and has an outlet on its western shore, which joins the Gull River.

Harrison said he recently came home to see a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources boat on the lake with the conservation officer confirming he was there because of the high water. Harrison reported his precipitation gauge recorded 41 inches since Jan. 1, noting this year brought an exceptional amount of rain.

"I've been on the lake for 40 years. This is the highest I've ever seen it in my life," said Dan Larson, president of the White Sand Lake Association. "It started about 2006 and 2007, the lake started coming up, so it's been coming up for 10 years. It's kind of a 10-year cycle but typically it never gets as high as it is."

Larson noted water is a problem pretty much everywhere. But at White Sand Lake, there are seven houses in danger of being flooded now.

"I'm basically sandbagging right now," Larson said. Larson said he's looked at the outlet to Red Sand Lake, which has about 4 inches of water flowing.

"Some homes are within 6 feet of being flooded," Larson said. "...If we just wait there is going to be flooding, that's all there is to it, and that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars," Larson said.

He added a house not far from city hall once valued at over $500,000 is now $399,000.

"... If every house on White Sand Lake goes down $100,000, times over 100 homes, you are talking millions of dollars in assessed value," Larson said.

For a solution, Larson said the outlet—the county Ditch 10 coming out of Red Sand Lake to the Gull River—has to be addressed. Larson said the outlet, a ditch full of trees and debris, also has a private road crossing it with a small culvert and then more trees and matted weeds and debris on the other side, where the water struggles to move.

Larson said the ditch should be functioning as an outlet and not just because of White Sand Lake, as Red Sand Lake also has high water but doesn't seem to have the same flooding concerns because of its banks. It's going to take coordination of the homeowners living on either side, Larson said. "There is no other way to do it," he said.

"I just look for something to be done sooner than later," Harrison said. "To me, it's a simple problem with a simple fix and without all the bureaucracy of governments and the DNR and the state not wanting to take responsibility for their ditches and who filled it in or who plugged it up with rocks."

Loren Beilke, a Kenwood Drive resident, said they are asking the city to take a leadership role of lowering the ditch and clearing the outlet to the Gull River as a solution, and how that can be implemented in a short time.

"We would agree with that," Baxter Mayor Darrel Olson said.

City Administrator Brad Chapulis said the city is trying to work with the DNR, the Crow Wing County engineer and other agencies to get a meeting late this week or early next week. Another concern for the residents is having the ground freeze before they can work to lower the lake a few inches before it freezes.

Chapulis said their request may have prompted the DNR to check on the water levels this week.

Olson said the goal is to have everyone in the same room at the same time to talk and they'll move forward. He said the council appreciated the residents coming forward to emphasize the issue.