Wednesday, December 29, 2010


WATERWORKS Column by Gordon Prickett for The Aitkin Independent Age


By now there is a pot of new state money collected since July 1, 2009. It receives three-eighth’s of a percent from every Minnesota sales tax purchase. More than a dozen state agencies are reported to be receiving and distributing the proceeds from this voter-approved Legacy Amendment. While Governor Pawlenty was busy vetoing and condemning any future tax increases, the legislature and the citizens slipped this one by him, in a constitutional amendment that passed in November 2008.

One third of the new money is going for parks and trails plus arts and cultural heritage. The rest is equally divided - that’s one quarter percent - between the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund and the Clean Water Fund, for lakes, rivers, and aquifers. Following the money spent on the arts has not been difficult. Radio, television, and print media have been announcing the source of new legacy-funded programs. Public libraries, museums, theaters, and radio broadcasts have all shared in new tax-sponsored events.

State legislative committees receive annual accounts of this dedicated spending. The new money has been coming in for eighteen months. Tens of millions have been spread around. Those activities with qualifying “shovel-ready” grant applications on hand have successfully added to their budgets. This sales tax increment is for 25years, so worthy projects can expect to be continued.


My special interest is following the money that leaves Aitkin County, and tracking the money that finds it’s way back here. Especially, the clean water and fish-wildlife habitat money. In some of the early reports I have found identical titles for line items of the Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources. They both assess and monitor water quality.

I will ask the readers to help with my New Year’s Resolution to “Follow the Money.” As reports to the legislature become available I will digest them for this column. Already the Board of Water and Soil Resources in this region has given the Water Planning Task Force a look at their share of Clean Water funding in the current budget year. Aitkin County lakes will have a chance to apply for and share in money dedicated to water quality monitoring and improvement programs. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


(for the Aitkin Independent Age Outdoors "WATERWORKS" column) by Gordon Prickett

Once the mercury drops below freezing and stays there for days at a time it doesn’t take long for bird baths and shallow ponds to freeze over. On November 23rd we awoke to see most of our lake’s surface covered with a thin skin of ice plus a dusting of new snow. So much for the early skating and exploring on the clear glassy ice that exposes the depths. Out from our shoreline I could see a pattern of openings where our young neighborhood beaver appears to have broken through. Remembering that “there is no such thing as safe ice,” I stayed on shore and didn’t venture onto the ice to inspect for beaver. With continued cold temperatures in the weather forecast most of the area lakes should have a thickening ice cover by early December.


The Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations, sometimes referred to as a COLA,
invited neighboring counties and Minnesota Waters to an exploratory meeting in Park Rapids. The invitation to fourteen similar COLAs was to meet and consider what might be gained by joining in a regional or statewide collaborative. Representatives from eleven coalitions of county lake associations sat down on November 16th and talked over their accomplishments and their challenges. I attended the meeting, representing the Aitkin County Lakes and Rivers Association, ACLARA.

From as far away as Grand Marais and Mankato we found that public perceptions about lake property, public waters, and shoreland regulations are pretty similar. Needing help with feedlot drainage and failing septic systems are shared challenges in a number of counties. Finding out about successful grant applications to state lottery, heritage, and legacy funding sources is part of the appeal of this collaborative approach.

The group decided that there was a lot to learn from each other, and there are important activities that we can perform together. We will continue to meet and organize in 2011.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

WATERWORKS Nov 3 Aitkin Independent Age

Local Wednesday Weekly by Gordon Prickett


Our canoe that had been tied securely to the dock was swamped in last week’s windstorm. None of the weather guessers predicted that Minnesota would record it’s lowest ever reading for atmospheric pressure. At 10 AM, Tuesday, October 26th, the barometric low pressure record was first broken in Aitkin. By 5 o’clock in the afternoon the lowest pressure reading occurred in Bigfork with 28.21 inches of mercury (Standard pressure is 29.92 inches).

I found my windsock on the ground not far away two days later. Last Wednesday we took in the dock and portaged the canoe up to a secure winter site on the lake bank. Our mail carrier told stories of power outages and damage from trees blown down on her route during the windstorm. High winds, a lot of rain, and some wet snow - with all that energy it could have been worse.


