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13 WTHR Indianapolis | Indianapolis Local News & Weather

Business drying up as Indiana lake is drained to save endangered species

Local residents and business owners say they’d like to see some sort of compromise.

MONTICELLO, Ind. — A popular Indiana lake in north central is drying up by the day and leaving boaters and area businesses high and dry.

“It’s very concerning,” said John Koppelmann, who sits on the lake levels task force for the Shafer and Freeman Lakes Environmental Conservation Corporation. "A lot of people are sitting there with boats that are in their lifts that can't be winterized and can't be accessed to get them out for the winter."

In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered a higher volume of water to be drained from lake, through the Oakdale Dam, into the Tippecanoe River in an effort to save an endangered species of mussel.

But local lake dwellers say, with no rain, the water is flowing out faster than it’s coming in, leaving the lake to dry up.

Koppelmann believes the government overestimated how much water should be flowing out.

“When we started studying it, the numbers didn't seem to be right,” he said.

Credit: WTHR
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordered a higher volume of water to be drained from Lake Freeman, through the Oakdale Dam, into the Tippecanoe River in an effort to save an endangered species of mussel.

A drought in 2014 lowered lake levels about two feet over a two-week period. This time, it’s down four feet.

Susan Wagner owns Susan's Freeman Bay, a gas station and convenience store on Lake Freeman.

"We're in one of the deeper parts of the lake and these people can't even get out," she said, pointing to several boats on their lift, hovering not over water anymore, but dry land. “We've seen dead turtles (in the lake), dead mussels, dead fish, everything you can imagine."

“For some reason, we're affecting one environment to try to save another,” Koppelmann said. “So it's just very concerning.”

Wagner said she’d like to see some sort of compromise.

“That's what I'm hoping for,” she said. “I completely respect the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species Act … there just needs to be some middle ground. And some rain. Lots and lots of rain.”

Koppellman said the Shafer and Freeman Lakes Environmental Conservation Corporation is asking a court to hear their argument. A hearing is scheduled for next month.