Monday, March 30, 2015


WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett for 4/1/2015 Aitkin Independent Age


Whatever you think about the global climate today, the weather for North Central Minnesota, in the winter season that just ended, has been unusual. November was cold and snowy, with a heavy snow just before the ice formed on many lakes by mid-month. Since then we had very little precipitation, effectively doing away with snowmobiling and cross country skiing for winter tourists. But the cold temperatures over the winter have kept the heating season close to normal, and there is plenty of propane this year.

Now with reports of drought and with the wetlands lower and drier than usual, we are wishing for moisture. From record high lake levels in Summer 2012 to rivers and lakes that now are headed below normal, we listen to weather forecasts eagerly, as gardeners make their plans. Some of us are figuring how to repair the unusual shoreline damage caused by very thick lake ice that pushed into the beaches in January. Without snow cover, this thick lake ice expanded and contracted, cracked and formed ice ridges, shoving aside trees, steps, walls, and decks. Before we can put out docks and begin boating, repairs must be made. This early Spring 2015 is one for the record books for the amount of lake ice wreckage on many northern lakes. Ice out cannot come too soon this year.


The following protective actions against aquatic invasive species (AIS) are required by state law.

Clean visible aquatic plants, zebra mussels, and other prohibited invasive species off all watercraft, trailers, and water-related equipment before leaving a water access or shoreland property. It is illegal to transport them whether dead or alive.

Drain water-related equipment (boat, ballast tanks, portable bait containers, motor) and drain, bilge, livewell, and baitwell by removing drain plugs before leaving a water access or shoreland property. Keep drain plugs out and water-draining devices open while transporting watercraft. It is illegal to transport a watercraft without draining water.

We will have an active campaign to protect our waters against these aggressive invasive species this spring, summer, and fall. Inspectors will be active at the busiest public access points, but every shoreland property owner has a duty to learn about this threat to all our waters and insure that all water-related equipment at their shore is compliant.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett   A column for the 3/4/2015 Aitkin Independent Age


About eight years ago money was available to protect the waters in the Big Sandy Watershed. State agencies were funding personnel and publications with an interest in teaching residents along the shorelines how to care for their land and improve the water quality. A couple thousand copies of the "Shoreland Homeowner’s Guide to Lake Stewardship" were published in 2007, with funding from the state’s Clean Water Partnership Grant Fund, for property owners in the watershed. With extra printed copies of this Guide we have spread this valuable document around to many county lake associations in the years since it first came out.

The Guide gives instructions on how to curb pollution and reduce runoff; how to maintain a natural shoreline, and provides a useful checklist, for new and long-time lake residents, about questions we all have when living on a lake.


This 16-page Guide from 2007 has been completely given out, and it is time for a new revision. Fortunately, there is adequate funding available now from the state, through the Clean Water Legacy Fund, as well as Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) funding. Using these funds Aitkin County can update this Guide and include a new section containing the latest information dealing with invasive species. Lake Association representatives will be cooperating with county officials in Zoning and Soil and Water, to put an updated Shoreland Guide into service in our lake country.


Preserving or restoring a natural shoreline is the best way to keep the shore from eroding. Buffers along the shoreline have these benefits:

Less time spent mowing and more time to enjoy the lake. Attracts birds and butterflies. Enhances the lake view by adding interest, texture, and color. Provides more privacy. Protecting water quality protects real estate value. Taller native plants create a biological barrier to Canada geese. Well-established emergent aquatic plants discourage non-native invasive species.

Thursday, February 5, 2015


WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett for the 2/4/2015 Aitkin Independent Age

Reports across the county are telling of a destructive ice pack on large lakes. Early cold temperatures have built thick ice. Absence of snow cover has led the exposed ice to expand and contract forcefully. Ice ridges and gaps are the result. Nothing can resist the advancing ice on a shoreline. When the thaw comes many repairs will be needed. Caution is needed now by skiers and snowmobilers. The ice is thick in many places, but it is moving - and it is far from level or smooth.


Over 400 attendees met at the Rivers Edge Convention Center in St. Cloud on January 20 and 21, to learn about the latest efforts in the state to combat Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) in our waters. Since July 2014 state funds appropriated by the legislature have been flowing into Minnesota counties based on a formula that takes into account how many parking spaces are available at public access facilities. In Aitkin County the commissioners have appointed an AIS Committee to distribute these funds with an emphasis on local lake projects, education, prevention, inspection, and treatment where infestation occurs.

