SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Lake Lakota, part of Newton Hills State Park near Canton, has been dry before but this year is different.
“This year is the worst that I can remember seeing it,” said Lynda Johnson, the secretary for the Pattee Creek Watershed District.
Lake Lakota was developed as part of a dam for flood protection in the Pattee Creek Watershed District. The Lake Lakota dam structure is the largest of seven named structures in the watershed, said Brett Pettigrew of the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “The “as-built” drawings for the Lake Lakota Dam are dated in 1967,” Pettigrew said.
Although Lake Lakota was designed as part of flood control, recreation was also a consideration.
“In the watershed work plan documents from 1958 and 1964 for the Pattee Creek Watershed, a recreation plan for Pattee Creek Structure #1 (Lake Lakota) was documented. So, recreation at Pattee Creek Structure #1 (Lake Lakota) was planned prior to its construction,” Pettigrew said.
The South Dakota Game Fish and Parks eventually managed the lake area including the rental of watercraft such as canoes and the management of a small boat entrance, a fishing pier, a swimming beach and picnic structures.
The lake is mentioned on several kayak/canoe websites.
Today, the boat entrance, beach and fishing pier are silent as the lake is nearly dry.
The lake is part of Newton Hills State Park but is about a mile south and east of the park with an entrance of 288th Street. The main entrance to Newton Hills is on 482nd Avenue.
The nearly dry 90-acre lake is part of the life cycle, said Dave Ulrickson, a member of the Pattee Creek Watershed board.
“It dries up during drought years,” Ulrickson said.
Johnson searched the watershed archives and learned that the lake was very dry from 1975 through 1978 and dry again in 1989.
A watershed letter said the dry years were caused mostly by “low levels of snow and rain,” Johnson said.
Even the heavy snow of the 2022-2023 winter was not enough to increase the water level of the lake, which was already dry from 2022.
“This last winter the snow melted gradually,” Ulrickson said. “There wasn’t the runoff…”
A quicker run of melted snow may have helped the lake’s water level, he said.
Pettigrew said Lake Lakota was at one of its highest levels in 2014.
Johnson said she spent time at Lake Lakota with her own family.
“We did fish in the lake when the kids were little,” Ulrickson said of his own use of Lake Lakota. At one time, the GFP stocked bluegill and perch in the lake, he said.
The GFP is referred to in material from 1967, Johnson said.
The GFP refers to fishing and canoeing on the Newton Hills State Park website. The GFP was contacted for comments for this story but it did not respond.
Johnson found archived material that said the dam and lake were dedicated in 1970. A barbecue was held at Newton Hills State Park, she said.
Ulrickson said the lake has never been very deep.
Pettigrew said the deepest part of the lake was originally 30 feet. “This gradually gets shallower over the years as sediment collects in the lake,” he said.
None of the three officials expect the lake to refill soon.
“This depends on the weather,” Pettigrew said. “If there are a series of significant rains, it could fill relatively quick.”