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DNR: Leave aquatic vegetation alone unless you get a permit

 State officials are trying to protect the health of several lakes by reminding residents with waterfront property not to clear aquatic vegetation unless they have a permit.

Some homeowners remove vegetation to keep beaches clear for swimming. But that removes vital habitat for fish and birds, and it also leaves the shoreline vulnerable to erosion.

So the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is beefing up its enforcement of rules that outline how much lake vegetation can be removed. Instead of issuing warnings to people who remove aquatic growth, the agency will assess $285 tickets, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported ( ).

"The important message is that we're trying to strike a balance between riparian rights to access and the health of the lake," said Molly Shodeen, a DNR hydrologist.

Homeowners who buy a $35 permit are allowed to clear half their frontage, up to a maximum of 100 feet.

Officers gave out 14 warnings and four citations last year around White Bear Lake. Enforcement will expand this summer to cover the Chisago Lakes area, as the chain of lakes also is experiencing a glut of exposed lakebed as water levels drop.

The focus on managing aquatic plants began a few years ago as the shrinking White Bear Lake was exposing the lake bottom, DNR spokesman Greg Salo said.

"People were tilling once the vegetation started growing. They wanted pristine sand beaches again," Salo said. "But law doesn't allow you to work on the lakebed like that."

So the DNR launched an education campaign, mailing lakeside homeowners with information about the rule and warning land owners who weren't in compliance.

DNR pilots will monitor lakes during flyovers this summer, but Salo said his biggest source of information on violators is other homeowners.

"Now that we've sent letters out and issued some tickets, other neighbors are reporting quite frequently," he said.

Similar plant-removal issues have cropped up at lakes in Chisago County and elsewhere, said Casey Thiel, a water-resource specialist with the Chisago Soil & Water Conservation District.

"We suggest leaving it in place and even enhance it" with more plantings, she said. The growth helps prevent erosion and filters phosphorous out of runoff that drains into the lakes.

"It's doing its job, even if you don't like it," she said of the vegetation. "It's doing what it's needed to do."