DNR Plan Moves Forward to Remove Dam and Drain Totogatic Flowage
According to Shelley Warwick, supervisor of the master plan for the Totogatic River Wildlife Area located 10 miles northwest of Hayward, the plan to remove the Wozny Road dam is moving forward.
The dam will be removed and the Totogatic Flowage will be allowed to drain and go back to its original natural state as a wild river.
Warwick said the comment period for the plan ended on November 21 and the comments are in the process of being reviewed.
“There were a number of recommendations for the plan, but the driving force is the dam is deficient,” Warwick said. “Safety is a major concern because the dam is deteriorating. The dam is starting to fail and to do nothing is not an option.”
To replace the current dam, it would have cost $1.3 million and according to Department of Natural Resource officials, the funds are not available.
According to the plan, acquisition of the Totogatic Wildlife Area began in 1941 and was completed in 1951 comprising a total of 2719 acres. This project was funded originally through the Pittman-Robertson Act as a waterfowl restoration area. A 600-foot dike and 70-foot dam were completed in 1953 which flooded approximately 1000 acres with about 400 acres of open water. Fifteen miles of roads were constructed on the property to improve access and provide fire breaks.
“Since 2014, the Totogatic Flowage has been drawn down approximately two feet to alleviate pressure on the Wozny Road dam, which is currently in deteriorating condition. The current height of this spillway is approximately 4.5 feet. Additional drawdowns will be considered as needed for safety and ecological purposes,” the plan stated.
When the dam was constructed in the 1950s, the deck that spans the dam was not designed to sustain constant vehicle traffic, according to the plan.
Warwick said the Department of Transportation built another bridge and re-routed Wozny Road over the summer. This project was used with separate funds, she said.
According to the plan, the new route will create sound infrastructure and address long-term transportation needs between Washburn and Sawyer counties.
State Representative Romaine Quinn said on Facebook replacing the dam at the cost of $1.3 million is, unfortunately, near the bottom of a long list of projects that need work.
Rep. Romaine Quinn stands on the Wozny Road Bridge. Photo from his Facebook page.
Quinn asked, “Should outdoor sportsman pay higher fees to support these projects? Should we spend more general state tax dollars on them? Or do we let dikes like these go and return the areas back to their natural state?”
Several area residents responded to Rep. Quinn’s questions. Some suggested raising the licensing fees on out-of-state hunters. They said Wisconsin fees are $135 while our neighboring states are much higher, for example, Illinois charges out-of-state hunters $450 for a permit.
One person suggested locals in the Totogatic Flowage area raise half the funds while the state matches what they raise.
Quinn was asked why the dam couldn’t be left to sit if a new bridge was already built.
“I asked the same of the DNR. The problem is not just the dike, but the spillway around the dike, which is starting to leak water. There is no way of knowing how the water is penetrating, or when there could be a breach. The fear is that a sudden breach in the spillway would cause damage to the new bridge just a few yards away. I agree that in many cases if we just left something alone it would be fine, but this dike is actually decades past it’s useful life.”
Jonah Place said, “I'd bet that when the dike at the cranberry marsh went out in the flood last summer which is the next one down river, it didn't cost a million dollars for them to fix it.” Place said he thinks the DNR could fix it for a lot less money.
Kimberly Nichols Nielsen asked Quinn if returning the wildlife area to its natural state, would it still provide recreational/hunting opportunities but just on a different scale?
“Yes, you are correct. Unfortunately it will be on a much different scale,” Quinn answered. “Waterfowl hunting and fishing will pretty much end, but there will be other opportunities for small game as certain plant growth takes the flowage over. Unfortunately, from what I hear, the people in that area want it to stay as it is.”
LCO Tribal members have expressed their concerns to Sawyerwire that the lake is used for harvesting wild rice.
Tyler Gouge said he rices on the flowage and it’s some of the best wild rice he has gathered.
The DNR said in the draft plan for the area that wild rice would remain.