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Homeowners face unique flood fight against lake with no inlet or outlet

FRAZEE, Minn. - The murky, dark-brown floodwater sloshed halfway up Verrill Sprunk's boots as he surveyed his driveway Monday afternoon.

Visibly weary, Sprunk assessed the small stacks of sandbags on the driveway of his vacation home at Little McDonald Lake.

The lake has swollen to never-before-seen levels this year, forcing residents to undertake weeks of flood fighting since April with no end in sight.

Sprunk's driveway still sits below several inches of muddy water, which crept around the front of his house from low-lying areas in his neighborhood.

At the rear of the house, the pristine water of Little McDonald Lake has invaded Sprunk's property and continues to threaten the home itself.

Like his neighbors along the large lake, up to 25 feet of sugar-white sand has been engulfed by the high waters on his property, Sprunk said.

He has never seen Little McDonald Lake flood like this in the 20 or so years he and his wife have owned the property.

The Enderlin, N.D., couple have spent nearly three months defending their vacation home and monitoring the five pumps they use to keep the water at bay, he said.

"It's hard, you know?"

Residents on the lake about six miles west of Perham are battling a unique fight: fending off floodwaters in a land-locked lake that has no inlet or outlet.

The high waters stem from unusually wet seasons, an already high water table and nowhere for the water to drain.

The Lake Improvement District board that oversees Little McDonald Lake voted Saturday to move ahead with plans to construct an outlet for the lake, which would allow excess water to run off into nearby Drain 25.

While the vote with "overwhelming support" from local residents marked some progress, board treasurer Jeff Volk said it'll still be awhile before any solution is in place.

Volk said officials plan to submit a petition seeking the Otter Tail County Commission's approval for the outlet, but the process could take two months.

The project will also cost residents thousands of dollars - with no guarantee the outlet can be beneficial, Volk said.

"Knowing the downstream system still has extra water in it - that's going to be the balancing act," he said. "We're trying to determine how to operate an outlet and not exacerbate the downstream problems."

With so much water in the area, adjoining lakes - once separated by stretches of land - have now bled together to form expansive masses of water across the lakebeds and nearby wetlands.

Residents along Little McDonald Lake are taking their own permanent measures to alleviate flooding.

Phyllis Soule has lived along the lake on and off for 45 years, including in a permanent residence there for the past 12 years.

Soule's home sits along a hillside, high and dry enough that the water below only teases it.

But she said she's still lost about 18 trees and as much as 40 feet of grass and sandy beach to the rising lake, which she said rose 2 feet since last fall.

"It just makes me sick," Soule said. "This is the worst it's ever been."

Soule recently spent $12,000 to install rip-rap along her new shoreline to fight the bloated lake.

Instead of clay dikes like Fargo-Moorhead residents use, the rip-rap - made of sand, mesh and rocks - allows Little McDonald Lake to keep its high water quality, a natural attraction for Soule and others with lake-front property.

Across the lake Monday, a landscaper installed similar rip-rap to hold off the waters nearing Sprunk's property.

Jesse Riley of Fargo-based Specialized Landscaping and Design said his crews have been in lakes country since spring, constructing flood protection along shorelines.

Installing rip-rap can cost about $100 per foot, which quickly adds up for lakefront homes, he said.

But with the waves and high water continually eroding the shoreline, Sprunk said the rip-rap became a necessity for his property.

"It's awful," Sprunk said. "Mother Nature can be tough - and she usually wins."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541