So said lake limnologist Steve McComas, last July, as he strapped on his oxygen tanks and weighted belt on the way down to the bottom of Diamond Lake. McComas was trying to collect another core sample of the lake bottom - the first sample was analyzed and, in the process, essentially dissected for testing. The Association wanted the physical evidence of a sample to 'show and tell' with McComas' report, commissioned by the Association last year independent of the Clean Water Partnership grant. Results were none too astounding, except maybe for the fact that one inch of muck is added to the bottom every 5 years, which suggests that the lake was considerably deeper when the glacier pulled out of the area eons ago. (Copies of the report are available from Bob Meyerson at the Atwater State Bank).
McComas was also in the area this day to take his monthly sampling of lake water for analysis and to train Association Board members to take over the job next year. Water samples from the top and bottom of the lake are taken to determine the level of phosphorous in the lake, phosphorous being the main contributor to water turgidity and algae blooms. The samples are sent to Eco-Agri Labs in Willmar for analysis.
In addition to water sampling, temperature and oxygen are measured using a special meter. At every 3 feet, until about 24 feet of depth, the test is run. The purpose is to establish dissolved oxygen, a commodity necessary for fish and for preventing the release of settled phosphorous back into the water column. Readings can then be compared to previous findings and to conditions in other lakes. Results this time were not good: oxygen levels fell off dramatically at 15 feet to almost nothing, confirming what we had seen with our eyes when we took our Secchi disk reading of about 2.4 feet - meaning we lost sight of the 6" painted disk at that depth.
According to McComas, a major contributor to the problem of turgidityis the east side inlet where a green ooze from Hubbard Lake enters Diamond for a considerable part of the summer. A quick trip to the culvert/bridge crossing the road (County #137) will illustrate what we are talking about. The Association has designated the Hubbard-Schultz-Wheeler chain of lakes one of its projects as part of the CWP grant. But solutions have proven too expensive (an alum treatment) or too massive politically (draining the shallow lakes to allow the reemergence of favorable vegetation). McComas did come up with another solution: aeration. The idea here is that oxygen will help break down the phosphorous and algae coming into the lake. The cost would be manageable, less than $10,000, and it would probably require only one or two permits. The proposal is under consideration. If it is accepted, testing will play an important role in documentation the success or failure of the effort.
Curly Leaf Weed Cutting - by Kathy Flaata
On May 7th, several lake shore owners on the N.E. side of Diamond Lake spent 35+ hours cutting curly leaf weeds from the northeast bay area.
The project started in the Spring of 1996 when the Diamond Lake Association received the permit to cut curly leaf weeds from the 50 acres in the North Bay.
In the past four years, many volunteers have helped with the curly leaf cutting on the north edge of the bay. The results are VERY POSITIVE as this year there were only a few curly leaf weeds found to cut on the north shore.
If you are willing to help with this project, please call Jennifer Davenport at 974-8445. Have a safe and happy summer!
Conversation with a Farmer - by Bob Meyerson
A local dairy farmer stopped by the other day to discuss environmental issues in the watershed. I thought it instructive for a number of reasons, but primarily because it provided a point of view not often heard by lake home owners. Ultimately, we all live in the same approximate area - our choice is to try and work out problems cooperatively, or confrontationally. While a case can be made for the latter, I personally favor the former. In the long run, cooperation is likely to be the more rewarding because the less costly, both in dollars and emotional investment.
According to the farmer, an agent from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency appeared unannounced at his doorstep one day to complain about a certain alleged violation relating to the farmer's practices. She would not say who (if anyone) had filed a complaint. When the farmer invited her to visit the site in question, she declined. When he tried to explain the matter from his perspective, he was met with a statement of the rules. Period. Naturally, he was not put in a happy frame of mind.
The farmer was immediately put off by the appearance of an agency regulator bearing bad news. He suspected an anonymous tipster who, he felt, should have contacted him directly if he had a problem or question with what he was doing. The agency regulator did not appear to have an agricultural background and so was unable to appreciate the farmer's logic. She was not willing to learn, nor did she have the flexibility to tailor a solution to fit the particular situation, assuming it needed correction. When agriculture commodity prices are low to begin with, and when a farmer works hard in sometimes unpleasant physical circumstances, the last thing he needs is the government knocking on his door with more bad news.
