UPDATE: Lake Taneycomo residents and marinas concerned about low water levels

Some boats are stuck and others cannot get out to the water
Published: Sep. 13, 2020 at 10:42 PM CDT
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ROCKAWAY BEACH, Mo. (KY3) - For several boaters, residents and marina owners, inconsistent water levels on Lake Taneycomo have been like a constant guessing game.

The Ozark Beach Dam was repaired last summer after a few issues. Then it resumed operations as a powersite dam.

Residents say, even after it was fixed last year, water levels were not as low as they are now.

Joe Beeghly owns Mid-River Marina in Rockaway Beach. He has two docks with more than 30 slips in total that boaters rent from him. Beeghly also does several boat repairs for people living on the lake.

But right now, water levels are so low he has a few concerns about his business and his customers.

“Right now, we’ve got a low water problem yet again,” he said. "It’s a cycle we go through every year. Today, we have about six inches of water. It’s still not enough to get boats in and out, which is going to shut the shop down. "

He said his customers cannot get their boats in or out of the water right now, and several of them are land-locked.

“If your boat is in your dock or another spot on the lake, normally I would go get it," Beeghly said. "Bring it up here. Put it on a trailer, fix it and bring it back to you. I can’t do that because I can’t get to the boat ramp. If you can’t bring it to me, it’s gonna sit in the water until there’s enough water in the lake to do it.”

The buoy by his dock usually sits straight up on the water, but on Saturday it was tilted sideways in the mud. And instead of water by the shore, grass has started growing.

The dam’s minimum surface level of the is water is 700 feet. Resident Wayne McSorlery said he used an altimeter app on his iPhone to measure the levels by his dock, which did not measure that minimum of 700 feet.

“We’re reading that it is 696 on our dock, which means we are four feet below their minimum level," McSorlery said. "If they are holding their minimum level, then we would like someone from the Army Corps of Engineers or whoever is responsible to actually take an accurate reading of what it is right now. Because I doubt seriously it is at its 700 level.”

Liberty Utilities, which operates the dam, told some residents the low water levels are likely connected to an increase in silt.

“I can’t imagine two feet of silt being built in less than a year," resident Wayne Suliin said. “It makes no sense.”

Saliin said the utility company said he may have to extend his dock further out to where it is deeper, but he cannot do that. Beeghly also said he was told that he would need to dredge his area in order to make it deeper.

“Well you can’t dredge because the Army Corps of Engineers will not allow it,” Beeghly said. “Liberty Utilities does not have the authority to authorize us to dredge anything.”

He said dredging is not an option because it raises health and safety concerns. The silt from the lake would have to be pulled up and then dumped somewhere else.

”The silt is hazmat," Beeghly said. “When you get the silt out of the lake it becomes hazmat. You’re talking I don’t know how many metric tons. Thousands and thousands.”

Residents are also concerned about the wildlife and fishing opportunities in the area,

“This is one of the best trout fisheries in the country," resident and fisherman Wayne Larson said. “The trophy up by the Table Rock dam is probably the best tail-water fishing in this country. What’s happening to it, the quality and the water quality is going down hill.”

Wayne Saliin agreed.

“I know we’ve lived here three years and it’s harder to catch bass now than it was then."

Saliin and others also worry that the low water levels could also have an impact on their property.

“If your waterfront has got no water, that’s kind of a problem," he said. "And it will affect our real estate value.”

Two feet of water may not seem like a lot, but many of the people living on the lake think it would make a huge difference. They hope the dam operators decide to increase the water.

A spokesperson from Liberty Utilities sent KY3 an emailed statement Wednesday regarding concerns of low water levels. The statement said that the utility company made repairs last summer to a part of the Ozark Beach dam that is used to raise a section of its flood gates.

“Following this repair, we have operated in compliance with our Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operating permit and maintained Lake Taneycomo water levels of at least 700 feet,” the statement read. “Allowing for normal dam operations and to accommodate lake recreation.”

The statement also said that the 700 foot water level is the was agreed upon in collaboration with the community of Rockaway Beach. However, during emergencies and maintenance water levels may vary, the statement said.

Liberty Utilities also said that dock owners have continued to see reduced lake depths despite maintaining water levels.

“We believe this is because of an accumulation of silt from years of flooding and increased underwater vegetation in Lake Taneycomo,” the statement read.

Despite some residents reporting that they do not have permission to dredge, Liberty Utilities said it would be a possible solution. The utility company did receive permission to dredge a part of the lake.

“Last year, to improve dam operations, we received a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge an opening at Empire Park from the boat dock to the channel,” the statement continued. “We did this to safely maintain boat access to the channel, which is necessary for our employees to operate the dam. Our employees and local boaters are now able to access this channel more easily.”

According to a spokesperson, Liberty Utilities has also worked with the Missouri Department of Conservation for recommendations on an herbicide that could be used “safely and effectively” at Empire Park to prevent the growth of underwater vegetation.

“The results of this herbicide application have thus far been successful,” Liberty Utilities' statement read.

The company’s statement also added that it believes dredging and herbicide applications are both possible solutions that dock owners could use to help increase lake depths at their docks over time.

Liberty-Empire has operated the dam since the early 1900s.

“We hear the concerns of local dock owners and community members and will continue to seek opportunities to collaborate for improvement in the depth of Lake Taneycomo.”

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