A message from our forum President, Waldo Asp
We who live by the waters can observe that lakes and rivers mirror the health of our watersheds. This year has unusually stressed our waters. As Dale Olson, Administrator for Zoning and Conservation, says, “Historically high rains ran off, contributing massive amounts of phosphorous, and impacted water clarity in the Fall of ’17, and will again in the Spring of ’18.” Some changes are easy to spot, like washouts, high water filling low spots, and waste washed into the water. Other changes are more difficult to detect, such as the disturbance of native vegetation both in and around the water. And the full effect of this past year may not be immediately realized.
I live on County Line Lake, on the southwest edge of Sawyer County. In past years we measured water clarity in various spots on the lake. It was possible to see the Secci disk down in excess of 20 feet of water! With the continual heavy rainfalls last summer, clarity changed. I could hardly make out objects five feet under water. Whereas previously fish could easily be seen as I stood on the dock– they became no longer visable. I cannot help but wonder about the effects of lost infiltration of physical, chemical and biological processes. No one on our lake mows to the water and natural vegetation has not been disturbed except for a small path on each property to the water. We all thought that we were being good stewards. To lose over 75% of our water clarity was shocking.
There may be some good news, although the bad news may overshadow it. In the last weeks of the summer, water quality did somewhat improve. We will be interested to see what our waters look like when ice goes out. And we will ask the question: “What can or ought we do to help rectify the condition of our waters?” We know that nutrients delivered by runoff are rich in ingredients for plant growth. And all of the phosphorous carried by runoff unleashes aquatic plant and algae growth until it is drained from the system or embedded in sediments. County Line Lake is a seepage lake without an outlet, making it especially vulnerable. And deeper lakes (ours has four depths over 50′) will stratify during the summer. Dead plants and algae fall to the bottom and consume oxygen as they decay. This results in what is commonly called “summerkill.” Furthermore, the snow cover on our lakes can prevent light from penetrating to allow photosynthesizing plants to produce oxygen–this is called “winterkill.” Additional bad news is that, according to The Center for Land Use Education, “neither chemical applications nor mechanical harvesting to control plants or algae have provided relief from oxygen depletion for nutrient rich waters.”
Our Sawyer County Lakes Forum board will address the concerns that this year has produced.
Will spawning areas be affected? How much will the phosphorous runoff unleash an explosion of aquatic plant and algae growth? Are some areas of the County affected moreso than others? Some changes caused by development are easy to spot and rectify. Many others may be more difficult to detect and understand what best could be done to rectify them. And what can our towns, villages, lake associations and County realistically be expected to do? These concerns will be presented at our board meetings and brought to our annual meeting. All our lake associations are invited to give us reports on their lake conditions, and suggestions for actions are invited.
Waldo Asp, President
Sawyer County Lakes Forum