Less water, fewer messes at Clear Lake
If you go
What: Rock County Planning and Development Committee discussion on a request by Blackhawk Campground, 3407 E. Blackhawk Drive, to raze a former general store building along the shore of Clear Lake and to create a 3,000 square-foot sand beach in its place.
When: 8 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 10.
Where: Rock County Courthouse, 51 S. Main St., Janesville.
MILTON TOWNSHIP Things aren’t back to normal at Clear Lake, but the chronically flooded lake has gotten a bit shallower and cleaner in recent months, officials say.
According to officials at the lake north of Milton, water levels have receded about 2 feet this year.
That’s good news considering the lake swelled by as much as 8 feet above normal since historic snows and rainfalls in 2008 led to area flooding that seemed to supercharge water tables in the region.
Clear Lake has become the lake that won’t go down—or as some residents say, the lake that’ll go down a little, only to shoot back up when it rains.
It’s a situation that’s baffled hydrology experts and led to lakefront homes getting swamped as water rose and stayed high.
Residents and users at the tourism-heavy lake face concerns ranging from contamination from flooded septic systems to shallow standing water alongshore that Rock County health officials say is a breeding ground for blue-green algae and E. coli bacteria from agriculture runoff.
In recent months, however, developments at the lake seem offer hope of improvement.
The Clear Lake Improvement Association, a property owners group that spearheaded and succeeded this year in efforts to remove two of three lakeshore homes flooded by the surging lake and wrecked under months of standing water.
The group succeeded in part by pressing town officials to hold property owners’ feet to the fire about raze orders the town placed on the houses in June 2010.
One of the homes, an apparently abandoned vacation property, remains standing—still submerged in the lake.
Town of Milton Chairman Bryan Meyer has said town officials are loathe to spend town resources to raze any of the homes. In a meeting last week, town officials reiterated that sentiment.
“It came down to money, and they don’t have any,” association Secretary Joyce Szymberski wrote in an email.
Elsewhere, there’s movement on properties threatened by the lake’s high water. The Rock County Planning and Development Committee plans a public hearing Thursday about Blackhawk Campground’s desire to tear down a former general store along the south shore of the lake and pour a 3000 square-foot beach in its place.
Rock County Zoning Administrator Colin Byrnes said the building has been threatened by high water from Clear Lake since levels began shooting up in 2008.
The work needs zoning approval because of the amount of sand the campground plans to use to create a new beach, Byrne said.
Blackhawk Campground managers were not available for comment on the plan.
Other fronts offer hope, too. Szymberski said lake residents and officials hope science will shed light on why waters come in but won’t leave Clear Lake.
The association in September agreed to a proposal for a Geologic study of Clear Lake by a Beloit College and Northern Illinois University research team. The study, which could start next year, will examine the role of groundwater flooding at the lake.
TIMELINE OF FLOODING AT CLEAR LAKE
2007-2009: Water levels at Clear Lake rise 7½ to 8 feet over a year and a half, as record-setting snows and historic rainfalls create some of the worst area flooding since the late 1950s. Water levels at Clear Lake peak in the summer of 2009 and remain inexplicably high for months. Water seeps in one lakefront home, damaging it, and submerges three other homes along the lake.
May 2010: Property owners group Clear Lake Improvement Association urges the Milton Town Board to condemn three lakefront homes submerged for months beneath high waters at Clear Lake. The group says it’s seeking funding for water and sediment studies to learn why the lake won’t recede.
June 2010: The town of Milton unanimously approves setting raze and removal orders on the three flooded homes, giving the owners until December 2010 to finish the work. The town doesn’t directly embrace responsibility to raze the homes if the deadline isn’t met.
July 2010: The Rock County Health Department observes blue-green algae along shoreline waters at Clear Lake. Rock County Environmental Health Director Tim Banwell tells the Gazette the algae probably is from a concentration of agricultural runoff, and likely bloomed in the warm, perpetually flooded shallows at Clear Lake. Banwell also confirms periods of elevated E. coli bacteria at the lake, also linked to runoff.
February 2011: Demolition has not started at the three flooded homes. The Clear Lake Improvement Association prods town of Milton officials for answers.
Winter/Spring 2011: Owners authorize excavators to raze two of the three flooded homes, one at 8647 Clear Lake Road; the other at 8813 Clear Lake Road. The third flooded house at 8723 Clear Lake Road remains under standing water.
August 2011: The town of Milton reports lots at 8647 and 8813 Clear Lake Road have been cleared of all remnants of the flooded homes.
Summer/Fall 2011: Water levels drop 2 feet at Clear Lake during a relatively dry spring and summer, falling to their lowest levels since 2008.
September 2011: Clear Lake Improvement Association agrees to a study of Clear Lake by geologists from Beloit College and Northern Illinois University. Geologists plan to probe the role of groundwater in persistent flooding at the lake. Work could start in July 2012.
November 2011: Blackhawk Camping Resort presents a plan to Rock County zoning officials to raze a former general store on the south shore of Clear Lake which has been threatened by flooding, and to create a sand beach in its place. Meanwhile, the remaining flooded home at 8723 Clear Lake Road remains underwater, and is believed to be abandoned. The town of Milton has taken no action to raze the property.
Source: The town of Milton, Clear Lake Improvement Association, Rock County Health Department.