Harper’s Slough Project continues, McGregor Lake Project in very early stage

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Dredging and island restoration has started up again for the Harper’s Slough Project, which is expected to be completed in 2017. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

By Ted Pennekamp


The Harper’s Slough Project is expected to finish up this year, and the McGregor Lake Project is in its infancy stage and it will be a few years before public meetings will be held. 

The Harper’s Slough Project is an island restoration project in a 2,200-acre backwater near Lynxville. The $11.9 million project includes constructing seven islands and three emergent wetlands. Construction began in April of 2015. McGregor District Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Manager Brandon Jones said it will hopefully be completed in 2017. 

Harper’s Slough and McGregor Lake are Habitat Rehabilitation Enhancement Program (HREP) projects, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Wisconsin and Iowa DNRs are involved.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service plays a major role in both the Harper’s Slough and McGregor Lake HREP projects,” said Jones. “The FWS is the sponsor for both projects meaning that each project takes places on refuge lands. The Iowa and Wisconsin DNRs provide input in the project design as well. There is lots of coordination that takes place between the FWS, the Corps of Engineers, and both DNRs when designing and implementing the HREP projects.”

The Harper’s Slough Project is going on now and boaters need to take heed, said Jones.

“Boaters and fishermen should exercise caution when they are within the project area. As with any construction zone, all parties should remain vigilant to each other and pay attention to any signage or buoys to avoid accidents,” Jones said. “Also, the construction islands are closed to public access until project work is complete.”

The Harper’s Slough and McGregor Lake projects are not only designed to restore islands and other areas, they should improve fish and wildlife habitats as well.

“Once the projects are complete, the islands will provide, not only migratory bird habitat, but also habitat for other mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians,” said Jones. “The islands will also be replanted with trees made up of a diverse mix of hardwoods, willows and cottonwoods.”

The McGregor Lake Project between McGregor/Marquette and Prairie du Chien was put on hold for a number of years due to lack of funding, but is now back in the planning process. The McGregor Lake Project is expected to encompass 580 acres. The draft feasibility report is expected to be completed in 2017.

Federal funding has once again become available for the McGregor Lake Project, about which public meetings were first held in area communities in 2010. 

“I don’t have a timeline as to when public scoping meetings will occur,” said Jones about the McGregor Lake Project.  “Since the project is in its infancy stage, there won’t be any public meetings for a couple more years yet.”

The scope of the project can be expected to be about the same as was originally discussed, said Jones who noted, however, that there will be some changes because a lot of the habitat conditions have changed since 2010.

The proposed project could include various features, such as dredging the lake, restoring or strengthening the barrier islands and constructing small islands within the lake to reduce wave action. It could also improve adjacent forest habitats. Dredging McGregor Lake should re-open numerous springs which should greatly improve fish habitats in the lake.

In 2010, the main problems in McGregor Lake and the surrounding area were identified as loss of overwintering areas and loss of fish and wildlife nursery habitats. The lake is a wide expanse of shallow water with little habitat diversity. Since 1989, there has been a decrease in the amount of emergent and submersed vegetation, loss of depth in the backwaters and island erosion along the main channel and East Channel. 

The majority of habitat decline is from the impacts of sedimentation due to changes in connectivity to the area brought on by impoundment by the locks and dams. Island erosion is partially due to the above reason, and also from recreational boat traffic and loss of trees in the area. Wind and wave action re-suspends sediments and prevents establishment of vegetation. Flow from the main channel and East Channel threatens to break through the barrier islands into the lake.

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