Saturday, August 30, 2014


WATERWORKS  a column by Gordon Prickett for the 9/3/2014
Aitkin Independent Age


On Monday and Tuesday, September 15th and 16th, sixth graders across Aitkin County will again experience an Environmental Education Day at Long Lake Conservation Center, for the 20th time in as many years. Last year 127 students from Aitkin, Hill City, and McGregor schools spent the day at Long Lake Conservation Center. They enjoyed a hands-on lab experiment about Lake Bottom Organisms, presentations by the Science Museum of Minnesota, the Minnesota Zoo, and a unique presentation about Frogs and Toads in Minnesota. This special program serves to kickoff their year’s science education.

This Environmental Education Day is hosted by Aitkin County Environmental Services and the Long Lake Conservation Center with the help of donations from county lake associations. At this environmental gem in our county we are making a contribution for conservation, ecology, clean water, and habitat into the future.


There’s a new crude oil pipeline called Sandpiper that is being planned across Minnesota. The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will decide sometime next year whether Enbridge Energy, a Canadian company, will be permitted to lay about 400 miles of pipe in Minnesota to move oil from North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin. The first decision is whether this oil supply line is necessary, and the second decision is approval of the proposed route.

Sandpiper, as proposed, will cross 42 miles of Aitkin County. It will bring local jobs, lease payments to land owners, tax money to governments and schools, And the chance of oil spills and leaks into our habitat of lakes, woods, and wetlands. At this time there are alternate routes being considered that avoid Aitkin County. This light crude oil from the Bakken Formation is moving across the midwest now by rail to refineries and terminals.

Citizens are hearing from many voices about the benefits of a pipeline here, and what happens if it ruptures. I expect to hear much more before the questions are decided.

Monday, August 4, 2014


A Waterworks column by Gordon Prickett for the 8/6/2014 Aitkin Independent Age.

As my canoe rolls in the wake of a wake boarder, I turn to stay upright, and begin pitching in the waves.  Now I remember the fun we used to have as teenagers at a lake cabin behind a fast boat on water skis.  On a summer weekend paddling a canoe or kayak is best done in the early morning.

Boaters here have been pretty good at practicing courtesy, looking out for small craft and the loons.  One of our nesting pairs had a successful hatch this summer, and their two juvenile loons are now getting diving lessons so they can soon feed themselves.


The state legislature has appropriated funds for combating invasive species, and the money became available starting this July.  For Aitkin County over $120,000 is available in the first year, and more than $270,000 may be granted in following years.  Local units of government need to forward requests for this project money, and they will be the fiscal agents.

In Aitkin County the Soil and Water Conservation District and the Environmental Services Department are the key places where we can go for assistance with invasives in our lakes and rivers.
Project ideas for prevention and education about aquatic invasive species, such as  zebra mussels and curly leaf pondweed, will be welcomed, as well as treatment projects when and where they are discovered.  Portable boat washing stations are a possibility.


With the Primary on August 12th and the General Election November 4th, there is no better time than right now to seek out the candidates and incumbents with your questions and opinions.  Within one block of the downtown stoplight in Aitkin the two major political parties can be found in their temporary offices.  Just look for all the signs in their windows.  This is the best time to raise your most important issue with the candidates and their volunteers - when they are looking to meet and talk with voters.

Here is my issue list for starters:  clean water, good jobs here, copper-nickel-platinum mining exploration, the Sandpiper Pipeline Project by Enbridge Energy, rail haulage of coal and crude oil and the danger of derailments, the safety of oil and gasoline trucks on our highways and bridges.

As we consider America becoming independent of fossil fuels from overseas, a major question for me as I fill my propane tank and gas up my boat motor, lawn mower, and vehicles, is how do we increase the safety of producing and moving this petroleum product?

Friday, June 27, 2014


WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett 

A Column for the 7/2/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


As I mentioned in my columns in March and April there is a crude oil pipeline proposed to carry oil from the Bakken oilfield in North Dakota over a new route across Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin. This is a project of Enbridge Energy, headquartered in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and it is known as the Sandpiper Pipeline Project.

