Thursday, November 26, 2009

DECADES for Waterworks

as seen in the Aitkin Independent Age, pretty soon


According to one way of counting, the second decade of the Twenty First Century will soon begin. Remembering all the excitement about year 2000 and its computer algorithms, the predictions of automated shutdowns seem long ago. Most computer systems survived the Millenium shift, and rivers are still flowing to the sea. Whether or not the sea level is rising, or how fast, is a longer-term matter for centuries to tell.

As we enter into year 2010 and another decade, I’m recalling how much organizing has been accomplished since 2000, around lakes in Aitkin County. A number of new lake associations have gotten started, more have been attempted, and new lake monitors have been found to test the water. The county-wide coalition of lake associations, ACLARA, was regenerated several years ago, following a summer of water workshops at the Long Lake Conservation Center.

During this decade, the County Board has enacted a fourth update to the Water Plan for Aitkin County, as well as amending the Shoreland Ordinance with important new Alternative Standards. About two or three years ago the State Legislature mandated a rule-making process for new state-wide shoreland regulations. In early 2010 the resulting draft document from the DNR’s work with advisory committees across Minnesota will be ready for public examination. Already there is strong interest in what sizes and shapes of temporary docks will be permitted in the future.

As the time is soon upon us for New Year’s resolutions, I suggest we think forward about a New Decade with increasing protection for the beautiful waters of Aitkin County.


In recent weeks there has been just a little ice on puddles and ponds. The thin sheets of morning ice on larger lakes have melted quickly before noon. As I rearranged boulders and cement blocks in front of our place the other day for access by skaters and skiers, I felt cold water through my boots, ready to freeze up at the first cold snap.

With any luck there will be clear smooth ice for early skating before snow and rain and cracking roughen the surface. This is the time to remember to wear life jackets and carry spikes on a cord along with you, even when you think the ice is “thick enough.”.

The DNR puts out the same message every year about how many inches of ice thickness are required for walking - driving an ATV or Snowmobile - or driving a car or pickup onto a lake. But are there hidden springs and inlets? Cracks and ridges?

I like to explore carefully at the edges and carry a long probe, besides those spikes - and have a companion along. The best advice? There is no such thing as “Safe Ice!”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Lake in November


lake in November deep blue and crystal clear

geese flock and rest on this warm afternoon

oak leaves have dropped to make a brown carpet

my firewood is sawed and split - stacked for later warmth

the sunny sky is an airway for every size migrant

beside these waters I sit content and ready

ready for next season next idea next task next sound

it comes across the lake where a hundred geese

approach the shore

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


as seen in WATERWORKS 11/4/2009 The Aitkin Independent Age

Water scientists look at sampling results on our lakes and will only talk about trends in water quality after years of observations. But cabin people like to talk about the look of the lake and the weather we’re having “right now.” “What’s all this about global warming? It’s been cold in October!” Now that the last week of October has seen a little sunshine, and outside chores are finished, I’m still convinced that this is not a "normal" fall season.

In September we had a month of warm summer weather, which kept the green foliage on trees and shrubs. Then a week into October, when brilliant maple colors were reaching a delayed peak, we had sudden snowfalls and a killing freeze that withered our gardens.

Confusion everywhere. Snow collected on green oak leaves. Two inches of snow covered green lawns. Box elder trees shed leaves quickly in connected bunches. Surprisingly, the tamaracks stood out boldly in their finest gold. Deciduous trees around the lake were still green when cold weather forced the last holdout to skip a boatride to view the fall colors. Time to put away the boat and remove the dock ahead of an early freeze-up.

Sure, the glaciers somewhere may be disappearing, and the polar icecaps are getting thinner. There are songbirds are moving their nests north. We can discuss “climate” at another time. But can you recall ever experiencing “weather” like this?


About five years ago a new lake association got off the ground with help from neighbors and the Soil and Water office. Our stated purpose at Nord Lake was pretty simple - to protect and preserve the lake, and to get to know the people living around the lake. In my experience as a vacationer, and more recently as a cabin owner, I have observed that some folks come North to “get away” and are not looking for new social networks.

But there were some on our lake who urged us on - to organize, in order to preserve the lake, and to get better acquainted. It turned out that about half of the people near our lake have become association members, with a core group willing to lead picnics, road pick-ups, boat parades, and send out newsletters.

In the summer of 2004 the Aitkin County Water Planning Task Force sponsored a series of workshops on lake stewardship to help reorganize a previous coalition of county lake associations that had become inactive. Today this new Aitkin County Lakes And Rivers Association, or “ACLARA,” is planning some initiatives for its 20 member associations in the coming year. An educational event about the movement of Aquatic Invasive Species into our area, and demonstrations of stormwater management will be offered. Lakes that are looking for help in forming new associations, or support with existing ones, will find experienced organizers ready to work with them.