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Shafer Freeman Lakes and Environmental Conservation Corporation say lake levels are lower than ever before

Water levels on Lake Freeman continue to decrease. People living on the lake say this is the worst it's been in 8 years.

Posted: Aug 25, 2020 11:58 PM
Updated: Nov 10, 2020 2:28 PM

WHITE & CARROLL COUNTIES, Ind. (WLFI)—The Shafer and Freeman Lakes Environmental Conservation Corporation held a meeting at the Madam Carroll on Tuesday to discuss with State and U-S leaders the problems home and business owners are facing.

As the issue with low lake levels worsen the group is asking for help.

"This is extremely bad," said Gabrielle Haygood. 

Executive Director for SFLECC Gabrielle Haygood said this problem is causing a ripple effect in the community.

"The local economy obviously will be affected," said Haygood. "It affects property values. One of the biggest concerns we have is obviously the safety of all the boaters and people using our lakes."

Those are just a few reasons why people for U-S Senator Todd Young, and U-S Representative Jim Baird were present. State Senator Brian Buchanan and State Representative Don Lehe were also there to show support.

"It's limited on what state officials can do," said State Representative Don Lehe. 

Representative Lehe said because of the federal mandates requiring water to move from Lake Freeman to the Oakdale Dam, there's not a lot state leaders can do. However Lehe says they'll try to help in anyway they can.

"My intent is to communicate with DNR and see if there are some options that we can do," said Lehe. 

Lehe said exploring options through the DNR was an effort they tried 8 years ago. He said solutions were very limited. For owner of Tall Timbers Marina, a solution would benefit him greatly right now.

"Trying to run our business and having people out on the lakes, it's going to be devastating," said Owner of Tall Timbers Marina Gary Creigh. 

Gary Creigh offers a variety of services for customers. But in the past two weeks low lake levels have created a beach where there wasn't one before.

"The situation just doesn't seem to be getting any better," said Creigh. "So we've got to get some help on the state and federal level to get our waters figured out."

Creigh said most of his customers live in the Indianapolis, Chicago area. If something isn't done soon he could lose a great deal of business.

"We have people coming up wanting to enjoy the lakes, use the lakes with the holiday coming up and they are going to get up here and find out it's impossible, it can't be done right now," said Creigh. 

State Senator Brian Buchanan said low lake levels is a tremendous problem.

"We are really going to have to see if we can get some results, get some action from the individuals who truly make the decisions regarding the water flow of the lake," said Buchanan. 

Part of the reason the lake is so low is due to the U-S Fish and Wildlife Service keeping water flowing to the Oakdale Dam to preserve an endangered species of mussels. SLFECC stresses that it's not against keeping the mussels alive.

But it does question Fish and Wildlife's methods. Both groups are set to have an oral argument in court on October 4th.

We did get a statement from Fish and Wildlife. You can read it below: 

"NIPSCO operates the dams on Lakes Freeman and Shafer on the Tippecanoe River, under a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Due to the presence of federally endangered freshwater mussels in the Tippecanoe River downstream from Lake Freeman, FERC consulted with us under the Endangered Species Act to address impacts to these mussels from operation of the dams,"

"FERC initiated this formal consultation due to a request by NIPSCO to amend their license for managing flows in the Tippecanoe watershed. We worked with FERC and NIPSCO to develop a method to mimic what natural flows would be below Oakdale and Norway dams as if those dams were not present,"

"In 2017, we issued a biological opinion under the Endangered Species Act to FERC that includes that natural flow approximation. This opinion provides NIPSCO with information on how much water to release to mimic natural flows in the river downstream of the dams. There are times (such as now) when conditions are dry and both the lakes and the river are low."

Fish and Wildlife also released another statement to News 18 in regards to the concerns and issues low lake levels are causing: 

"Yes, of course we are aware and concerned, and we know that the IDNR, NIPSCO, and the counties put out safety alerts any time we approach or enter these low-water events. Business impacts are unfortunate and a driving force in our efforts to ensure we used the best science available to release the minimum amount of water needed for compliance with the Endangered Species Act."

For information on NIPSCO's response click here. 

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