News & Features

Echo Lake Flooding Irks Residents

Tensions flare as high water and fast boats threaten shoreline erosion

Flooding due to high snowpack and a wet spring has waterfront property owners on Echo Lake concerned that shoreline erosion will continue unless a no-wake zone is established.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is warning the public that Echo Lake is approaching its highest levels since 2012 and encouraging boaters to obey the 200-foot wake zone.

Unsure when the water levels will peak, FWP Game Warden Capt. Lee Anderson said the water is certain to spill onto the causeway road in less than two weeks if the lake maintains its current rate of fill.

“While the regulations call for a 200-foot no-wake distance from shore, boat operators should pay close attention to their wake,” Anderson said. “Please be courteous. If it looks like 200 feet isn’t enough, consider moving to areas where it doesn’t cause damage to the shoreline, or go to one of the many other lakes in the Flathead until the water levels decrease.”

Echo Lake is fed by groundwater and has no outlet to drain its excess water, meaning that flooding is a perennial problem, particularly after heavy winters or wet springs.

Measurements taken on June 30 show the water to be 6 inches from reaching the lowest point of the causeway road.

In 2011, the water was almost three feet deep on the lowest point in the road after record-level moisture.

According to property owner John Wachsmuth, a host of problems could surface if either FWP officials or Flathead County don’t take proactive actions to prohibit wakes.

In 2011, FWP established a no-wake zone at the request of Flathead County because of health concerns over leaks from drain fields and septic tanks. In 2012, a no-wake zone was discussed by the Flathead County Commission and FWP, but ultimately denied because there was no health threat, which meant legally the agencies couldn’t restrict boats on the lake.

The lack of boating restrictions irked some residents, including Wachsmuth, who says eight feet of his waterfront property is eroding due to the current flooding.

“This issue could be solved if they would just restrict a wake zone when the water is at this level,” he said. “I am losing 8 feet of property because of erosion, I am a taxpayer paying waterfront property taxes and the county is doing absolutely nothing to protect my property from irresponsible boating. And the lake’s not dropping any.”

Anderson said he’s trying to spread the word and educate boaters about the negative impacts they can have on shoreline property until the water levels return to normal.