This MPC agent was not in the best position to begin with. She was required to investigate a matter which may have been outside her expertise. She was alone with someone she didn't know and might have felt intimidated. She could not have relished the prospect of showing up at a stranger's doorstep with a negative agenda. And she apparently lacked the authority to design a solution to fit the circumstances.
So what should be done? When the legislature passes laws, they expect them to be enforced by the State's agencies. When farmers conduct their affairs in a sensible manner, they don't expect harassment from the outside. And when a problem or violation appears to exist, the public has the right to expect correction. The answers aren't obvious. But for starters, all sides need to appreciate the other's point of view. The need to be able to state their case and see where there is common ground. It is easy to finger point and malign; it's a lot harder to reach solutions that protect the environment in a cost effective manner and enable the agricultural producer and lake home owner to enjoy the benefit of their property. And it behooves all to make their point of view known so that all of us can appreciate the complexity of the problem.
Another Thought on Fertilizing
Before you apply fertilizer to your lawn or garden, have your soil tested to find out what nutrients you need to apply. Many soils don't require any additional phosphorous to produce a vigorous lawn or garden. By not applying phosphorous you will help reduce the possibility of phosphorous' entering the lake from your property. You may have your soil tested at Eco-Agri Testing Labs, located on East Highway 12 in Willmar (on the southeast corner of 12 and 71 bypass). Per sample basic test costs $8.25; basic plus nitrogen cost $12.25. For more information call the lab at 320-235-3927.
DNR Drawdowns Let the Sunshine In - from Fist & Wildlife Today, Spring 1998
Biologists replicate drought conditions to improve the ecological health of two shallow southern Minnesota lakes.
NOTE: WE ARE REPRINTING THIS ARTICLE AS A POSSIBLE MODEL SOLUTION FOR THE WHEELER-SCHULTZ-HUBBARD CHAIN OF LAKES NUTRIENT LOADING PROBLEM.
It's been nearly a decade since southern Minnesota had a decent drought, the kind tat drops water levels in large lakes enough to expose the seeds of water plants to sunlight so they can germinate.
Because aquatic plants are essential for keeping shallow lakes clear and able to support healthy wildlife or game fish populations, the DNR is doing on two large lakes what nature isn't; lowering the levels.
Swan Lake in Nicollet County is one of the state's premier waterfowl waters. But according to Dennis Simon, wildlife manager at Nicollet, the lake desperately needs a temporary drawdown to re-establish emergent vegetation (primarily bulrushes and cattails) it has lost during the past several years. The plants provide wildlife habitat and absorb waves, which otherwise stir up bottom sediment that block sunlight from reaching underwater vegetation. Lake plants also deplete the supply of nutrients in the water that can fuel algae infestations. And emergent plants such as bulrushes reduce shoreline erosion by absorbing waves.
"The combination of high water and exploding muskrat populations over the past several years decimate the emergent vegetation at Swan Lake," says Simon.
In addition to the foot of water the DNR drew off Swan Lake last fall, another foot will be dropped during the spring and summer of 1998. The DNR agreed to the drawdown after meeting with hunters and other lake users last fall.
"We're hoping the drawdown will help thicken some cattails and bulrush stands out in the lake that right now are very thing," says Simon, who adds that eventually, the lake will have to undergo a more severe drought or drawdown to significantly increase the amount of emergent vegetation. "But for now, we'll see what we can accomplish with this 2-foot drawdown".
In March, the DNR also began lowering the water level of Lake Hanska in Brown County. The 2.5 foot drawdown, part of an effort to improve water clarity, complements a lake level reduction of 1 foot this past winter. Stop logs now removed from the water outlet structure will be replaced in July so the lake can return to normal level.
This is the first time the DNR has tried lowering water in winter and spring, says Don Schultz, area wildlife, manager at Redwood Falls. "Previous temporary drawdowns in spring and early summer were largely unsuccessful because water levels could not be lowered quickly enough to allow time for plants to grow before we had to raise the level again," Schultz says. "We're hoping that this year we got a jump on things early enough for plants to get a foothold".
