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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Pirates Cove Marina on Friday, above, and June 2, 2012, at left. Things were so bad with the drought at Salamonie Reservoir last season that the Marina closed July 6.

For lakers, water level lifts spirits

People return as memories of last year’s drought fade

Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette

Already, the water is where it should be.

The docks are open and the boats are coming in.

And already Debbie Yarger is thinking this spring and summer season will be far better than the last, when a crushing drought kept water levels down and people away from Salamonie Lake near Andrews.

“Nothing even floated,” Yarger, who owns the Pirates Cove Marina along the Salamonie, said of last year.

“We stayed open until July 6. We were spending more on electricity than on what we were selling.”

This year, though, is a different story.

The water at Salamonie – along with Mississinewa Lake and Roush Lake – at proper levels, according to Scot Dahms, the operations manager for the Upper Wabash Project office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The lakes in the Upper Wabash Project are created by four dams – J. Edward Roush, Monroe, Salamonie and Mississinewa.

Those dams, all built in the late 1960s, have prevented more than $1 billion in flood damages since their construction, according to Dahms.

They’ve also provided people with a place to play in the water. In the winter the Salamonie and Mississinewa reservoirs are drawn down by about 25 feet, Dahms said.

This allows for additional storage of water from melting snow and spring rains, he said.

“We had high water earlier this year,” he said. “We were about 20 feet above summer pool, and there were concerns we would not have it down by Memorial Day weekend.”

“Luckily the weather dried after some big rain,” Dahms continued.

The water means more people will likely be taking advantage of the lakes, unlike last year when people could only fish – if that.

“A reservoir property is popular for water-based activities,” said Dennis White, the property manager for the Salamonie Reservoir, who noted that all of his campsites had been reserved for Memorial Day weekend.

Last year’s drought conditions coupled with a blue-green algae scare kept swimmers on shore. In humans, the algae’s toxins – which can be spread by wind – can cause skin rashes, eye irritation, stomachaches and nausea as well as tingling in the fingers and toes.

Boating was “tricky” because of the water levels, White said. The fishing was decent, but he estimates that business was down about 50 percent last year.

“People come here for the boating, the fishing, to swim, to jet ski.” White continued. “When you take that away that opportunity to swim or water ski or things like that, it impacts business.”

While it sells camping supplies, the Pirates Cove Marina lost a huge component of its sales in gasoline during last year’s drought.

But with the water levels back to normal and motorboats ready to take to the lake, Yarger is seeing a rosier picture for the season.

“It’ll be a much better story this year,” she said. “That’s for sure.”