All over northern Wisconsin, the term flowage has worked its way into dozens of lake names. Here in northwestern Wisconsin, we have the Minong Flowage, Gordon Flowage, Chippewa Flowage, and Tigercat Flowage—and that’s just for starters. And despite the number of flowages in northern Wisconsin, people who live on any one of them can often be heard calling their home lake simply “The Flowage.”
So what exactly is a flowage, and how did they come to be called that?
A flowage is simply a lake that’s formed upstream of a dam; it’s a regionalism that’s rarely heard outside of Wisconsin. In other parts of the country, especially in the South and the West, a flowage might be called a reservoir. A flowage, like a reservoir, can be any shape and size. Some, like the Minong Flowage and Gordon Flowage, were formed when dams flooded large, sprawling areas. Others, like the Colton Flowage in Washburn County, are smaller and have a simpler shoreline that resulted from the flooding of a long, narrow valley.
Nor is the term’s use universal; even around here, plenty of lakes upstream of dams are simply called “lakes.” Examples include Trego Lake, Hayward Lake, Nelson Lake, Moose Lake, and Lake Namekagon. And then there’s the Eau Claire Chain of Lakes that includes Lower Eau Claire Lake, Middle Eau Claire Lake, and Upper Eau Claire Lake. Each lies above a small dam. Although smaller lakes might have been there from the beginning, it’s the dams that give these lakes their present size and shape.
But why “flowage,” especially when it describes the one part of a river that’s no longer flowing? Webster’s defines flowage as a) an overflowing onto adjacent land, b) a body of water formed by overflowing or damming, c) floodwater especially of a stream. That first definition is key; it’s related to a whole body of real estate law surrounding the concept of “flowage easements,” which grant someone the right to flood land.
Flowage easements are most often granted to the state and federal government, but in the past they were often granted to utilities that built dams for generating electricity. Here in northern Wisconsin, flowage easements were also granted to logging companies so they could build dams for regulating water flow during the spring logging drives. They built dams, the water upstream of the dams rose, and then the water flowed onto the adjacent land. And that’s how we got the term “flowage.”
To learn more about any of the lakes and flowages mentioned in this post, go to the menu above and click on NW WI Lakes & Rivers. And for all your northwest Wisconsin real estate needs, whether you’re buying or selling, call Jean Hedren at (218) 590-6634. www.JeanHedren.com
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