With the end of the boating season it’s a good time to take a look at the water’s edge and ask how well your shoreline is handling storm water. Does it run off rapidly in gullies into the lake? Or have you left a shore zone not mowed, not clear cut, and not fertilized?

Each cabin owner needs no more than a ten-foot wide cleared path to get down to the lake shore with kayaks, fishing gear, and water toys. I have attended a number of workshops where the topic has been how to build these “Buffer Zones” and “Rain Gardens” to slow down, capture, and treat storm water - before it can flush pollutants into the lake and river.


At one of these workshops I received a valuable summary page from Steve Hall of Shoreline Creations, a “Lakescaping” company in Nevis, MN. It answers questions and concisely tells why a buffer zone makes sense to improve and maintain good lake water quality. A few of Steve’s pointers:

No-Mow and Buffer Zones stabilize shoreline and reduce erosion. They increase fish and wildlife habitat. They also filter nutrients and pollutants and trap sediments. Plus they control insects naturally and reduce lawn maintenance.

Q. Isn’t a buffer zone just a lot of tall grass that looks messy and unkempt?

A. No! Creating a buffer zone with a combination of native perennial wildflowers, grasses, and a few shrubs will make your shoreline beautiful all year long. Add a reasonable maintenance program and your shoreline will be the envy of your lake!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

WATERWORKS October 6th 2010

Aitkin Age wednesday weekly


When the representatives of the Aitkin County Lakes And Rivers Association (ACLARA) gathered on October 1st for our Fall Banquet, this was my toast at the beginning of our dinner to those present, “Here’s to Clean Water and to Safe Boating!” This Coalition, that now consists of 19 Lake Associations, was called together for three training sessions in the summer of 2004, and it formally organized in April 2005. Each year since then we have grown and provided a place where lake associations can share news and ideas, training and programs for their members.

ACLARA is currently streamlining its by-laws, and as part of the drafting team, I was very satisfied with the updated language in the Statement of Purpose.


The Aitkin County Lakes And Rivers Association, referred to as “ACLARA,” serves in Aitkin County to:

A. Protect, preserve, and improve the waters and shoreland of Aitkin County, enhancing aesthetic, economic, and recreational values.

B. Serve as a voice of the membership to governmental bodies and their agencies.

C. Inform and persuade citizens of the County in becoming more effective stewards
of our water resources.

D. Connect and communicate with individual lake and river associations and with coalitions in Minnesota.

E. Support safety and courtesy in the use of county waters and the use of shoreland, and support compliance with all applicable rules and regulations.

That’s what ACLARA is about.

After the meal last Friday we had a program of telling favorite fish stories. Getting out on the water and onto the ice is just a lot of fun. As docks are taken in and we pull our boats onto the shore, Fall colors have never been brighter and water clarity is reaching its peak.

Yes, indeed, clean water and safe boating for all!

(Gordon Prickett is President of the Aitkin County Lakes And Rivers Association)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Aitkin Independent Age WATERWORKS, Sept. 1st

WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett for 9/1/2010 Age


The latest news from Governor Pawlenty was a disappointment to so many who had a part in the state-wide effort to upgrade the 1989 rules for Minnesota shoreland development. In the five-county region where we live, this upgrade process began in 2004 with a pilot project that gave us Alternative Standards in December 2006. After a lot of study, controversy, and public meetings, Aitkin County Commissioners chose the most appropriate new Standards for our County, and reached a unanimous decision in October 2008 on the Amendment of the Aitkin County Shoreland Management Ordinance.

Our new regulations encourage resorts to develop and expand, offer developers a conservation subdivision approach that makes each shoreline property more valuable and appealing. We added protection for the shores of small lakes between 10 and 25 acres in area. And there is new flexibility when protecting the shore impact zone from damage.

While the proposed state-wide rules might offer some benefits for the lakes and rivers here, we moved ahead in timely fashion without waiting for the contentious political outcome that still remains at least three years in the future.


