Willow River dredging proposal raises worries about sensitive waters and wildlife

Project would remove sediments from Lake Mallalieu that were deposited after upstream dam removal.




3 minute read

Lake Mallalieu (Courtesy Lake Mallalieu Dredging Info)

Property owners on Lake Mallalieu in Hudson, a scenic flowage at the end of the Willow River, formed by a dam where it enters the St. Croix, are seeking a permit to remove large amounts of sediment from about 100 acres of the lake. The project would be focused on areas where many tons of silt has settled in the past decade after a dam was removed upstream.

The Lake Mallalieu Association initiated the application process with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in February. More information about the project will be presented and discussed at the group’s annual meeting on May 6. Some members are already speaking out against the plan, saying it could have drastic impacts on an important area for numerous types of waterfowl and other wildlife.

The current proposal calls for dredging as much as four feet down, removing about 220,000 cubic yards of sediment in total. Work would be concentrated on the northeast end of the lake, and continue about 400 yards up at least one channel of the river’s delta as it enters the lake.

Map courtesy Lake Mallalieu Association/Stantec

Much of the work would take place in a part of the lake that the DNR designated in 2006 as a sensitive area. After a study by agency experts, they selected the area based on “its high quality fish and wildlife habitat, diverse aquatic vegetation, undisturbed and unique terrestrial vegetation, its importance for protecting water quality and its natural scenic beauty.”

Among several recommendations in the 2006 report, the DNR called for preserving the area’s habitat, and for no permits to dredge or otherwise modify the lake bed.

Then, in 2015, the DNR discovered the Little Falls Dam, 2.5 miles upriver, was failing. The agency was forced to breach it to relieve pressure and reduce the threat. Water flowed out relatively slowly at first, and most of the sediment stayed in the former lake bed in Willow River State Park. Then, late that year, an extreme rain storm dropped 3.5 inches of rain on the area and a flood carried large amounts of sediment downstream to where it entered Lake Mallalieu.

“When they breached the dam, we got a lake full of silt and there’s no getting around that,” Lake Mallalieu Association member Jim Thomas said in 2016, the Republican Eagle reported.

The sedimentation has meant that some lakefront property-owners no longer have deep enough water to dock a boat and navigate to the main body of the lake. That led to the lake association’s decision to apply for a dredging permit.

A preliminary proposal for the dredging developed by a contractor claims was completed on January 31.

“Soft sediment removal activities will likely be completed via hydraulic dredging equipment to prevent damage to the native lakebed,” the application says. “Floating silt curtain will be installed on the the perimeter of the excavation activities to contain temporary turbidity. Material will be removed from the lake bottom and pumped to a sediment dewatering location. Disposal location and methods are dependent on contamination and will be part of the dredging feasibility study findings.”

The document also says removing soft sediment will benefit the lake because it will remove nutrients that could otherwise feed noxious algae blooms.

But a vocal group of association members and other concerned people say the proposed dredging would be dangerous and destructive. A recent press release from longtime Lake Mallalieu homeowners John Gostovich and Celeste Koeberl raised several concerns. The announcement highlighted the “sensitive area” designation, as well as the impacts to trumpeter swans that overwinter in the open water where the river enters the lake, feeding on the shallow vegetation.

In addition, the group says the lake sediment contains high amounts of arsenic and other chemicals that have been applied to that part of the lake to control aquatic plants in the past — which dredging could release the back into the water.

The Lake Mallalieu Association annual meeting is May 6 at 7 p.m. at the White Eagle Golf Club. Membership is open to anyone who owns property or lives within one mile of the lake. New members can join in advance here or at the meeting. More information is available here:


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5 responses to “Willow River dredging proposal raises worries about sensitive waters and wildlife”

  1. Celeste Koeberl Avatar

    This proposed dredging project raises some significant issues for our community to consider. As now proposed, this dredging project would:
    • Be conducted in an area of northeast Lake Mallalieu and the adjacent Willow River channels that includes the WDNR “Designated Sensitive Areas, Site #1: 83.79 Acres”, where previous WDNR “Recommendations for Site #1” were that there be no dredging or other lakebed removal or modifications;
    • Remove shallow-water critical habitat within Site #1 where protected trumpeter swans have established an over-wintering location to which a growing population of trumpeter swans has returned annually since the early 1990s;
    • Reduce existing biodiversity by removing, damaging, or destroying critical habitat within Site #1 for endangered, protected or of special concern species, as well as for a great variety of invertebrates, amphibians, turtles, fish, waterfowl, birds, and wildlife now living in and along Lake Mallalieu and the adjacent Willow River channels;
    • Potentially re-release into Lake Mallalieu 3.62 tons of toxic arsenic, plus other toxic chemicals, that WDNR records show have been applied in northeast Lake Mallalieu for aquatic plant control, and that sediment sampling has shown remain embedded in Lake Mallalieu sediments;
    • Increase water depths in Lake Mallalieu primarily for the benefit of waterfront homeowners rather than for the public, while also harming public interests in preserving the existing natural environments and critical habitats of Lake Mallalieu and the adjacent Willow River channels;
    • Be ineffective to reduce the continuous flow of sediment and excess nutrients carried by the Willow River into Lake Mallalieu that impairs water quality and feeds algae blooms.
    • Divert the LMA’s resources and focus away from achieving the two higher-priority public-benefit goals established by the 2022 Lake Mallalieu Lake Management Plan: 1) Improve water quality, and 2) Improve aquatic habitat;
    • Take a year or longer to obtain all required approvals and permits before any dredging could begin; and
    • Be logistically challenging and very costly to accomplish.

  2. Celeste Koeberl Avatar

    The Preliminary Application to the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (WDNR) for this proposed dredging project which was made by the consultant retained by the Lake Mallalieu Association (LMA) Board, raises significant preliminary questions regarding the required standing and qualifications of a particular applicant for the permitting of a particular dredging project.

    Lake Mallalieu is an impoundment of the Willow River. While the navigable waters of Lake Mallalieu and the adjacent Willow River channels are public, both the riparian properties abutting these public waters and the impoundment lakebed properties under these public waters may be and are privately owned.

    The Lake Mallalieu Association (LMA) does not possesses any legal authority or power to independently apply for permitting to dredge along and in any riparian or impoundment lakebed properties that the LMA does not itself own. The LMA is a “qualified lake association”, incorporated and organized under Wis. Stat. Ch. 181 and 281, not a “lake district” organized under Wis. Stat. Ch. 33. A “qualified lake association”, such as the LMA, is a voluntary membership group that has no authority or power over public waters, or over lake community members, or over properties owned by anyone else on the lake.

    The LMA Board’s consultant has submitted a Preliminary Application to the WDNR for permitting dredging along and in riparian and impoundment lakebed properties that the LMA does not own.

    The LMA Board and its consultant have not demonstrated that the LMA provided the owners of these riparian and impoundment lakebed properties with prior notice of its intent and plan to dredge along and in their properties. In fact, the owner of the six largest riparian and/or impoundment lakebed properties where dredging is proposed is NOT a member of the LMA, and this private property owner was NOT informed by the LMA of the LMA Board’s proposed plan to dredge in and along their private property prior to submission of the Preliminary Application for this proposed dredging project.

    The LMA Board and its consultant have not demonstrated that the LMA has requested and received authorizations and permissions from the owners of these riparian and impoundment lakebed properties to apply for permitting to dredge along and in their properties. In fact, the owner of the six largest riparian and/or impoundment lakebed properties where dredging is proposed did NOT authorize the LMA Board and its consultant to represent them to the WDNR; did NOT grant the LMA Board and its consultant permission to apply to the WDNR on their behalf for a permit to conduct any dredging in and along their private property prior to submission of the Preliminary Application for this proposed dredging project; and has NOT decided that they want any dredging to be done along and in their riparian and impoundment lakebed properties.

    The WDNR would set a disastrous precedent by now proceeding with the LMA’s Preliminary Application.

    This precedent would allow anyone who thought any riparian or impoundment lakebed property along or in any Wisconsin public water body would be “better” if it were dredged to submit a Preliminary Application for dredging on that property to the WDNR, regardless of whether the applicant had any ownership of the property the applicant wanted to “improve”, or had any grant of authority or permission from the property owner, or had prior notified the property owner of the applicant’s intent and plan.

    This precedent would establish that upon the WDNR’s receipt of a Preliminary Application for dredging made by an unauthorized non-owner applicant, even if the application were made without the knowledge of the property owner, the WDNR would be required to expend limited resources of expert staff time on the Preliminary Application by investigating conditions regarding the property where the unauthorized non-owner applicant had independently proposed dredging.

    This precedent would provide no notice to the property owner that an unauthorized non-owner applicant had triggered permitting for dredging of the owner’s property until much later in the WDNR permitting processes.

    At that much later point, the property owner would be burdened with engaging the WDNR permitting processes in order to first raise their objections to an unauthorized non-owner applicant’s intent and plan to dredge the owner’s property.

    1. Celeste Koeberl Avatar
      Celeste Koeberl


      The LMA may initiate WDNR permitting processes for the proposed dredging project because Wis. Stat. section 30.20(2) does NOT require an applicant to be the riparian or lakebed impoundment property owner.

      If the WDNR issues a permit for the LMA’s proposed dredging project, the LMA may not commence the dredging project without first obtaining authorizations from the owners of the riparian and/or impoundment lakebed properties within the dredging area, and without also obtaining all other required federal, state, and local approvals and permits.

      As a qualified lake association, the LMA possesses no legal authority to compel any owner of any Lake Mallalieu or Willow River riparian and/or impoundment lakebed property to undertake or to allow the performance of any dredging activities on their properties.

  3. Celeste Koeberl Avatar

    Many people have important interests in these public waters that would be affected by this proposed dredging project in northeast Lake Mallalieu and the adjacent Willow River channels.

    Critical stakeholders include:
    • All Lake Mallalieu Association (LMA) Members;
    • Property owners or residents on or within one mile of Lake Mallalieu who are eligible to be LMA Members (Wis. Stat. section 281.68(3m)(a));
    • Public users of the public Lake Mallalieu and Willow River; and
    • Other interested members of the public.

    The important interests of all critical stakeholders have not yet been identified and taken into account by this dredging project as now proposed.

    Critical stakeholders were not informed of and included in the development of this proposed dredging project prior to submission of the LMA Board’s Preliminary Application for this dredging project to the Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources (WDNR).

    We all must consider whether dredging as now proposed would do more harm than good.

    The LMA Board should now pause or withdraw its Preliminary Application for this proposed dredging project so that the LMA Board may now begin collaborating with representatives of all critical stakeholders in order to determine how best to advance the public and the private interests in the public waters of Lake Mallalieu and the adjacent Willow River channels through projects that the LMA now could fund with its unrestricted 2023 state grant of $2million for the environmental management of Lake Mallalieu.

  4. C. Salmen, Bayport MN Avatar
    C. Salmen, Bayport MN

    Great to see this open discussion on a complex and common problem in watersheds all across the country. Thank you St. Croix 360 for bringing this to light.



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Willow River dredging proposal raises worries about sensitive waters and wildlife