A WATERWORKS Column by Gordon Prickett
for the 12/4/2013 Aitkin Independent Age
CLIMATE AND WEATHER
We hear a lot about “global warming” or “climate change” in the news cycles of today. There are many places to get your updates on this topic: browsing new on-line media, watching the many kinds of TV, leafing through newspapers, magazines, and books. Not to mention radio, both public and commercial.
Some of the stories are alarming, like sea level rise and wildlife extinction. But how one responds depends a lot on who you believe and one’s attitude towards new information. Can I see and feel anything different going on? We live in the day-to-day weather.
This fall I am reporting ice-in on our lake as November 23rd. Ice-in is never as dramatic as ice-out in the spring, with its sudden break up and shattering of ice crystals. But going back 18 years it appears that this year is pretty-much normal. Our lake records for ice-out have been kept since 1976, and show a lot of variability. The two extreme dates occurred in consecutive years - March 22, 2012, and May 10, 2013.
Humankind certainly has had an impact on life in these parts in the past couple centuries, and I believe we are impacting the climate right now in the way we dig, drill, and consume energy fuels. We cannot change the way our forefathers clear cut the woods, plowed up the prairie, and killed off the native animals. We can however give serious thought to how we use modern discoveries of technology and science. Sensible limits to population, economic development, and comfortable lifestyles can go a long way towards a future our kids will want to inherit.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Thursday, October 31, 2013
TITLE: READY FOR FREEZE-UP A Waterworks Column by Gordon Prickett for the 11/6/2013 Aitkin Independent Age READY FOR FREEZE-UP Our boats and dock were the last to come off the lake. That good October fishing weather that I waited for never happened, but otherwise it was a pretty good season. Now in the next month we should be making ice - for skating, snowmobiling, and fishing on our lakes. Once again I am reminded that there is no such thing as absolutely “Safe Ice,” as I will step out with an ice chisel to measure the thickness. I’ll be sure to do my skating near the edge of the lake, for starters. KEEPING THE LAKE CLEAN Water clarity in the lakes of this area continues to attract people. Those who live at the water’s edge for a time have the opportunity to help maintain this clean water. Using natural vegetative materials like grass clippings left on lawns, and composted wastes as soil amendments to borders and gardens, can take the place of chemical fertilizers. With an unmown buffer zone next to shore, limited impervious surfaces beside the lake, and creating rain gardens, we can control runoff and erosion that muddies the water. SEASON OF MIGRATION Whether it’s juncos and finches, “V” formations of geese, or the snowbird neighbors bound for the Florida Keys, many creatures are now on the move. Birders are noting dates when species arrive at their feeders. And warm-blooded retirees bid us goodbye until Spring. Some of us wouldn’t want to miss the Fish House Parade for anything!
Sunday, October 6, 2013
TITLE "WATER AND WILDLIFE FOR SIXTH GRADERS" A Waterworks Column by Gordon Prickett for the 10/2/2013 Aitkin Independent Age WATER AND WILDLIFE FOR SIXTH GRADERS Aitkin County sixth graders spent a day in early September at the Long Lake Conservation Center just east of Palisade. This year I followed the money that ACLARA, the Aitkin County Lakes And Rivers Association, donated to County Environmental Services to put on this “Environmental Education Day.” I attended Tuesday, September 10th, and joined the Hill City Sixth Grade through four hours of instruction and ate pizza with them at lunch time. The first hour was about “The Earth’s Water,” presented by the Minnesota Science Museum from St. Paul. For more than four billion years the same amount of water has cycled around the earth in clouds, rain, ground water, and surface water. Just 3% is fresh water and 97% is salt water. The ice caps hold 2% of this fresh water. The lesson is clear that we don’t want to waste any of the 1% that is left. Next we learned about the wild creatures in the state and met a few of them from the Minnesota Zoo. We have 78 kinds of mammals, and 22 amphibians. In Minnesota there are 31 kinds of reptiles, including 17 snakes. And there are 428 kinds of birds, with about 45 to 50 remaining year round. The traveling zoo visitors included a red-tailed hawk, an opossum, and a snake. After lunch naturalists from Long Lake presented a program about frogs and toads. Next we went down to the shore of Long Lake to scoop up sediment and water samples. We collected this material back in the laboratory and identified numerous lake bottom organisms with the aid of charts and microscopes. A BEAUTIFUL TIME OF YEAR Days and nights are now the about same length. Warm afternoons and crisp sleeping nights. Grass cutting is just about over for the season, and the water craft are calling. Before taking in our boats and docks, it is a fine time to enjoy the clear water and the colors that are beginning to turn around the shore. A few years ago we traveled across the Arrowhead, down the North Shore, over into Northern Wisconsin to observe the Fall colors of early October. But when we returned to Aitkin County, the most spectacular show was right here!
Monday, September 2, 2013
TITLE - SURFACE WATER USE A Waterworks Column by Gordon Prickett for the September 4th Aitkin Independent Age SURFACE WATER USE I just finished a very close look at my 2013 Minnesota Boating Guide. At a recent meeting the topic of boating safety came up, and I raised two concerns. The first was about operators of motor boats under twelve years of age. There is absolutely no age limit in this state for a child running a boat and motor with a rating of 25 horsepower or less! My second concern was about the speeds at which watercraft in Minnesota may travel on our lakes and rivers. There are no limits. You can’t be drunk or chase wildlife, and you should give the right-of-way to sailboats, canoes, and kayaks, but so long as you’re not careless or reckless, boat speed is unlimited. When I am out in my canoe, paddling well below the slow, no-wake speed of 5 mph, I’ve got to wonder how the operators of high speed motor launches can see me, and the loons on the lake, in time to avoid a collision. The best I can do, in the absence of any sensible safety regulations about little kids and speedboats, is wear my bright orange life jacket. THE HEALING POWER OF NATURE Last year we saw severe flooding and extreme high water in the County. Surface runoff was heavy in June and July before the rains let up. This caused much sediment and litter flowing into our lakes and rivers, with unusually poor clarity from summer into fall. After a late ice-out this May, and a lot of rain in May and June, our lake levels were pretty high, but lake water transparency at area lakes is returning to normal. Though no residents talk very much about it, the fishing isn’t too bad either.
Friday, August 2, 2013
TITLE - STATE ENFORCEMENT IN AITKIN COUNTY A WATERWORKS Column by Gordon Prickett for the 8/7/2013 Aitkin Independent Age STATE ENFORCEMENT IN AITKIN COUNTY A year ago SarTec Corporation from Anoka, Minnesota, was observed emptying 275-gallon canisters containing a dark oily liquid on a 20-acre hay field in Section 4 of Nordland Township. Repeatedly, over a period of weeks, neighbors watched as a SarTec truck hauled trailer loads of this industrial waste into the middle of the field, where a backhoe had prepared pits to receive this material. The pits were then covered. Towards summer’s end, they didn’t bother digging any more pits, but poured the contents directly onto the sloping land, farther in from the township road. The oily liquid collected in pools in a wetland that drains into Nord Lake. The current owner of this land is an officer of SarTec Corporation. Placement of such material on land in Aitkin County requires a permit from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. This action was reported to Aitkin County Planning and Zoning in October, and an inspector was on site the very next day. SarTec has been fined for this violation, but it has appealed its penalty. An administrative judge will hear the case in St. Paul in September. It is being prosecuted by the State Attorney General’s office. Violations of our shoreland regulations do have consequences. The neighbors are waiting to learn about the chemistry of these waste products and what remediation is planned. HOW MANY LOONS? After the BP Horizon oil platform fire and spill in the Gulf of Mexico there has been concern by Minnesota’s Non-Game Wildlife Division in the DNR, because loons from this region winter over in the Gulf. As a loon watcher for the DNR, I take a yearly census in early July. In 2012 I counted eight loons on my early morning patrol. We have observed three nesting pairs, six adult loons, on our lake for several years. In the census this year I counted only three adult loons, and there appear to be only three resident adults as the summer progresses. We have observed no surviving loon chicks for 2013.
Thursday, June 27, 2013
TITLE WHAT PRICE SAFETY? A WATERWORKS Column by Gordon Prickett for the 7/3/2013 Aitkin Independent Age. Every year drowning victims are reported in the news - starting before ice-out until a solid freeze-up state-wide. One of the best safety posters I have ever seen shows two enlarged pieces of fishing tackle. On one side is a Bobber and on the other a Sinker, with the word "OR" between them. Near the bottom of the poster is the command "WEAR YOUR LIFE JACKET!" It is one of the DNR’s better messages. I thought about that poster early last week shortly after sunrise as I saw two guys standing in a small fishing boat with large outboard motor, speeding from the public landing. It’s now the time when loon chicks have just come from the nest, and they are vulnerable to speedboats and other quicker predators. We have three nesting pairs of loons on our lake which is only 400 acres in area, less than a mile across it. This was a concern a week ago when a brand new neighbor brought two jetskis to the lake, and his kids and guests displayed no knowledge of the restrictions on these watercraft. Like "slow, no-wake speeds until 150 feet from shore." Some lake people have complained that nobody can estimate such distances. Maybe they have never seen the 50-yard-line on a football field. The jetski can speed up when it gets to the goal line. Each yard is three feet. (old math) Boating safety becomes a major concern on summer Saturdays when every type of watercraft is afloat. Canoes, kayaks, and sailboats, dodge among power boats towing wake boarders or their tiny tots hanging onto rafts. And some of us are quietly fishing. As boat traffic increases, now that a very short spring has left us and summer is here, I just hope that all of these fragile bodies have life jacket protection.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
TITLE - LEARNING AT THE LAKE - A WATERWORKS Column for the Aitkin Independent Age, June 5, 2013. Before settlement a hundred and fifty years ago our lake country was pristine, the pines and hardwoods had not yet been clear cut. Shorelines of the lakes and rivers were natural. Bands of the Dakota and Ojibwe people had lived many years in the region without impacting the wildlife and forests. Today our children are being given an environmental education, and older folks can learn how to make a smaller footprint beside our beautiful waters. On Saturday, June 15th, at Rippleside School in Aitkin, from 9 am to 2 pm, the 17th Annual Aitkin County Rivers and Lakes Fair will be celebrated. We will learn about beaver, the floods of 2012, aquatic life, and bats, to name just some of the topics. Stop by our ACLARA booth for an exhibit about the 20 lake associations that make up our coalition. If you live by a lake without an active association we have outreach workers to lend a hand. When new folks buy lake property or families inherit the cabin in which they have grown up, there is a lot learn about: individual sewage treatment systems, water wells, fire regulations, seasonal road restrictions, limits on impervious surfaces, private road funds for grading and snow plowing, and watercraft and dock regulations. At least four state and county agencies have something to tell you about your life at the lake. A good place to look for answers is our Rivers and Lakes Fair. The many booths in the Rippleside gym will inform you about what is new up here. There are classroom programs and hands-on activities for all ages. FISH STICKS The DNR Fisheries Division wants you to leave the trees that fall into the water at the shoreline. No need to clear away branches or trunks. In fact, these trees enhance the fish habitat along the shore. Shelter and shade provided by this downed timber makes a place where the population can grow. Once again we can regain some of the natural aspect of our lakes.