Thursday, September 27, 2012


WATERWORKS Column by Gordon Prickett for the 10/3/2012 Aitkin Independent Age WHOSE LAKE? When we talk about lakes and lakeshore it’s normal to refer to “my lake,” if we happen to own or use a cabin close by. And if we work for a governmental agency that provides a service in lake country I guess it’s normal to have a proprietary feeling about the water, the fish, the vegetation, the data, and the shoreline of these water bodies. Now I am talking about the “public waters” in our county. They are a local, state, and national asset that we all can share. Our merchants hope that many visitors will come in summer and share the joys of boating and swimming. A normal winter brings snowmobilers, skiers, and ice fishermen. Those of us with a conservation ethic hope that these folks can enjoy the waters and help us take care of them for the future. HOW HIGH IS THE WATER? The information about a lake is also public information, and can be accessed, to the extent that it is gathered, by an Internet-savvy keyboard artist. This summer when storms raged across our county we had an urgent need to learn how high lake levels were climbing. Dock sections were drifting away. Lake level gauges were underwater. Wellheads were underwater and propane tanks were afloat. Boat lifts, canopies, and pontoons were adrift on Big Sandy Lake. Emergency meetings of the County Board in June established Slow-No-wake boating restrictions for all lakes in the county. At the hundreds of lakes in the county the rapid rise in surface levels varied greatly. But the effects of torrential rains were everywhere, with storm water washouts and erosion of roads and shores. Elevations have been established at about 60 lakes in the county, by setting benchmarks and examining the vegetation to determine Ordinary High Water. At 28 of these lakes there are DNR level gauges where regular readings are taken, starting when the ice goes out. By working with the DNR, the Soil and Water Office, and Land Department surveyors, the Sheriff and the County Board adjusted their boating restrictions over several weeks, for particular lakes where levels were extremely high and shoreline damage could occur. The coalition of 20 lake associations, known as ACLARA, is surveying our membership to evaluate how the lakes were affected by these emergency boating restrictions. We will deliver a summary report to the County Board early next year.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


From the WATERWORKS Outdoors Column 9/5/2012 in The Aitkin Independent Age by Gordon Prickett In the recent excitement about boating on our flooded lakes I learned something new about fast boats. They can take on gallons of ballast water in order to make the largest possible waves for the wake boarder being towed behind. Many decades ago I learned to ride surf boards and water skis. Being pulled with two other friends, on water skis and a flying disc, we thought we were pretty hot stuff. The boat towing us was skimming across the water at top speed without much of a wake. Next for us came the slalom ski, a wide ski with tandem foot positions. Fifteen or twenty years ago, when my water ski days had ended, wake boarding began on some of the local lakes. I noticed that beginners took a lot of spills, as they learned to jump wakes and practice flips. A few neighbors became expert in this new sport. As wake boarding has mostly replaced water skis, the boats have gotten bigger and more powerful. These days I happen to paddle a canoe much of the time or slowly troll in a fishing boat. I can handle the rough water from strong steady winds, and I head for shore in a storm. But the intermittent tall waves from a wake boarding crew are another matter. Especially when that wake builds up near shore. Jetskis are required to proceed out 150 feet at no-wake speed before they are allowed to open up. During the recent flood emergency in Aitkin County, there was a 300-foot distance from shore on certain critical lakes where no-wake speeds were mandated. There might be an acreage size of a lake (small and narrow lakes) at which wake boarding and other surface use are just not compatible. MAKING YOUR VOICE HEARD One of the purposes of the Aitkin County Rivers And Lakes Association (ACLARA), a coalition of twenty individual lake associations, is “To serve as a voice of the membership to governmental bodies and agencies.” In June we were asked by the Sheriff and the County Administrator for contact names at each of the lakes, as the County was assessing the risks of high water and was holding emergency board meetings to consider regulating boat traffic. At the ACLARA meeting August 11th both Scott Turner and Patrick Wussow reported on their efforts in the past three months, as the County was faced with unprecedented flood waters and runoff. In a discussion of the reaction by lakeshore property owners to the changing “Slow-no wake” speed restrictions, the speakers asked lake associations for their suggestions about future policy for the flood next time. If readers from lakes without lake associations are interested, another one of ACLARA’s purposes is “To help form new lake associations in the County.” It is a good way to make your voices heard.