Photo by Chad Koenen
A new rock rapids dam was installed on the east side of West Leaf Lake just outside of Henning. The dam was originally built 85 years ago and replacing the dam had been discussed for several years.

By Chad Koenen


snow storm, bitterly cold temperatures and ice, couldn’t stop the Minnesota DNR and local representatives from replacing a nearly 85-year-old dam on West Leaf Lake last week. The dam controls water levels on West Leaf Lake and funding for the project was approved by the state of Minnesota back in 2017. 

Heavy machinery drove along the frozen edge of West Leaf Lake as construction workers tore out the existing dam and replaced it with rocks as part of a new structure last week. 

The new dam utilizes the existing base of the dam and replaces the top part of the structure. The rock rapids dam will allow for fish to swim from lake-to-lake and it will keep the water levels balanced on West Leaf Lake.

“It’s very good because you won’t have to worry about the ice coming in and breaking the old dam up,” said Leaf Lakes Association President Jack Lynch. “It’s now the type of dam where if it needs a quick repair they can do it by moving some rock around.”

Photo by Chad Koenen
Heavy machinery was used last week to take out and replace the dam on the east side of West Leaf Lake just outside of Henning. The dam was originally built 85 years ago.

Lynch said the Minnesota DNR seems to favor the rock rapids dam approach, which essentially utilizes rocks to create a dam structure. The dam can be more easily repaired than the dams that were used in the past.

“Rock rapids dam is a new way the DNR wants to go with these old dams, because it is less expensive and it is easier to fix if there is an issue,” he said. “This summer they will come back and monitor the water levels to make sure it is closer to where it is suppose to be.”

The dam, which was originally constructed in 1937 through WPA, controls the water levels on West Leaf Lake, and in turn, helps to keep water levels on Middle and East Leaf Lakes from rising too quickly. The fear was without the dam near the east side of West Leaf Lake, there could be adverse effects on the remaining Leaf Lakes as controlling water levels and preventing flooding would prove difficult.

In order to help replace the dam, members of the Leaf Lakes Association contacted Representative Mary Franson and Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen who were able to get the project into the state bonding bill that was signed by then Governor Mark Dayton back in 2017. The amount of money received for the project was $50,000. Since then the project has been delayed several times by the Minnesota DNR.

After over five years of planning and waiting, Lynch said it is nice to have the project finally completed. He said a lot of credit goes out to the local lake association, as well as the East Otter Tail Water Conservation District, which has really helped to get the project completed in recent years.

“A big shout out to East Otter Tail Water Conservation District as they kind of took it under their wing,” he said.