Lower levels ordered for Freeman and Shafer to protect mussels

Those who frequent Lakes Freeman and Shafer may no longer have to worry about the water levels. This comes after a government agency ordered the lowering of lake levels to protect endangered mussels in the Tippecanoe River.

Posted: Oct 14, 2017 4:21 PM
Updated: Oct 14, 2017 4:21 PM

MONTICELLO, Ind. (WLFI) — Those who frequent Lakes Freeman and Shafer may no longer have to worry about the water levels. This comes after a government agency ordered the lowering of lake levels to protect endangered mussels in the Tippecanoe River.It's led to problems for more than three years.

It's led to problems for more than three years and if the order is reversed, it could be a boon for the local economy.

The Shafer Freeman Lakes Environmental Conservation Corporation (SFLECC) is trying to encourage the use of an alternative plan to save the mussels and their habitat. It would at the same time keep water levels stable on the lakes.

One local business owner has seen the impact of low lakes on the community. He says regular levels could make a positive change for the area.

Madam Carroll owner Tom Heckard says when lake levels are low, the difference is noticeable on more than just the water.

"It just seems like there's less boat traffic. It's a snowball effect, and it really hurts the economy of the whole town," said Heckard.

The problem could be coming to an end thanks to a letter filed by the Shafer Freeman Lakes Environmental Conservation Corporation.

It's questioning the methods U.S. Fish and Wildlife used to determine how high the river levels needed to be in order to protect endangered mussels.

The letter also encourages the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to use an alternative plan that would keep lake levels stable while providing a natural water flow to the mussels' habitat.

"We're solidly behind what FERC is asking for, and the purpose of the letter was to try to tell FERC that is the way we feel about it," SFLECC President Lee Kreul said.

Fish and Wildlife released its final opinion on the matter in July. Kreul says US Fish and Wildlife assures that the alternative is not likely to jeopardize the mussels or their habitat.

But Fish and Wildlife still believe its plan is what's best for the mussels.

"They don't have the right to do that since the dams are not killing mussels, by their own admission," said Kreul.

The decision now lies in the hands of FERC.

Heckard hopes the decision will keep lake levels stable enough to increase the area's popularity.

"Comeback to the lake. Come back and enjoy this. It's a wonderful area, tourist area, and we want those people back," said Heckard.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has no deadline to make a decision.

Kreul says he hopes to hear something before next summer so that tourists and lake-goers won't have to worry about low lake levels.

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