Waubay Chain of Lakes, South Dakota, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - South Dakota - Glacial Lakes & Prairies Region -

Also known as:  North Waubay Lake, South Waubay Lake, Hillebrands Lake, Spring Lake, Rush Lake, Bluedog Lake, Little Rush Lake, Minnewasta Lake

Waubay Chain of Lakes, in the Glacial Lakes & Prairies Region of northeast South Dakota, is a stunning example of nature’s triumph over human settlement. What was as recently as 1930 a series of shallow glacial lakes has enlarged until it is nearly all one huge water body, called Waubay Lake. Land where once lay the individual Hillebrands, Spring, Grenville Slough, North and South Waubay Lakes is now melded via flooding into one huge liquid expanse. The relentless rising flood ignores farm fields and lakefront property lines as it continues to march toward engulfing Minnewasta, Bluedog, Rush and Little Rush Lakes into its voracious reach.

Where farmers and ranchers tilled the soil and raised their children, livestock and crops for more than 100 years, the relentless water marches toward its ancient cyclical banks. Unfortunately, these property owners didn’t have the advantage of scientific studies of the historic water tables and former floods when they homesteaded these prairie fields. If they had, they likely would have continued to farm the area in the hopes that the ‘next’ flood could be held in abeyance by man-made ditches and dikes. But a combination of weather changes, including cooler temperature averages and several years of heavy rainfall, have created changes that have affected the lakes and its human inhabitants immeasurably.

The changes caused by the phenomenal growth of Waubay Lake have not been all detrimental. Submerged timber, rock piles, old farm implements and flooded farm ground have created ideal habitat for spawning game fish, chiefly the popular walleye. Also growing in number are perch, northern pike, smallmouth bass, bluegill, white bass, black crappie, rock bass and small numbers of lake herring transplanted from the Blue Dog Lake State Fish Hatchery. As the local farmers give up their fields and their crops to the rising water, increasing numbers of sport fishermen arrive at the lake to inject new life into the local economy. The 15,540 acres of water attract sport anglers year round, with ice fishing nearly as popular as open water angling.

Although Waubay Lake is open to boating, emergent stumps and tree trunks make the shallower areas a little too dangerous to attract power boaters and sailors. There are several public access boat ramps along the shore, but no public swimming beaches have yet been developed due to the changing water levels. Several bait shops and small marinas rent fishing-type boats and provide all supplies necessary for the angler’s day on the water. A few small resorts offer vacation rentals, with private swim areas and even guide service for anglers wanting to go home with a guaranteed ‘best catch of the day’. Major walleye fishing tournaments are regularly held on Waubay Lake and serve to acquaint the public with all the Waubay Chain of Lakes area has to offer.

Hillebrands Lake and Spring Lake are encompassed by the Waubay National Wildlife Refuge. Special fishing and boating regulations within the Refuge’s waters assure plenty of undisturbed spawning area to keep the lake well-stocked with fish. The Refuge is home to 244 species of birds (over 100 nesting species), with 37 mammals also in regular residence. The Refuge is a favorite bird watching destination, and hunting is permitted for some species in season with an applicable license.

Towns that offer supplies, lodging and restaurants include: Grenville, located on the former North Waubay Lake; Webster, a few miles south of the lakes; and Waybay, on Bluedog Lake. One of the resorts near Grenville contains a small campground for self-contained camping units. The Glacial Lakes Snowmobile Trail connects the communities of Grenville, Webster, Roslyn, Eden, and Lake City. This beautiful trail is primarily off-road through the Coteau des Prairie Hills and connects to the 92-mile Northeast Trail.

Many vacationers come to one of the resorts on the Waubay Chain of Lakes that stays open in winter to enjoy ice fishing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Only 40 miles from Watertown, the Waubay Chain of Lakes is an excellent, uncrowded weekend get-away. Campgrounds and swimming at nearby Pickerel Lake complete the recreational attractions, so the area is seeing an increasing number of vacationing visitors. The rising water has left several roads in the area either abandoned or virtually unused, making them ideal for hiking and cycling.

Recent studies of the hydrology of the Glacial Lakes area have shown that most of the Waubay Chain of Lakes are simple basin lakes with no real inlet or outlet. Lower average temperatures have limited water loss due to evaporation, and increased rain and snow falls have added more water than anyone has seen in recorded history in the area. Several years ago, the South Dakota Water Management Board established the OHWM (Ordinary High Water Mark)) on Waubay Lake at 1787.1 feet above sea level. By spring of 2009, the water level was at 1801.9 and is still rising. Waubay Lake gains water via underground percolation and overflow through connecting wetlands from Pickerel Lake and Enemy Swim Lake on slightly higher ground. Excess water has migrated downgrade to the southernmost lake in the chain – Bitter Lake – formerly mostly dry, but now overflowing and growing to the point where it threatens the town of Waubay.

Geological surveys show that the excess water at some point will get high enough to flow into an old channel which will lead it farther south toward Grass Lake in Codington County and on to the Big Sioux River. Although FEMA declared the area a disaster site in 1998 and has provided some funds for moving structures, cleaning the channel and extending it to Grass Lake and the Big Sioux would be costly and time-consuming. It would involve a large number of landowners who would have to agree to the extra flow of water and upgrading existing culverts to handle the increased water. In the meantime, the owners of flooded properties move their homes to higher ground and give up planting soggy fields. They don’t know if, or when, their lives will return to anything approaching the normal they have always known.

This uncertainty has not prevented development of new housing on high ground around the Waubay Chain of Lakes: several new developments offer real estate, both existing homes and buildable lots with waterfront and water views. Cottages above the new water line can sometimes be found for weekly or monthly rentals. Hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfasts in the area are geared toward handling the weekend visitors. The few resorts along the shoreline do their utmost to make the vacationing family’s stay a pleasant one with children’s activities and group events scheduled regularly. The Waubay Chain of Lakes is open for business despite the flooding, and business owners are anxious for you to come and enjoy all their area has to offer. So, pack the spinning rods, binoculars and hiking boots and come on up to the Waubay Chain of Lakes for a spell. You’ll fall in love with its windswept banks, campfires near the water’s edge, and the excitement of reeling in those eager walleye.

Statistical information for the Waubay Chain of Lakes listed is the latest figures for the combined water surface of what is now Waubay Lake. These are necessarily estimates as the water levels are still rising.

Things to do at Waubay Chain of Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Wildlife Refuge

Fish species found at Waubay Chain of Lakes

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Black Crappie
  • Bluegill
  • Crappie
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pickerel
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • White Bass

Waubay Chain of Lakes Photo Gallery

Waubay Chain of Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 15,540 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,787 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 0 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 1,802 feet

Average Depth: 13 feet

Maximum Depth: 31 feet

Drainage Area: 306 sq. miles

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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