WATERWORKS Column by Gordon Prickett for the Aitkin Independent Age, 2/2/2011
In my midwinter musings I am thinking about the “State” of things - the State of the Union, the struggling state of the economy, and our divided State Government. As our lake association members and boards consult this winter to plan our meetings and programs for the year, it might be a useful exercise to look into “The State of Our Lakes.” The beautiful lakes of Aitkin County.
In the county there are approximately 57 lakes with one or more public access landings that the DNR maintain. About two dozen of our lakes have active lake associations. Roughly, the same number of lakes have had volunteers counting loons and monitoring their lake water quality in recent years. This has resulted in a treasure trove of lake data that resides with the individual volunteers, their lake associations, the DNR, and the Pollution Control Agency.
The Common Loon is an “Indicator Species,” as are the several kinds of frogs found along the lakeshore and in wetlands of each watershed. Water quality volunteer monitors have lowered their white Secchi disks during the Summer months and recorded lake water clarity readings - the depth where the disk can no longer be seen. As local loon populations vary and as water conditions appear to change over years, we have an indication of the “state” of these twenty- or thirty-some developed lakes that are subject to serious use by visitors and residents.
Then there are public agency professionals who conduct more intensive water sampling, chemical testing, and lead shoreland revegetation projects. In any given year several of the county lakes are the focus of protection and remediation studies, using state and county funds dedicated to environmental purposes of clean water and wildlife habitat. When lakes and streams are discovered to be “impaired,” their use for recreation is compromised. Staff scientists and technicians from county and state governmental agencies then work with local lake dwellers to identify the causes of impairment and correct the conditions that have harmed these waters.
Aitkin County contains more than 300 bodies of water with an area greater than ten acres. Of these, 251 have been given names, and 50 of them are classified as General Development lakes or Recreational Development lakes. Dozens of remote lakes are simply referred to as “Unnamed,” although they carry a Division of Waters identification number and appear on our maps. We have 164 lakes classified as Natural Environment lakes, which are predominately undeveloped.
As I have reviewed the variety of data contained in the current Shoreland Ordinance and County Water Management Plan, I can confidently report that the “State of Our Public Waters” today is “pretty good.” Our challenge for this year and for future years is to protect and improve them as much as possible.