Waterfowl and other birds would benefit greatly under a plan to restore Marsh Lake in western Minnesota that the Army Corps of Engineers moved closer to reality on Thursday.
The Corps announced that its chief engineer signed off on the project, moving it an important step closer to submission to Congress for funding.
"This is great news in what has been a years-long process,'' said Dave Trauba, Department of Natural Resources manager at Lac qui Parle Wildlife Area near Appleton, Minn.
Marsh Lake lies entirely within the massive, 30,000-acre state area. The restoration project would restore 5,000 acres of the lake, while also restoring flows to the historic channel of the Pomme de Terre River.
Project cost is estimated at $10 million, with 65 percent paid by the federal government and the rest by the state.
The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council has recommended state funding for the project from Legacy Act money.
At one time, Marsh Lake was a major continental stop-over spot for ducks and other migratory waterfowl. Today, it's turbid and carp-filled, and only rarely used by large concentrations of ducks and geese.
However, adjacent to it — as shown in the photo above — is a specially designed "moist soil management area'' constructed by the DNR, along with Ducks Unlimited and other groups. Using pumps, the area, which is closed to hunting, mimics seasonal flooding and drawdowns, providing a rich plant environment for ducks and other birds.
Despite its problems, Marsh Lake remains home to the largest breeding colony of pelicans in North America.
"The chief's report is important,'' Trauba said. "Now it's up to our citizens, along with our congressional delegation, to stress the importance of the project to the health of the western Minnesota ecosystem.''
Historically, spring snow melt joined seasonal rains to fill the lake, welcoming migratory birds on their northward flights.
In summer, the lake naturally drew itself down, exposing mud flats frequented by shorebirds, while also providing an important drying period for aquatic plant germination.
In autumn, rains again filled the lake , and sego pond weed, wild celery and other foods favored by migrating waterfowl flourished.
"The Corps has undertaken a number of important ecosystem restoration projects around the country, and this would be another,'' Trauba said. "It's been a long process to get to this point''