Friday, March 28, 2014


A WATERWORKS column by Gordon Prickett

for the 4/2/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


My “Weatherguide” Calendar from the Freshwater Society has a message in its March section that bears repeating here:

How much water do you use? Most of us probably don’t know. According to the EPA, an average American household uses 320 gallons every day. One third of that is used to irrigate the landscape and 50% of that is wasted due to inefficient landscape methods. March is a great time to plan a water-friendly landscape for the coming growing season. When rain falls, why not harvest all the fresh, free water for your gardens and lawns?

One inch of rain on a 1000 square foot rooftop can yield 600 gallons of water. Incorporate more native plants into your landscape. They are drought tolerant and require less maintenance. Keep the water on your land by adding a rain garden this year. There is more to learn at

Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake near Brainerd is the location for a conference on Thursday and Friday, May 1-2, 2014. Sponsors are Conservation Minnesota, Freshwater Society, University of Minnesota Extension, MPCA, and DNR. This is a revival of the biennial state-wide conferences that formerly were put on by the Minnesota Lakes Association, that became Minnesota Waters, before its closure.

Two full days, starting with breakfasts, will feature workshops, breakout sessions, exhibits, and major speakers on issues of clean water, aquatic habitat and invasive species, watersheds, groundwater, and shore restoration. Details of the programs, cost, and registration can be found on this website: and at 612-767-2444.


As introduced in last month’s column and reported on the front page in the March 19th Independent Age, the Enbridge Sandpiper Pipeline Project was explained before a packed hall in McGregor for four hours on March 13th. Public comments and routing alternatives will continue to be received by the state commerce department until April 4th. Then a year’s worth of government actions and public hearings are planned, with a final decision from the Public Utilities Commission expected about March 23, 2015. If approvals are received, Enbridge estimates that construction might begin in late 2014 or early 2015. The Sandpiper Pipeline could then be operational in 2016. Crude oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota would flow across 42 miles in Aitkin County on its way to a Superior, Wisconsin, refinery, Enbridge’s tank farm, and other connecting pipelines.

Monday, March 3, 2014


A WATERWORKS column by Gordon Prickett

for the 3/5/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


It’s been hard to avoid talking about the weather lately. We are sick and tired of below zero forecasts week after week. Wind chill warnings, winter storm warnings, ice that clings to pavement after plowing. The depth of snow across the area increases without any thawing, and no warm up is in sight. A newscaster remembered the heavy snowfall of April 1965 the other night, reminding me of the extreme high water and flooding in St. Paul and North Mankato that spring. We were back in Minnesota from the Navy, and I was attached to a reserve helicopter squadron out at Wold Chamberlain Airport. It was the only time I ever lifted people off their roofs from a hover. The Minnesota River had flooded out homes where it makes a sharp turn to the northeast.

The depth of snow now on the ground and the prospect of some more snow followed by a rapid warm up lead me to consider how to get ready for high water once again. Our ACLARA group of high water planners has reviewed the records from the flooding events in the county in the summer of 2012. We have consulted with lake associations where the highest lake levels occurred. In case of another extremely wet season we will work closely with the county board, sheriff, soil and water, and the DNR to advise governmental units and to spread the news around lake country of any emergency measures.


Whether it is crude oil, natural gas, or propane, pipelines are making news these days in the Upper Midwest. The Bakken oil field in North Dakota and the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, are the origins of most of these stories. Increased fuels production is getting attention as oil and gas companies expand their operations across the northern tier of states and provinces.

For us in Aitkin County the imminent issue deals with crude oil. It concerns routing the Endbridge Sandpiper Pipeline Project across county from west to east. The preferred route from Enbridge would enter south of Swatara along existing electric tranmission lines. After crossing Highway 169 and the Mississippi River it would swing north and east of McGregor, leaving the county along east-west transmission lines into Carlton County.

