The Challenges of a Variable Lake


Due to the fluctuating water cycles of Lake Andes, fishing opportunities are very cyclic.


Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge is divided into four units. The lake itself comprises three of these units – the North Unit, Center Unit and the South Unit. The fourth, the Owens Bay Unit, lies at the southeastern bank of Lake Andes. 


The lake has no water source other than runoff from snow and rain. Water levels are highly variable. In 1922, the U.S. Congress ordered construction of an artificial outlet to reduce the maximum depth of Lake Andes by 13 feet to prevent flooding to communities around the lake during high water events. The reduction in natural water fluctuation cycles and resulting lower lake levels has had a significant negative impact on the lake’s fishery. 


Water quality in Lake Andes is poor. Poor water quality produces algae blooms and reduces sunlight penetration which significantly degrades the quality of fish and wildlife habitat in the lake. Excessive nutrients from the surrounding watershed and a persistent population of rough fish limit oxygen and aquatic vegetation. 


The basin goes dry on average every 10 – 20 years. Although periodic drying has both positive and negative effects on fish and wildlife, a reliable source of clean water would present opportunities to manage water levels to provide nationally significant fish and wildlife habitat.  At present time, Lake Andes fishing opportunities are limited to mainly carp and bullhead. Refuge staff are collaborating with local community groups to develop strategies for returning the fishery to its former productivity.