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.