A.L. lakes may not be unsuitable as Web site reported

Published 9:16 pm Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency project manager said Thursday that the state agency does not support the Check My Lake Web site powered by the Conservation Minnesota organization — which has posted that local lakes are unsuitable for swimming and recreation.

Bill Thompson, surface water quality project manager with the MPCA out of Rochester, said the Conservation Minnesota-powered Web site made a black and white distinction based off of MPCA data, which he thinks made the lakes seem worse than they are. That distinction was not the ruling of the state Pollution Control Agency.

“They took data and did that themselves,” he said. “We don’t support that site. We haven’t had staff that have helped them with their determinations. They have done that themselves.”

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He recognized, however, that there are lake water-quality problems in southern Minnesota lakes.

“We know that, that’s sort of a basic premise,” Thompson said. “In the state of Minnesota, the lakes aren’t meeting water-quality standards.”

But, he said, people should also recognize that information can be interpreted differently by people.

While the Conservation Minnesota Web site uses the word “unsuitable,” the MPCA would say “not supporting,” he said.

He also recognized the current work being done through groups such as the MPCA, the Department of Natural Resources, the Shell Rock River Watershed District and Freeborn County to come up with a plan to improve area lakes.

“That’s what’s the positive note,” Thompson said. “There’s some new planning and implementation efforts. Everyone needs to take part in that.”

Shell Rock River Watershed Administrator Brett Behnke said to him it sounded as if the Check My Lake Web site was using old data to make its recommendations.

Secchi disc readings (used to gauge water transparency) at area lakes

May 26

Lake Site Secchi disc reading Total depth

Pickerel 0.9 feet 4.7 feet

Fountain West 5 feet 6.4 feet

Fountain East 4 feet 7.76 feet

Albert Lea West 2.4 feet 4.26 feet

Albert Lea Central 2.4 feet 4.6 feet

Albert Lea East 3.5 feet 3.5 feet

June 15

Lake Site Secchi disc reading Total depth

Pickerel 3.5 feet 5.0 feet

Fountain West 6.8 feet 6.8 feet

Fountain East 5.4 feet 8.0 feet

Albert Lea West 4.8 feet 4.8 feet

Albert Lea Central 5.2 feet 5.2 feet

Albert Lea East 2.7 feet 4.5 feet

July 1

Lake Site Secchi disc reading Total depth

Pickerel 0.7 feet 4.7 feet

Fountain West 2.0 feet 7.0 feet

Fountain East 1.8 feet 7.7 feet

Albert Lea West 4.0 feet 4.5 feet

Albert Lea Central 5.0 feet 5.0 feet

Albert Lea East 1.9 feet 3.8 feet

A Conservation Minnesota communications spokesman said the data used was officially compiled in 2008, though it might include tests from as far back as the late 1990s.

“It’s a perfect opportunity for us to educate about the work we’re doing,” Behnke said. “I wouldn’t be concerned about being in our lakes.”

He said while every lake in the Midwest has algae, the Watershed leaders are taking many steps to reduce the algae blooms and their effects, including installing fish barriers.

“With the work we’re doing, you’re going to see more and more reductions,” Behnke said. “We have noticed changes, but it’s still going to take a long time for us to get all the way there.”

Behnke said the Watershed District will pull some new water samples in the next week to show people what the current status of the lakes are. They will release the results of that sampling to the media.

During discussion of the issue with the Albert Lea City Council and City Manager Victoria Simonsen in their Thursday preagenda workshop, the city manager and council also questioned the age of the data used on the Check My Lake Web site.

They talked about how they’ve heard many compliments about the clarity of the water this year.

Fountain Lake Sportsmen’s Club President Dave Villarreal said he thinks the clarity of the water has been much better than it has been in several years, a lot of which can be credited to the Watershed District’s efforts.

Albert Lea Mayor Mike Murtaugh said there have been some significant changes in the last three years that affect water running into Fountain Lake, and Albert Lea Lake beyond that.

“We’ve had the Edgewater dumpsite cleanup this year, construction of holding ponds for stormwater runoff, fish barriers to prevent carp infiltration, filter strips among farm fields, rock falls constructed to reduce erosion, elimination of individual septic systems that are discharging untreated sewage and more,” Murtaugh said.

Also, the city of Manchester’s sewage treatment will soon be done at the Albert Lea Wastewater Treatment Plant, which will eliminate another source of pollution entering the lakes, he said.

“Unfortunately, the Check My Lake website doesn’t acknowledge any of these recent efforts, so while its intent is good, it’s value as a current source of information on our lakes is minimized,” he said.

People need to recognize that the Watershed District has made progress in improving water quality, he said.

According to Secchi disc readings performed by the Watershed staff — which measure how far down an opaque disc can be seen from the surface — water clarity was perfect in several areas of Fountain and Albert Lea lakes in June. In Edgewater Bay in Fountain Lake the Secchi disc could be seen 6.8 feet down, which was the same as the depth of the water. A disc could be seen 4.8 feet down in the western part of Albert Lea Lake in a depth of 4.8 feet of water, and 5.2 feet down in the central part of Albert Lea Lake, where there’s a depth of 5.2 feet.

In July 1 readings, the numbers were lower, though the discs could be seen 4 feet down in the western part of Albert Lea Lake in a depth of water of 4.5 feet and 5 feet down in the central part of Albert Lea Lake, where there’s a water depth of 5 feet.

The discs could be seen about 2 feet down in both Edgewater Bay and the main part of Fountain Lake in a water depth of at least 7 feet of water.