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Birch Lake, Lake Chetac Water Level Drawdown

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

Update 9/13/2023 : The proposal to only draw down 6" instead of 12" will not be adopted.

Washburn County has notified the BCABLA that the winter lake draw down will begin October 1, and will be completely drawn down by October 15th.

The BCABLA association wanted to ensure to communicate this to boaters to ensure they plan for the reduced water level.

There is a proposal to draw down the lake 6" (instead of 1 foot) in front of all three local municipalities: Town of Birchwood and Village of Birchwood in Washburn , and Town of Edgewater in Sawyer County. See the municipality websites for meeting details.

The drawdown is important to protect hibernating turtles, frogs ,etc., prevent flooding around the lake in the spring as well as prevent shoreline erosion.

See below for the full communication from Washburn County Highway Department.

The Washburn County Highway Department is required to maintain water levels on Birch Lake/Big Chetac Lake between the DNR ordered minimum and maximum levels throughout the year. For Birch Lake, the Dam is permitted for an upper elevation of 1231.0 year round, and a lower elevation of 1230.0 in the summer and 1229.5 in the winter. Currently, the Highway Department operates the dam with a summer target of 1231.0 and a winter drawdown target of 1230.0. The Drawdown goes between October 1st and 15th each year. Those are the same operational parameters that have been in place since before I started as Commissioner in 2019. A summary of elevations for all County operated dams is included as well as an xcel file showing the historical water levels over the last 20+ years . Drawdowns are all completed by October 15th. Drawdowns may not be moved past October 15th due to requirements from the DNR. Drawing down the lake past October 15th will cause hibernating turtles, frogs,etc. to freeze out ad die. The DNR would prefer to have all drawdowns completed by October 1st each year, but have agreed to October 15th.

In 2020, the Highway and Dam Committee drafted and approved a policy to determine how water levels are managed on area lakes. On all of the lakes that are managed by the Highway Department, we get similar questions to you. Different people on each of the lakes also have differing opinions on how the lakes are supposed to be managed. On Birch L/ake, the drawdown is important to prevent flooding around the lake in the spring as well as shoreline erosion. I can only let so much water out of the dam, so if a drawdown was eliminated, there could be problems. With the policy, all municipalities on a body of water controlled by a dam need to provide me with approved minutes recommending the same change. If one municipality recommends something different, no changes are made. For Birch Lake/Big Chetac Lake, you have the Town of Birchwood and Village of Birchwood in Washburn , and Town of Edgewater in Sawyer County.

For this fall, all 3 municipalities are adding an agenda items to their September meetings to change the drawdown to a 6” drawdown from October 1st to 15th. They will get me draft minutes prior to the drawdown and approved minutes in October before the drawdown is over. A 6’ drawdown will not fix all of the problems you have indicated, but should provide enough storage in the spring, and provide access to more property owners on the lake in the fall. If all 3 do not agree, then we will stay with a 1’ drawdown this winter.

Birch Lake Water Level History
Download XLSX • 91KB

Summary of Elevations
Download PDF • 65KB

CURRENT Washburn-County-Dam-Policy
Download PDF • 75KB

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Please include the historical draw down information Washburn County provided.

Who is asking for a change? For what reason?

Why are the towns, on such short notice to riparian owners, considering half the established draw down?

Replying to

Thanks for the posts.

The Washburn County website posts both the dam policy and summary information.

The 2023 notice for the normal 1 foot drawdown has been posted for a while and that is what people are expecting.

As of Sunday morning, Edgewater has not posted their agenda.

The town and village of Birchwood posted their agendas at the end of the week.

The notice is not sufficient as it simply says 6 inch drawdown for 2023 and riparian owners will be caught unaware.

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