The irony of Tim Pawlenty’s late gubernatorial decision is that it was his Clean Water Initiative and his new Clean Water Cabinet that got Minnesota moving on the issue of protecting this valuable state resource. The legislature picked up the idea and passed the law requiring the DNR to conduct statewide rule-making, starting from the five-county Alternative Standards pilot project that we in Aitkin County had helped to create.

Lake associations and water coalitions across the state are not about to let the work we have accomplished so far just drain away. Minnesota Waters and the Aitkin County Lakes And Rivers Association (ACLARA) are gearing up to inform voters and boaters about this setback.

The DNR officials who labored long and brought about fair and flexible new rules need your support. It’s time to renew this statewide effort to preserve, protect, and enjoy Minnesota’s waters. In November 2008 we voted for the sales tax Legacy Amendment about clean water, parks and trails, fish and wildlife habitat, and for cultural arts. Now we should make sure that better rules accompany our clean water money.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

WATERWORKS August 4, 2010


It’s been a good Summer - so far - on our lake. I encountered my first jet ski on the water July 25th. It had an adult on board with a clinging small child, traveling at usual speeds, well away from the shore. But numerous kayaks and canoes, and a catamaran, can be seen on weekends. Our nesting loons have produced two surviving juveniles that are two months old. And the water clarity was pretty good for July. We don’t discuss the fishing.


The eroding public access at this lake has been called to the attention of the DNR. A proposal is in the works by the Water Planning Task Force to divert and retain the excessive runoff. A site visit in July also showed the harmful effects of “power launching” by very large outboard and inboard motors.

This lake is only about 400 acres in area, two-thirds of a square mile, less than a mile across. Why bring a big rig with 125 to 200 horsepower here, when there are much larger lakes 15 minutes away?

In power launching, the operator guns his motor to lift the boat off of the heavy trailer. When he does this, it churns up the eroded sediment and worsens the turbidity problem in the bay by our public access. Take a look where you launch your boat. And let us know if the lake access where you launch needs attention by the DNR and County Soil and Water.


I’m heading to Cass County’s Deep Portage Learning Center on August 7th to learn about shoreland buffers and native and invasive plants. The DNR will also be there to give us an update on their lengthy process to write new shoreland and dock regulations for statewide adoption by every county. The newly-drafted rules were approved by the DNR Commissioner, but await action by Governor Pawlenty. Then more public hearings must be held, and an administrative judge has final say on any revisions. The final rules are not expected to change very much in our county. Aitkin County acted in October 2008 to adopt Alternative Shoreland Standards developed by the Clean Water Pilot Project in North Central Minnesota. These standards improve protection against over development of lakeshore and encourage the use of conservation subdivisions for lakefront construction.

One simple way to grow a buffer strip along the shores of rivers and lakes is to measure a zone 10 to 20 feet from the water and stop mowing there! After a few weeks native plants and other vegetation will out-perform the shallow-rooted lawn grasses, and, after a season, an effective buffer will be in place to filter the rainfall draining into the water. We have been pleasantly surprised by the blossoms and the variety of plants found in this “no-mow zone” on our shoreline.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Norske Fisherman

My friend on Nord Lake passed away peacefully in a Burnsville nursing home on June 22nd, the second day of summer. Harry Eidsmo was in his upper 70s and had been in declining health. We had joked about his implanted "Dick Cheney" defibrillator, when this new medical device had worked to help give him more energy.

Harry had come up North decades ago as a boy and loved the lakes and pines. He and wife Pat raised a bunch of kids at their summer weekend cabin, with a sandy beach and a reliable fishing boat. Son Danny and wife Diane recently bought next door on our North Shore. Pat and daughter Nancy spent more time up with Harry at the cabin after Harry and Dave Paulson added an enclosed and vaulted porch. When he remodeled their pontoon boat I helped him install the new canvas roof.

We enjoyed quiet weekday morning coffee conversations. I learned a lot about the lake residents, going back into the 1970s. Folks from Edina, including Harry, had bought and built cabins on the subdivided Leestamper Farm, after it was turned into buildable lakeshore lots in the 1960s. There hadn't been a good road in from Red Indian Road during Spring mud season. Harry and Ted Jacobson, along with Marv Bliss had built a steel grader to drag behind Harry's truck. One of them rode on the rig to steer and weigh it down. Marv Bliss created a road fund to buy the Class 5 gravel that they spread to build up the private road that stretched across an earlier wetland.

Harry was not above giving the local newspaper a different lake name when they ran a story in the 1970s picturing the four lunkers that won him a prize.

Harry and I had both retired from utility companies - telephone and electric, respectively. And we enjoyed retirement a great deal on this North Shore.
When we decided to start a lake association, Harry was there. He came to the Blessing Service of our newly-enlarged, year-round home 14 years ago this August.

We share Norwegian ancestors and their love of life on the water.

Farewell and Godspeed, Old Friend.

Sunday, June 6, 2010


WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett
in the Aitkin Independent Age for 6/2/2010


Each year in June in Aitkin County we have the Rivers and Lakes Fair - Third Saturday - June 19th, from 9 a.m. til 2 p.m. at Rippleside Elementary School in Aitkin. Just follow the signs on Minnesota Avenue (U.S. 169) - West of the old hospital where we have fireworks on the 4th of July.

Starting with the kids, there will be activity and exhibits for everyone - birdhouse building, minnow races, live fish in a tank. Learn about songbirds and waterfowl. Get an update on invading species like the Emerald Ash Borer and the Spiney Water Flea.

Bring in a water sample from your well and get a free analysis.

Stop in the school cafeteria for a snack and an inexpensisve lunch. Learn about the Coalition of 19 Aitkin County Lake Associations (ACLARA). We have program suggestions for your lake's annual meetings, and we have an organizing team to assist start-ups.

It's all at the Fair on Saturday Morning, June 19th!

Saturday, January 30, 2010


As storms blow and die, as we “shout out” our greetings and disagreements,
the woods and shores remain, firm and solid. This winter has discontent for many. A job is gone or going. A mortgage submerges. A budget is ravaged. The future in doubt. A tragic half an Island called Haiti, has unimaginable suffering. The marvelous Vikings... lost it. So much to absorb, yet... listen. Pause a moment. What is it that really matters - when our Earth moves? Food, family, and shelter. Enough to eat. Our own, safe and healthy. A roof and walls, heat and safety. Here in the Northland are blessings enough, mostly. For some, but not for all.

In recent weeks the winter landscape has displayed snow, ice, and frost, to the delight of sledders, fishermen, and photographers. This “solid water” is a reminder of the flowing clear water that the next three months will bring. The silence of a frosty dawn holds this promise. Soon winter-hearty songbirds flutter in to check our feeders. Here in the winter woods, tropical time-shared escapes with their luxuries, seem as though they belong in another world. Once again I focus on “food, family, and shelter.”


A Clean Water Listening Session is coming to this region - TOMORROW! The University of Minnesota has a Water Resources Center that is partnering with the State’s Board of Soil and Water Resources. Together they are traveling statewide in January and February to eight different locations to gather ideas for a 25-year water plan.

Our nearest location to meet these folks, and give them our thoughts, is the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd. From 4 to 6 p.m., Thursday, February 4th, a session is planned for Citizens and local officials. Water professionals will meet from 12:30 to 3:30, for a two-way status report and checkup, on the first year of the Clean Water Fund.

The two “similar” sessions will both cover the recently-passed sales tax increase, known as the Legacy Amendment, which has started paying more for the arts, trails, wildlife, and water. The sessions will explain this new 25-year plan called the “Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework.” These sessions give folks a chance to have a voice in building this long-term “Framework.”

As a warmup for tomorrow’s meeting, the U’s Water Resource Center has posted a short on-line survey. I went to their website and searched for “Minnesotans and Their Water online survey.” It is a pretty good chance to put your priorities on record. What do you value about clean water? How would you rank its uses? To drink, to grow food, to play, to shelter wildlife, or what?. I hope to see some of you tomorrow in Brainerd.