Before this pipeline can be constructed the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) must do two things: grant a certificate of need, and issue a pipeline route permit. In six affected Minnesota counties, from Polk to Carlton, public information meetings are being held in the first half of March, to give citizens the opportunity to ask questions and state their opinions about this pipeline.

In Aitkin County our meeting will be held at the McGregor Community Center, 41442 Highway 65, on Thursday, March 13th, from 11 am to 2 pm. Minnesota PUC and Commerce Department staff and pipeline officials will be on hand.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


A WATERWORKS column by Gordon Prickett
For the 2/5/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


Years ago reports from state government told us that common loons ingested lead sinkers and jigs and were poisoned. Years ago we also had learned about the consequences of the lead shot in shotgun shells. Waterfowl hunters are now forbidden to hunt with lead shot, but there is no restriction for upland birds. Once there was tetraethyl lead in our gasoline to improve combustion. And lead sulphate was the pigment in white paint. But no more; the damaging effects on small children due to both of these uses was proven, and lead has been removed from gasoline and from paint. Chemists and metallurgists know where to find substitutes. What are we waiting for with our fishing tackle? Talking to the hardware store and bait shop owners in Aitkin did not stop their sales of products that contain lead. Setting up lead tackle exchanges at our Rivers and Lakes Fair moved a few lead-free sinkers and jigs into tackle boxes. But until the State of Minnesota outlaws these deadly weights, we will keep on killing loons. My suggestion is getting action from the legislature on this problem.


It has been more than three years since the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. On April 20, 2010, the offshore oil rig that recovered petroleum from far beneath the ocean floor blew up with loss of life, and a wide spread contamination of the Gulf waters and shores. Days after the spill the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a damage assessment process to evaluate the impact on seven bird species including the common loon. Scientists from the Biodiversity Research Institute who are conducting a thorough study of loons in this area are noticing toxic hydrocarbons in the blood of loons. As these concentrations increase it appears that hydrocarbons unleashed by the spill are working their way up the food chain to top predators, including loons. Concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) may soon be high enough to harm immune systems or damage organs. The February/March issue of National Wildlife has the story “Secret Lives of Loons” by Laura Tangley.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

High Water

A WATERWORKS Column in the Aitkin Independent Age for January 4, 2014, by Gordon Prickett


Following the extremes of summer flooding in 2012 the ACLARA lake association representatives have considered how to prepare for the next high water event. We learned a few things when the lake levels were rapidly rising back then. For instance, every developed lake, whether it has a lake level gauge or not has an elevation known as the Ordinary High Water Level (OHWL), established by the DNR. Commonly, this is the point where the natural vegetation changes from predominately aquatic to predominately terrestrial. And we learned that just 28 lakes in Aitkin County are provided every spring with a calibrated gauge where DNR staff and volunteers plan to take readings of the lake levels during summer months.

How fast the waters rise depends on the rainfall and the amount that runs off, plus the size of a lake’s “watershed.” When a lake has a large watershed it may take a few days for all the collecting streams and ditches to find their way downhill.

Each lakeshore property has its own connection and vulnerability to fast rising flood water. In the spring of 2012 when ice went out early some shore land residents placed docks and boatlifts in the water earlier than normal. When heavy rains came the docks were under water and had to be reset.

Led by Sheriff Turner, the county government acted with the approval of DNR Commissioner Landwehr to restrict boating traffic on all county lakes to slow no-wake speeds during the height of extreme high water in June and July. This measure prevented damage to vulnerable shores from wave action. Getting the word out to all boaters in the county was not simple. Problems developed when the restrictions were relaxed for part of the county, and then on certain lakes where lake elevations could be measured and high waters had receded.

Lakes that experienced unusually high water in 2012 have discussed where the “trigger elevation” above OHWL should be, that calls for slow no-wake boating until conditions return to normal. ACLARA will be cooperating with the County and with the DNR to assist in advising and informing their members during high water conditions in the future.

Friday, November 29, 2013


A WATERWORKS  Column  by Gordon Prickett

for the 12/4/2013 Aitkin Independent Age


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.

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!