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Pristine waters are best for wildlife, recreation, resale value and quality of life. Most of Hubbard County's lakes are considered excellent quality. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

BEST LAKES IN STATE: Report shows Hubbard County's lakes are in excellent condition

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outdoors Park Rapids, 56470
Park Rapids Minnesota PO Box 111 56470

A newly released report confirms what most Hubbard County residents boast about - lake waters here are the best in the state and perhaps the country.

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"It's critical that we protect it," said Dan Kittilson, president of Hubbard County COLA.

Compiled from more than a decade of volunteers' samples of local lake water, the report summarizes water quality, phosphorus levels and chlorophyll concentration over time and contains recommendations for the future.

Most of the county's lakes received high marks, largely due to citizen action to protect them, the report indicates.

The report is a compendium prepared by the Hubbard County Soil and Water Conservation District, the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources and Hubbard County Coalition of Lake Associations. Thirty-nine lakes were assessed for the 2012 report.

"The scale of this type of monitoring" is massive, SWCD director Mark Sommer said, giving praise to the legions of lake associations and volunteers who keep the annual records and volunteer their time to collect the data.

"I don't know if we've ever had a snapshot like this."

Lake monitoring fosters "ongoing education, awareness and lake condition," the report states.

At least 30 of Hubbard County's 728 lakes sample waters annually. A handful keeps records every other year. Most began around 1997, some even a decade earlier, so ample data has been collected that went into the report. Nine lakes are getting individual reports, including Little Sand.

Overall, "most of the lakes evaluated in this report are in excellent condition," the 16-page report states. "They have no declining trend and a well protected watershed."

Big Sand, Little Sand and Kabekona lakes were singled out as being "an exceptional water resource."

But there are threats to pristine waters. Sommers and Kittilson said the report is a blueprint for future monitoring and projects that can save declining lakes before it's too late.

"We haven't reached a critical threshold of impaired" lakes, Sommers said. But both men recommend actions to head off bigger problems.

Where the challenges lie

"Second tier development seems to be the largest risk to the lakes of Hubbard County," the report states. "Once the second tier is developed the drainage in the lakeshed changes and more runoff reaches the lake from impervious surface and lawns."

As many resorts convert to common interest communities, multi-tiered developments have been proposed. Many have been unsuccessful getting the necessary permits to build.

"We're not against development," Kittilson said as Sommers nodded. "We're in favor of smart development."

Both men stress development can be in harmony with lake health if a developer uses best lake practices with regard to building and shoreline restoration and follows shoreland management rules.

But others, such as keeping aquatic invasive species in check, keeping erosion to a minimum and preventing runoff into lakes, will take a concerted public effort.

Best Management Practices

You can't have a manicured lake lawn like you do in town, Kittilson maintains. And that view of the lake can come with a hefty price tag - erosion. Many new lake residents think they can seamlessly transplant their city living habits to the lake, cutting trees and fertilizing grass.

Best Management Practices include:

n Planting natural vegetation along the shoreline;

n Protecting and extending low phosphorus land covers such as forests and wetlands;

n Keeping septic systems and drainfields up to date and in compliance;

n Limiting the use of fertilizers on lawns;

n Managing surface waters such as providing rain gardens and proper drainage.

Water quality trends

At least eight lakes sampled have improving water quality trends. Those include Little and Big Sand, Emma, Eagle Hinds, Kabekona, Potato and Stocking lakes.

Many others have no evidence of water quality trends.

And some have declining water trends. Those lakes are 1st and 9th Crow Wings, Gilmore, Long, Lower Bottle, Palmer and Plantagenet.

"We need to change the attitudes of the residents," Kittilson said. "You can do little things like shoreline restoration. It takes social and cultural change."

Recreational opportunities will be better in clean clear water, he maintains.

Seventeen lakes have gone through a program called the Healthy Lakes Partnership, Sommer pointed out. They formed long-term lake management plans with achievable goals.

Legacy Amendment funds are increasingly available, but increasingly subject to stiff competition, Sommer said.

"Having a plan in place, strategic planning and goals. The well-organized lakes will compete better for those funds," Sommer added.

For instance, Palmer Lake is actively working on its declining status.

"Of 50 parcels of land, 48 are active lake association members," Sommer said. "We can help with a design, funds," information.

But even the projects already begun are not self-sustaining, both men said.

Lake erosion projects and rain gardens need maintenance.

Like a dwindling bank account, deteriorating lake quality is something to be aware of.

"This is a wake-up call," Sommer said. "It takes a lot of small things over time."

But these small things can add up, particularly when the region sees a larger event such as the torrential rainfall that fell 10 days ago.

"It will take time to reverse it," Sommer said. "It will take a community effort to protect the sensitive lakes, not just those living on them. It's a shared resource. We don't have the capacity to protect it ourselves. It's a public interest. We need help."

And as the men reminded the public, even good lakes need protection.

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