Elmo Lake water level in Billings has dropped about eight feet to eradicate invasive clams
BILLINGS – In an effort to kill the invasive Asian clams, the water levels at Lake Elmo State Park in Billings still have between eight and 10 feet to drop before the body of water is completely empty, said Bob Gibson, Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks Wednesday Communication and Education Program Manager.
“We want all the invasive Asian clams that are here to freeze, starve and dry out here in the winter. And that will hopefully eradicate them, ”Gibson said.
So far between six and eight feet of water has been drained from the lake and large sections of the lake bed have been exposed.
“This is the only place in Montana where they have been found and we want it to be that way. We don’t want them to accidentally go downstream, into the Yellowstone River and wherever it goes,” Gibson said.
The lake is fed by water from the Billings Bench Water Association’s canal system and water levels have dropped in the 61-acre man-made lake. since September 1.
The water association ends the service on Oct. 15, and then goes full steam ahead to let the lake drain completely, Gibson said. Each season, the water level fluctuates two or three feet depending on irrigation needs, but the lake hasn’t been this low in at least 30 years, Gibson said.
The last major drain to Lake Elmo was in the 1970s or 1980s to repair a front door, Gibson said.
On Wednesday, crews were seen digging a trench from the front door near Lake Elmo Drive to deeper water to allow for better drainage.
“When we go down to eight feet or 10 feet or more, the lake doesn’t flow as well. So we’re back here digging a channel between the deep end of the lake and this gateway to keep the water flowing over there, ”Gibson said.
It is likely that pumps will have to be used to extract the remaining water, Gibson said. The water can be pumped downstream or upstream, without fear of further spreading the clams, as the water will dry up and the clams will freeze and die anyway, Gibson said.
“Any water that goes up in there will go into the ditch and dry up and freeze over the winter or go into farm fields where it will dry up and freeze over the winter,” Gibson said.
While it is dry, access to the lake bed is open to the public, but people are asked not to comb the beach for treasurers, use a metal detector, or dig into the lake bed . It is against state law to disturb or remove topsoil in state parks.
Gibson said the law is more focused on state parks like Bannack, the ghost town that was the site of the state’s first major gold discovery in 1862. But there may still be historical artifacts at Lake Elmo.
“We don’t even want people to come and think they’re doing the right thing picking up old beer cans and beer bottles and stuff like that, because we don’t want something to accidentally come out of here. “Gibson said. .
The Wildlife Department will likely organize a garbage pickup to remove legitimate garbage from the lake bed once it is emptied, Gibson said.
People are urged not to remove any clams they find either. There is a species of clam native to Lake Elmo that looks a lot like invasive Asian clams, Gibson said.
They take the eye of a trained biologist to tell them apart, and it would be a shame to introduce a new invasive species into the Yellowstone River or other body of water, even by accident.
“We’re trying to dry them out. The other problem is that the people who picked up what they think are native, put them in a bucket and try to take them into the Yellowstone River. You accidentally get one of those clams in the river. Yellowstone River, that has defeated everything we’re trying to do here, ”Gibson said.
Clams cause problems by clogging irrigation or municipal water lines. They can grow and attach inside pipes, but also burrow into sandy lakes and river beds.
Gibson said when biologists first found the clams near the boat launch on the north side of the lake in 2019, they were only found in the first inch or two of mud.
“It’s not like they’re digging six feet. So we think a good cold winter and a little bit of frost going into the lake bed, in the mud will freeze them, starve them and dry them out and that will kill them all, “Gibson said.
Another problem with Asian clams is that they have the potential to harm the local ecosystem and the food chain, Gibson said. Clams are filter feeders, straining plankton and microorganisms from the water to eat. Clams could take plankton from other native wildlife, which could reduce populations of larger fish in the food chain.
“This can eventually affect the life of the fish in the lake or wherever it goes,” Gibson said.
The dry lake will allow construction crews easy access to add new amenities to the park, valued at approximately $ 500,000. Work has already started on a manual boat launch near the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks office at the south end of the lake.
A welcome addition for users of the 1.4 mile walking trail around the lake will be a newly constructed trail around the section near Lake Elmo Drive. The section is currently steep, rocky and close to the road, which features a winding S-curve for vehicles.
Billings resident Clark Finch, 74, said he was excited about the new 8-foot-wide section of walking trail. He said it would be good for him and his 158-pound Anatolian Shepherd, Max, to be further away from traffic during their four weekly walks around the lake.
“There are a lot of times I walk over there, people drive by, you know how it is today with my head down in their phones. And you are right by the side of the road. So move the path away from the road. Then you look at the power lines over there, there are a lot of fishing lines. So it will be on the other side. It will be a lot safer, it will be awesome, ”Finch said.
Construction will also add a rock fishing pier on the south side of the lake that is wheelchair accessible so people can fish in deeper water. The feature will also have an underwater fish habitat built at its base for the growth of young bass and perch.
Other outcrops to deeper water will also be added on the northeast side of the lake.
When the lake is re-filled in the next irrigation season, all of the wildlife in the Yellowstone River will eventually make their way to Lake Elmo, such as suckers and carp, Gibson said.
The wildlife department will likely stock additional fish, such as trout, perch, bass, catfish, and crappie.
“Those little sunfish and things like that, that’s the start of the food chain that we need for the bigger fish to eat the smaller ones. Then we’ll have places where all these other fish can spawn and reproduce naturally. We will continue to stock them and improve this fishery as needed. As we find out what happens, what doesn’t and how things work, ”Gibson said.
Lately, birding at Lake Elmo has been terrific, Gibson said. The low water has concentrated the fish in a more central location, encouraging fish-eating ducks like the merganser to feast.
The gulls had a rental to wait and try to steal the fish from the ducks. That, mixed in with an occasional osprey or kingfisher sighting in the morning, makes for some pretty entertaining wildlife.