Friday, June 26, 2009

How Clean is the Lake?

Minnesotans have proudly driven the “10,000 Lakes” license plates all over the continent. Now thousands of us have adopted the state bird, the Common Loon, to identify us as motorists from Lake Country. We’ve always assumed that there was plenty of clean, fresh water in our state. The Father of Waters starts here, occasionally flooding downstream cities and farms that occupy its acknowledged “flood plain.” So it comes as a shock when these pristine waters, that European settlers “discovered”, become contaminated, polluted, and clogged with clumps and blooms of dangerous algae. We read about fish kills when manure ponds from feedlots breach their dams.


Suburban developers buy off and take over natural open space to clear cut and bulldoze forest, farm fields, and wetlands to house the thousands who flock to the Cities for better paying jobs and for their cultural amenities. The rainfall on these made-over suburban communities runs downhill into ponds, streams, wetlands, rivers, and lakes. The roofs, asphalt driveways, decks, patios, and chemical lawns all add their ingredients into our once beautiful waters. To escape their routine of commuting, working, and schooling, the families search out a “lake place” for summer weekends. They bring their horticultural habits with them, as well as memories of winter vacations on the saltwater beaches in the Gulf of Mexico.

These Minnesota lake properties used to be the province of resort owners who offered weekly rentals with housekeeping cabins, a fishing boat, and a swimming beach.
Most of them have gone the way of the family farm, with only a few large Ruttgers or Craguns left, but quite a few RV campgrounds around the settled lakes. A large number of northbound folks decide to buy land. Pull up a house trailer and someday maybe build a cabin or retirement home. They may find vacant resort property for sale, with cabins that can be remodeled and enlarged. Everyone wants his own dock and sand beach. In this way the shoreline on many lakes is altered, and the lake water changes to not-so clear.


The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is asking for residents and users of lakes in Aitkin County to volunteer as “monitors” of the water quality in our lakes. Just because you have a lake association where you vacation or spend the summer doesn’t mean that there is a water monitor who measures the transparency or chemical composition of your lake. If somebody is doing this job, he or she would very much like to hear from you. You can listen to their water quality story and offer to help them take readings. Or you can receive training and become one of hundreds of Minnesota volunteers who are helping protect our lakes. It starts with a phone call ( 927-6565 ) to Janet Smude, who coordinates our Aitkin County Rivers and Lakes Fair and all of Aitkin County water testing.

- Gordon Prickett, Waterworks Columnist, Aitkin Independent Age