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Waseca partners with Minnesota State Mankato on lakes plan

Water Resources Center helping to clean up lake

Water Resources Center helps Waseca improve lake quality.

By Ruth Ann Hager, Waseca County News Staff Writer [published in the Waseca County News, Waseca, MN, 5/24/2011]

A year after the Gaiter Lake Diversion Project was put on hold, a new plan has emerged to clean up Waseca’s lakes.

It began with Waseca City Council member John Clemons’ idea to investigate a potential partnership with Minnesota State University, Mankato’s Water Resources Center (WRC). After a meeting in April between city and university officials, the WRC staff prepared a proposal that was presented at a May 17 work session. Project coordinators are Dr. Shannon Fisher, director, and Joe Pallardy, research analyst, at WRC.

The proposed partnership’s mission would be to improve the health of Waseca area lakes, improve lake habitat and water quality, encourage student education and support from the Waseca community.

Further, the proposal would target nutrient sources, habitat improvements and community involvement, train young professionals, involve Waseca area students and give Waseca residents opportunities to learn more about their lakes.

Water quality and aquatic plant data would be collected by the WRC in coordination with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources.

“All implementation efforts placed into action will be based on current, factual scientific data and input from the Waseca community,” according to the proposal.

The plan is a three-phased approach beginning with a lake management plan (Task 1) and a water quality survey (Task 1a), to be completed by February 2012, at an estimated cost to the city of $55,635.

Council member Les Tlougan motioned to move forward with Task 1 and 1A.

According to City Manager Crystal Prentice, the funds would come from the city’s General Fund reserves.

The funds were set aside in the 2010 budget which, when unused, go back into the General Fund, she said.

The new plan replaces the Gaiter Lake Diversion Project, which was put on hold in 2010. In 2005, the city approved an agreement with the county to reroute Gaiter Lake and County Ditch 15-1 in an effort to clean up Clear Lake. The city was the lead agency on the project.

The Waseca Lakes Association had encouraged both government entities to take action after studies had shown that 677 pounds of phosphorus was added to Clear Lake each year, with the largest source coming from Gaiter Lake and the Gaiter Lake outlet.

The city’s share of the cost was estimated at $425,000 and Waseca County’s share was estimated at $375,000 because the county had placed a $100,000 limit on the cost of easements.

In 2009, the council voted to go forward with permits and property acquisition although the project was determined to be more complicated and more expensive than originally thought. In June 2010, however, Interim City Engineer Russ Stammer determined that the quality of water now entering Clear Lake is better than at the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Stammer said it appears that a portion of County Ditch 15-1 is either blocked or collapsed. The blockage is just south of a fork that combines the ditch with the Gaiter Lake outlet before exiting into Clear Lake by Barney’s Drive-In east of Waseca. The area behind the blockage includes a half-mile of agricultural drainage tile and one of the main sources of phosphorus entering the lake.

“The project may not be needed,” he said about the diversion project.

Clemons said the city had set aside $400,000 for the Gaiter Lake project, spent $80,000 on preliminary studies (the city and county each paid half of the $165,000 cost) and didn’t get a project.

“We can spent $55,000 with these people and we still have some money set aside for lake clean-up,” he said.

Duane Rathmann, Waseca Lakes Association president, said he is very happy that the city council is “willing to pick up the pieces again” to work with the MSU-Mankato group.

In an email to Waseca Lakes Association members, Rathmann said the lake management plan will help to “guide future decisions and direction for Clear and Loon Lakes utilizing science based solutions and public input.” A plan is also key to obtaining grants for future implementation efforts, he said.

In addition, Rathmann said the inflow and outflow study will serve as a baseline of phosphorus levels in Clear Lake, allowing for “solid recommendations and a measurement of success.”

“The lake vegetation point intercept survey is phase one of a curlyleaf management program for Clear Lake,” he said.

“This is a great opportunity for the city; it’s a legacy project,” said council member Larry Johnson. “It’s imperative we tried to do something for our lakes.”

He said he is glad to see the city’s moving forward and putting real science behind the project.

“It’s an investment in our community to protect our natural resources,” Johnson said.

The council voted unanimously to authorize the first two tasks of the proposal.

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