For several years the DNR has used billboards and signs and trained volunteers to persuade boat owners to clean, drain, and dry their boats and trailers, in order to “Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers!” Now with millions of new AIS dollars each year the campaign is being stepped up. In the Aitkin Lakes Area decontamination equipment will be purchased and deployed near the most-used accesses, where the threat from boats that come out of infested waters is the greatest.

There is a long list of these aquatic invaders, but clearly the most to be feared are Zebra Mussels. They are small shells that attach to native mussels, plants, watercraft, and lake equipment. They cut the feet of swimmers and dogs, clog water intakes, and damage ecosystems by reducing food for young fish. Their microscopic larvae can be moved in bait buckets, livewells, and other areas of boats and trailers, if not drained. The greatest emphasis in the AIS campaign is placed on Zebra Mussels. This species is widespread in Mille Lacs Lake.

Other dangerous species to be identified are Eurasian Watermilfoil, Curly-leaf Pondweed, Spiny Waterfleas, and Round Gobies (a bottom-dwelling fish). The invasive Silver and Big-head Carp from Asia have not traveled above the lock and dam in Minneapolis.

For a thorough look at these invaders and to see demonstrations of decontamination equipment don’t miss the Rivers and Lakes Fair at Aitkin High School on Saturday, June 20th.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett  for the 12/3/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


There are some new terms that lake people are learning with the help of DNR Fisheries.  When a tree on the shoreline falls into the lake it offers a new opportunity. By leaving it in place the fallen tree provides shade and a place where a web of aquatic life can thrive.

This “Woody Habitat” is sometimes called “Woody Debris” or “Fish Sticks.” It becomes a place where a number of fish species are attracted. So the message from fish biologists is let these trees remain in the shallows. Their existing roots will hold the soil in place on shore. And you are building up your fish population. The trees and branches we leave in the water serve as a dock for turtles and kingfishers.


The early onset of cold weather saw the lakes freezing early. By mid November most of the Aitkin Area lakes were iced over. Without snow cover you could walk out and see the depth of cracks in the ice and look under the surface. When sunlight and temperature changes expanded or contracted the ice cover the lake began booming like a huge kettle drum. The sounds of the lake echoing around and around is one our winter pleasures.

Every year we hear warnings about the necessary thicknesses of ice for walking and skating, for driving ATVs or trucks. I like to wait until I can be certain that ice near shore is solid. With cracks and upwelling and pools of sludge, the idea of “safe ice” can be an oxymoron for snowmobiles after dark.


WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett for the 11/5/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


It’s the time of year when loon surveys by volunteers are collected in Minnesota by the DNR. After a lower count of loons in 2013 on Nord Lake, our census was back up to seven adults and two chicks in July 2014. From three nesting pairs we had one juvenile loon survive into October. After instructing their young all summer it is surprising that the adult loons leave the lake in September, and the young instinctively can fly south on their own in October.

Kevin Woizeschke is the new nongame wildlife biologist in charge of the Loon Watch program. For Aitkin County he has openings for volunteer watchers on these lakes:

Cedar, Dam, Elm Island, Fleming, Ripple, and Wilkins.


There was a time when many of us old timers carried out trash and garbage to a burn barrel. And we raked piles of leaves in the fall and burned them or dumped them on vacant land. Times change, and air quality and land use practices are different today.

Today’s garbage often contains plastics, dyes, and bleached paper. In the past it was mostly plain paper, wood or glass. Burning today’s garbage may seem to reduce volume, but cancer-causing toxins, heavy metals, and waste just move into the air and soil where they can enter our food and bodies. That is why burning garbage in Minnesota is illegal, since 1969.

Safe alternatives include recycling plastics, paper, and cardboard. And using garbage and solid waste facilities as well as composting.


Applications for AIS funding from lake associations and other groups are being sought between now and January 12, 2015. The county board of commissioners adopted an AIS Plan on October 14th to use the new state funds. Activities to combat invasives include education and prevention and watercraft inspections. A local match of 20% is required.

For details about preventing and treating aquatic invasive species see Steve Hughes at the Soil and Water Office and Terry Neff, Director of Environmental Services, at the court house.


WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett a monthly column for the 10/1/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


No longer in 2014 across the “Land of Sky-Blue Waters” (Minnesota), is there any talk about drought. Since the ice went out here in late April, regular rain events right up to the beginning of Fall have measured well above normal in every month at our rain gage. Six inches in May, eight in June. Four and a half in July, seven and a half in August. For three weeks in September, five inches! That’s a total thirty one inches. The normal annual precipitation for Aitkin County, according to the DNR is just under twenty nine inches. Our vegetation is lush and already Fall color intensity has never looked brighter.

Minnesota is harvesting bumper crops of corn, beans, and wheat this year, but in the Southwestern U.S. it is extremely dry and wild fires are spreading.


Over twenty lakes in Aitkin County have been selected to be in the DNR’s Lake Level Monitoring Program. At each chosen lake they install a lake level gage. Either a permanent gage is installed on a structure such as a bridge pier or dam abutment, or a temporary gage is fastened to a steel fence post and driven into the lake bed at a convenient location. Temporary lake gages are surveyed and checked by DNR crews in the Spring. Lake level gages are read by volunteers within 12 to 24 hours after a substantial rain event, and on a weekly basis.


Fluctuations of lake levels are important to document in permanent and credible public records. Lakeshore properties may be adversely affected by fluctuations causing either flooding or access problems. A lake level range of 1 foot to 2 feet each year is typical, but historically much greater fluctuations have occurred. Human activities like dams and culverts, as well as beaver activity may also affect lake levels. A ten-year graph of monitored lake levels can be found on the Lake Finder Page from the DNR website.


WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett   A monthly column for the 1/7/2015 Aitkin Independent Age


Much ink has been used to describe what the Canadian firm Enbridge Inc. wants to do with its pipelines across Minnesota. As of December 2014 Enbridge is petitioning the Public Utilities Commission in Minnesota to allow a newly-proposed Sandpiper Pipeline Project to cross the center of Aitkin County. At first this new corridor was to transport light crude oil from the Bakken Formation in North Dakota. In recent months Enbridge has added a replacement 36-inch diameter pipeline (Line 3) into the requested Sandpiper Corridor. This oil is diluted bitumen from the Athabasca Tar Sands of Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Our county commissioners are in favor of a positive decision by the Minnesota PUC, citing several millions in tax revenue from the North Dakota oil flowing through Aitkin County. Opponents testifying before the county board and the PUC refer to oil leaks and spills from Enbridge pipelines in recent times. Both the light crude oil and the heavy bitumen pose threats to Aitkin County’s rivers and wetlands when leaking from beneath the surface. Normal depth of pipe is about four feet, but when crossing the Mississippi River below Palisade, Sandpiper will tunnel down to 30 feet beneath the river bed.

Enbridge claims they operate their lines safely today and have invested in new technology and control centers to detect any interruptions. The Line 3 pipe is 46 years old and must be operated at reduced capacity on its 34-inch diameter pipe. Inspection digs are scheduled to check on its condition. When this line is replaced it will be emptied and cleaned; then left in the ground.


Currently the heavy Canadian Oil is transported to the nearest refineries at Superior, Wisconsin, and Rosemount, Minnesota. However, the three native tribes on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota have plans to build an oil refinery. The economics of the global oil marketplace are changing with increasing supply from North America. The price of a barrel of crude oil has been cut in half in 2014 - from $110 down to under $55 per barrel. Extracting the sand and clay from the Alberta open pits and piping light crude up to the tar pits so a diluted mixture will flow through a pipeline is costly.

Similarly, in North Dakota large quantities of water under high pressure, mixed with volatile organic compounds and quartz sand from Wisconsin sand mines, are injected in wells two miles deep to fracture or separate the tightly-bound shale and oil. Not the least of the costs for this new oil source is the production water required and the disposal and treatment of waste water.

Then there is costly “Off-shore oil,” raised from distant ocean platforms. Scientists have tracked our Common Loons from Minnesota to their winter homes in the Gulf of Mexico - the very region where the BP oil platforms exploded and leaked. The dispersants used on that fugitive oil made the harm to coastal wetlands worse than if it had sunk to the bottom. We have indications that BP’s spill may be responsible for recent lower loon counts.

Petroleum engineers can produce oil much cheaper from the vast shallow reserves in Saudi Arabia and Iran than from other global suppliers. As North America moves towards “Energy Independence” and starts producing oil and gas for export, we can begin to see the effect on some other natural resources - clean water and wildlife.