Schultz says Lake Hanska currently has virtually no aquatic plants. "The lack of vegetation is a key reason for the continual decline in water quality," he says.
To prevent the 1,844 acre from degrading further, Schultz has been working with Hugh Valiant, fisheries supervisor at Waterville, and local citizens on a plan to expose some lake bottom to promote plant growth in the exposed areas.
Drawdowns should expose roughly 500 acres of lake bottom, Schultz says. In addition to keeping the water cleaner, the plants will provide habitat for waterfowl, fish and other aquatic animals. Additionally, the process will tell biologists about how well the Hanska water control structure works to lower water levels.
Valiant says the lake currently has a fair walleye population but numerous carp and balk bullheads are crippling a lake ecosystem already struggling from a continual influx of pollutants from farm fields and roads. "The current partial drawdown will help improve water quality, but it's not a long-term solution, Valiant says.
Sometime during the next few years, he explains, the lake will need to be lowered even further and then treated with a chemical called rotenone to kill the entire fish population. (Editor's note: See "Making the clean kill," pages 4-5). Valiant says the DNR would then stock the lake with game fish, as it did following the Lake Hanska reclamation in the late 1980's. The rough fish kill and subsequent stocking produced excellent game fish populations during the early 1990's. Anglers throughout the region were catching large numbers of 3 and 4 pound walleyes.
In recent years, carp have returned to the lake, requiring another reclamation.
Thought Valiant said lake reclamations and drawdowns can be "powerful tools" for improving fishing. They are definitely not cure-alls. "Unless major changes are made in land use practices within the watershed of a reclaimed or lowered lake, the lake and its fishery will eventually revert back to the state they were previously in," he says. "That's what's happening at Hanska".
Valiant, Schultz, and others working to restore Hanska believe it can eventually become a superb fishing, swimming, and wildlife lake, but only if citizens team up with private and public conservation groups to get at the root of the lake's water quality problems.
And that, says Valiant, means permanently reducing nonpoint-source pollutants flowing in from the countryside and nearby towns, bot just lowering water levels not and then.
Phosphorous, a Controllable Threat
An article appearing in the "Green Lake Breeze" (their version of the "Diamond Lake News", cited phosphorous as "perhaps the biggest potential threat to clean lakes in Minnesota"! They note that one pound of phosphorous produces 500 pounds of algae, with the result that water clarity is diminished, yucky algae blooms more numerous, and oxygen levels lower as the decomposing algae consume it in the process. Oxygen is necessary to the survival of fish.
While some phosphorous is naturally occurring, some is the direct result of human application. Lakeshore residents can do their part by practicing good conservation methods such as preventing lawn and garden run-off into the lake, and by purchasing low or no phosphorous fertilizer. Every bag of fertilizer indicates the major nutrients it contains: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), in that order. The middle number should be 5 or less, preferably 0. Look for it when buying fertilizer and, if not available, request it for the future. Businesses will respond to public demand.
Someone dropped off a record of "Dates Ice Left Diamond Lake" on my desk. The list, which goes back to 1928, was originally compiled by L.P. Larson, owner of the local lumberyard for many years, and then continued by Russell Olson, local farmer and Diamond Lake resident. The median date for ice off, by which is meant the date essentially all the ice sank, was April 13. 1950 saw the latest ice off with May 5. The earliest was March 14, which occurred this year, and beat the previous earliest date by two weeks.
An early ice off this year has meant that docks were out earlier. One family, the Sietsemas, even managed to take a water ski before the calendar flipped into April! Early ice off also meant that the curly leaf pond weed got an earlier start, and cutting began on the north side (with DNR permitted approval) before the fishing opener. And whether or not this has anything to do with ice off, we saw a wild turkey on our lawn in early May.
articles for the Diamond Lake News. If you don't have an article, suggest a topic. Drop us a line at P.O. Box 755, Atwater, MN 56209.
old copies of Diamond Lake News, studies of Diamond Lake, literature on various lake-related topics, copies of the Lake Awareness Project; if interested, stop by the News office located in the Covell Bldg.; next to the Atwater State Bank, preferably on Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday.