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Excess runoff from a quick spring thaw has recently filled ditches, driveways, streams and lakes. The water is beneficial for bodies of water experiencing historically low water levels, yet can cause extra nutrients to enter our lakes, ponds and streams too. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

Water, water everywhere will be good for our thirsty lakes

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What a strange winter. Although it seems you hear those words uttered and muttered every winter, this one was, and still is, truly unique.

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Had you asked my prediction regarding ice fishing conditions for the season last December, my outlook would've been positive, possibly teetering on perfect, until a transformation took place a few weeks later. Soon winter turned into, well, winter. Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Ugly.

It's funny how late November and early December brings out the optimist in all of us. Despite the first few early winter traffic accidents, we look at the snow dusted pines and sigh, "Beautiful." Yet once the super-sub-zero temperatures hit, we nod at each other in the grocery store parking lots and reply to inquisitions of, "How are you?" with "Just trying to stay warm."

It seems we may have finally started ascending from the summit of winter's fiery breath, though over the past week cordial parking lot responses changed into, "Just trying to stay dry."

Who would've predicted the ditches and swamps, fields and fairways would look more like lakes than grassy terrain, even two weeks ago? It's a forecast based on numerous, ever-changing variables.

And regardless of our area's wet status, we still feel fortunate to avoid the circumstances residents along the Red River Valley are going through. Personally, I know their level of discomfort, as I experienced the flood in 1997 while a student at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

Though our water levels don't fluctuate quite like the stained Red River, the situation in portions of Minnesota and North Dakota is a few standard deviations from "normal."

Because of warm air temperatures that caused snow to melt quickly, a subsequent rainfall and an earthy soil that remains frozen, impeding seepage and resulting in runoff, "water" has been a recent battle for many of us, especially in driveways and basements.

Doug Kingsley, Park Rapids Area Fisheries Supervisor, notes that this year's weather generated circumstances which will affect lakes, rivers and ponds both positively and negatively. "For some of the lakes with low water levels, the runoff is good, since it causes water levels to rise," says Kingsley. Bodies of water with current high water levels could be adversely impacted, but fortunately, Kingsley adds, Hubbard County doesn't currently have any lakes facing that situation.

Slightly higher water levels also means increased breeding grounds for fish that spawn in shallow water environments. This can translate into added protection for those fish since both anglers and larger predators have more difficulty targeting fish around flooded brush, timber and vegetation.

Smaller ponds will also receive a boost in both width and depth, which livestock commonly use for hydration and are treasure chests for bait companies, which rely upon ponds for trapping leeches or holding excess minnows.

Kingsley says that streams especially can gain needed water since many in our area are quite shallow. However, the Straight River has accumulated slightly more water than needed, washing away a section of road at one of its intersections in Becker County.

Unfortunately, when the lake levels rise due to runoff, the water trickling into our lakes, rivers and ponds transports nutrients and sometimes unwanted chemicals. Filtering that runoff is difficult, causing each body of water to receive what Mother Nature pours into them.

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