At the Rivers and Lakes Fair in Aitkin June 14th I sketched the 42-mile proposed Sandpiper route across our large ACLARA county map which displays our 20 member lakes. From west to east the corridor passes through these townships: Lemay, Macville, Bain, Waukenabo, Logan, Workman, Jevne, McGregor, Spalding, and Salo. There was considerable interest and discussion at the fair about Sandpiper Pipeline. Six public information meetings were held in March at the Minnesota counties along this route. The period for comment has concluded. Public hearings will be held before the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission reaches its decision about the need for this pipeline and a final route.


Following my attendance and testimony at the McGregor information meeting March 13, I wrote a letter to Larry Hartman, Environmental Review Manager, Department of Commerce, who chaired the meeting. These are some of my statements:

“I have serious reservations about the history of Lakehead Pipeline and the renamed Enbridge parent company. Their pipeline spills and cleanup attempts in recent years have left the environment of the Upper Midwest in damaged condition.”

“Aitkin County is a global bird watchers destination. We have many clean lakes and rivers that attract families looking for recreational beauty. We also have developed a thriving sustainable forest products industry. This scenic county is threatened by a future of crude oil pipelines operated by companies with a record of accidental leaks and spills.”

“Installing a pipeline and operating it here in Aitkin County, crossing the Mississippi River and passing through rich wetlands habitat and woodlands will greatly disturb wildlife and people living here.”


No matter what you may have heard, this is not a “done deal.” Domestic oil will be transported across the Midwest by trucks, railcars, and pipelines to terminals, tank farms, and refineries. In Minnesota there are two refineries - at St. Paul Park and at Rosemount. We need petroleum fuels. But managing this transport in the safest possible manner is a challenge for all levels of government. I urge our citizens to pay close attention to what has been proposed for Aitkin County. Your voice matters.

Saturday, May 31, 2014


WATERWORKS by Gordon Prickett  A column for the 6/4/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


Every year at this time - for 18 years - there is a place to learn more about our lakes and rivers in Aitkin County. Because of the ventilation repairs this summer at Rippleside Elementary School, the Rivers and Lakes Fair will be at the Aitkin High School, Saturday, June 14th, from 9 am to 2 pm.

The DNR will have a live fish exhibit with some beauties they have netted nearby. The Audubon Center will bring amphibians and reptiles to meet and interact with fair goers. Lunch and snacks will be available at low cost. Minnow races and the building of bluebird and bat houses will be featured again for kids. Learn about bogs, enhancing shoreline habitat, and preventing the spread of invasive species. There will be a gym full of exhibits to show the many features of our lake country.


Stormwater is rain water that does not soak into the ground during a precipitation event, and typically runs off from hard surfaces like roofs, driveways, sidewalks, and lawns into nearby receiving water bodies.

It carries sediment, pollutants, and nutrients. If not effectively managed, runoff erodes shorelines. One simple way to protect the lake from stormwater effects is to leave a “no-mow” zone of at least 15 feet along the shore, mowing just a path for beach access. This buffer zone of native growth acts to filter and absorb rainfall. Prevention of stormwater runoff can be accomplished by limiting the area of impervious surfaces, installing a rain barrel, and creating a rain garden, berm, or swale.

At the Rivers and Lakes Fair we will show some examples of stormwater treatment in the ACLARA booth.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Title: LOONS ARRIVE -  A WATERWORKS column by Gordon Prickett

for the 5/7/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


The ice went out on Nord Lake Monday, April 28th, and this was another year for the record books. We have records going back to 1976, and this year was definitely late for ice-out. In all that time this was the third latest date. Previously the ice has gone out on April 29, 1979, and on May 10, 2013. Summarizing all this data, we have an average ice-out date of April 15th. The earliest date in our records was March 22, 2012.

While a strong east wind was pushing high waves against the retreating ice shelf on Sunday afternoon, our first returning loon splashed down into the wind. By Wednesday our pair of loons on the east end of the lake was back together, and their calls announced the return of open water and the boating season once again.

I just received the DNR report of the loon counting for Aitkin County. Counters on 22 lakes observed 91 loons and 17 chicks in the summer of 2013.


A new flyer from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has evidence of the killing of loons and eagles. The title is “Get the Lead Out!” Research around the nation has found that lead poisoning from lead fishing tackle is responsible for from 12 to 50% of adult loon deaths. The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota has monitored injured bald eagles for lead since 1980. Lead poisoning has been the cause of admission of 315 out of a total of 1,398 eagles (23%). Eagles are exposed when they eat fish that have ingested lead tackle.

Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont have banned the use or sale of lead sinkers. The European Union has banned lead in all consumer products, including fishing tackle. The MPCA flyer has pictures of the many non-lead weights and jigs now available, and made in Minnesota. It is past time for this action in Minnesota.

Friday, March 28, 2014


A WATERWORKS column by Gordon Prickett

for the 4/2/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


My “Weatherguide” Calendar from the Freshwater Society has a message in its March section that bears repeating here:

How much water do you use? Most of us probably don’t know. According to the EPA, an average American household uses 320 gallons every day. One third of that is used to irrigate the landscape and 50% of that is wasted due to inefficient landscape methods. March is a great time to plan a water-friendly landscape for the coming growing season. When rain falls, why not harvest all the fresh, free water for your gardens and lawns?

One inch of rain on a 1000 square foot rooftop can yield 600 gallons of water. Incorporate more native plants into your landscape. They are drought tolerant and require less maintenance. Keep the water on your land by adding a rain garden this year. There is more to learn at

Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake near Brainerd is the location for a conference on Thursday and Friday, May 1-2, 2014. Sponsors are Conservation Minnesota, Freshwater Society, University of Minnesota Extension, MPCA, and DNR. This is a revival of the biennial state-wide conferences that formerly were put on by the Minnesota Lakes Association, that became Minnesota Waters, before its closure.

Two full days, starting with breakfasts, will feature workshops, breakout sessions, exhibits, and major speakers on issues of clean water, aquatic habitat and invasive species, watersheds, groundwater, and shore restoration. Details of the programs, cost, and registration can be found on this website: and at 612-767-2444.


As introduced in last month’s column and reported on the front page in the March 19th Independent Age, the Enbridge Sandpiper Pipeline Project was explained before a packed hall in McGregor for four hours on March 13th. Public comments and routing alternatives will continue to be received by the state commerce department until April 4th. Then a year’s worth of government actions and public hearings are planned, with a final decision from the Public Utilities Commission expected about March 23, 2015. If approvals are received, Enbridge estimates that construction might begin in late 2014 or early 2015. The Sandpiper Pipeline could then be operational in 2016. Crude oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota would flow across 42 miles in Aitkin County on its way to a Superior, Wisconsin, refinery, Enbridge’s tank farm, and other connecting pipelines.

Monday, March 3, 2014


A WATERWORKS column by Gordon Prickett

for the 3/5/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


It’s been hard to avoid talking about the weather lately. We are sick and tired of below zero forecasts week after week. Wind chill warnings, winter storm warnings, ice that clings to pavement after plowing. The depth of snow across the area increases without any thawing, and no warm up is in sight. A newscaster remembered the heavy snowfall of April 1965 the other night, reminding me of the extreme high water and flooding in St. Paul and North Mankato that spring. We were back in Minnesota from the Navy, and I was attached to a reserve helicopter squadron out at Wold Chamberlain Airport. It was the only time I ever lifted people off their roofs from a hover. The Minnesota River had flooded out homes where it makes a sharp turn to the northeast.

The depth of snow now on the ground and the prospect of some more snow followed by a rapid warm up lead me to consider how to get ready for high water once again. Our ACLARA group of high water planners has reviewed the records from the flooding events in the county in the summer of 2012. We have consulted with lake associations where the highest lake levels occurred. In case of another extremely wet season we will work closely with the county board, sheriff, soil and water, and the DNR to advise governmental units and to spread the news around lake country of any emergency measures.


Whether it is crude oil, natural gas, or propane, pipelines are making news these days in the Upper Midwest. The Bakken oil field in North Dakota and the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, are the origins of most of these stories. Increased fuels production is getting attention as oil and gas companies expand their operations across the northern tier of states and provinces.

For us in Aitkin County the imminent issue deals with crude oil. It concerns routing the Endbridge Sandpiper Pipeline Project across county from west to east. The preferred route from Enbridge would enter south of Swatara along existing electric tranmission lines. After crossing Highway 169 and the Mississippi River it would swing north and east of McGregor, leaving the county along east-west transmission lines into Carlton County.

Before this pipeline can be constructed the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) must do two things: grant a certificate of need, and issue a pipeline route permit. In six affected Minnesota counties, from Polk to Carlton, public information meetings are being held in the first half of March, to give citizens the opportunity to ask questions and state their opinions about this pipeline.

In Aitkin County our meeting will be held at the McGregor Community Center, 41442 Highway 65, on Thursday, March 13th, from 11 am to 2 pm. Minnesota PUC and Commerce Department staff and pipeline officials will be on hand.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


A WATERWORKS column by Gordon Prickett
For the 2/5/2014 Aitkin Independent Age


Years ago reports from state government told us that common loons ingested lead sinkers and jigs and were poisoned. Years ago we also had learned about the consequences of the lead shot in shotgun shells. Waterfowl hunters are now forbidden to hunt with lead shot, but there is no restriction for upland birds. Once there was tetraethyl lead in our gasoline to improve combustion. And lead sulphate was the pigment in white paint. But no more; the damaging effects on small children due to both of these uses was proven, and lead has been removed from gasoline and from paint. Chemists and metallurgists know where to find substitutes. What are we waiting for with our fishing tackle? Talking to the hardware store and bait shop owners in Aitkin did not stop their sales of products that contain lead. Setting up lead tackle exchanges at our Rivers and Lakes Fair moved a few lead-free sinkers and jigs into tackle boxes. But until the State of Minnesota outlaws these deadly weights, we will keep on killing loons. My suggestion is getting action from the legislature on this problem.


It has been more than three years since the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. On April 20, 2010, the offshore oil rig that recovered petroleum from far beneath the ocean floor blew up with loss of life, and a wide spread contamination of the Gulf waters and shores. Days after the spill the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began a damage assessment process to evaluate the impact on seven bird species including the common loon. Scientists from the Biodiversity Research Institute who are conducting a thorough study of loons in this area are noticing toxic hydrocarbons in the blood of loons. As these concentrations increase it appears that hydrocarbons unleashed by the spill are working their way up the food chain to top predators, including loons. Concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) may soon be high enough to harm immune systems or damage organs. The February/March issue of National Wildlife has the story “Secret Lives of Loons” by Laura Tangley.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

High Water

A WATERWORKS Column in the Aitkin Independent Age for January 4, 2014, by Gordon Prickett


Following the extremes of summer flooding in 2012 the ACLARA lake association representatives have considered how to prepare for the next high water event. We learned a few things when the lake levels were rapidly rising back then. For instance, every developed lake, whether it has a lake level gauge or not has an elevation known as the Ordinary High Water Level (OHWL), established by the DNR. Commonly, this is the point where the natural vegetation changes from predominately aquatic to predominately terrestrial. And we learned that just 28 lakes in Aitkin County are provided every spring with a calibrated gauge where DNR staff and volunteers plan to take readings of the lake levels during summer months.

How fast the waters rise depends on the rainfall and the amount that runs off, plus the size of a lake’s “watershed.” When a lake has a large watershed it may take a few days for all the collecting streams and ditches to find their way downhill.

Each lakeshore property has its own connection and vulnerability to fast rising flood water. In the spring of 2012 when ice went out early some shore land residents placed docks and boatlifts in the water earlier than normal. When heavy rains came the docks were under water and had to be reset.

Led by Sheriff Turner, the county government acted with the approval of DNR Commissioner Landwehr to restrict boating traffic on all county lakes to slow no-wake speeds during the height of extreme high water in June and July. This measure prevented damage to vulnerable shores from wave action. Getting the word out to all boaters in the county was not simple. Problems developed when the restrictions were relaxed for part of the county, and then on certain lakes where lake elevations could be measured and high waters had receded.

Lakes that experienced unusually high water in 2012 have discussed where the “trigger elevation” above OHWL should be, that calls for slow no-wake boating until conditions return to normal. ACLARA will be cooperating with the County and with the DNR to assist in advising and informing their members during high water conditions in the future.