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Otter Rapids Dam helps control water levels on the Eagle River Chain

More than a dozen dams throughout the northwoods control water levels on lakes and chains. 

Marc Groth has owned a home on the Eagle River Chain for nearly 20 years. 

“The chain is such a big piece of our tourism,” said Groth. 

Credit Photo by Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

He’s on the chain’s board of directors. Like the hundreds of people who own homes on the chain, Marc knows dams are responsible for maintaining the water level, but not much beyond that.

“A lot of people have been by here and wondered well what is that dam over there? Is that what’s holding back the water? Is that what’s preventing us from getting flooded? How do they do that? What’s the procedure? How do they know when to let water out? When not to let what out?”

Those questions lled him to a meeting with Leah Van Zile with WEC energy group. It's the holding group for WPS, the owners and operators of Otter Rapids Dam on the Wisconsin River. 

Otter Rapid Dam produces enough energy for about 325 homes. It's one of 17 operated by WPS throughout northcentral Wisconsin. 

Credit Photo by Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

“Not large on the scale but when you add them all up it really is an important part of our plan to produce clean energy for our future, for our customers,” said Van Zile. 

WPS maintains the water levels according to the levels set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or FERC.

“We are always adjusting and monitoring what we need to monitor to keep within the operating guidelines set forth by FERC,” Van Zile said. 

With every major water adjustment comes a safety warning. 

“There is a siren that goes off and a light that flashes, said Van Zile. “That’s important for people to understand when that siren is going off that means that water conditions are going to change.”

The part of the river near Otter Rapids Dam is open to kayakers, fishermen, or anyone who wants to get out and enjoy nature. 

“It is very beautiful and serene. It's kind of pleasant hearing some of that water flow, just remember if you’re enjoying the river that it can become dangerous at any time,” said Van Zile. 

“The safety part of it is most important to me. I didn't realize the alarms went off. I could see where the rapids are, you know if they’re letting a lot of water out when there’s a lot of rain that could be troublesome for kayakers,” said Marc Groth after his meeting with Van Zile. 

Groth was fascinated by what he learned about maintaining the Eagle River Chain and is excited to bring that knowledge back to his neighbors. 

Credit Photo by Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications