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When the new mayor of Prior Lake talks about the quality of the water in the lake the city's named for, it's personal. Mike Myser has lived on Upper Prior for more than eight years, and he waterskis it a couple of times a week.
"If you spend time on the water," he said, "all this muck gets into your sinuses. And honestly, what I have to do is rinse mine with a saline solution or I'd get an infection. And I know some others have issues as well."
So it doesn't surprise him that the state of Minnesota is bearing down on the city -- as well as farmers, lakeshore owners and others in the watershed -- to clean up the linked Spring Lake and Upper Prior Lake.
"They need a nutrient reduction plan," said Chris Zadak, of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. "It's kind of like an effort to put someone on a diet -- to get them on a long-term plan for maximum calories so they can maintain a healthy weight."
The federal Clean Water Act requires local entities to clean up so-called "impaired" or polluted bodies of water. And studies have found, the MPCA says in a fact sheet, that "for Spring Lake and Upper Prior Lake to consistently meet water quality standards, it will be necessary to reduce phosphorus loading by approximately 83 and 42 percent, respectively."
The first of those two figures in particular is pretty serious, Zadak said - a "relatively high reduction."
It's an issue both personal and civic for Myser, who hoisted himself into office by going door to door telling people that their taxes are much higher than Edina's because Edina has so much lucrative commercial development while Prior Lake has positioned itself as more of a bedroom community.
One important key to stepping up commercial development, he believes, is a high quality of life on the lake for executives with the power to locate their businesses within the community. (With his own business in Shakopee, he admits he has pondered making the same move himself.)
But he worries about making that happen as long as the lake is suffering, both in public image - Prior was identified earlier this year as one of the few metro-area homes to the nasty invasive species of zebra mussels - and in reality.
"A big cleanup responsibility is coming down the pike," he said, "and I'm telling people, 'Wait a minute here - I'd like to see us get out in front of this.'"
There's already a long-range cleanup plan, he said, but he'd like a shorter, sharper effort - more like 10 years than 30 -- and he's asking, "How much money do you need?"
Fortunately, he said, the issue arises at a time when water cleanup is rising as a state and national priority, making outside funds available.
Particularly for lakes at the fringes of the metro, which draw water from farmland in two adjoining townships, the causes of the pollution are complex, experts say.
Phosphorus that ends up making Spring and Upper Prior unpleasant for recreational users comes from "rough fish such as carp and black bullheads, curlyleaf pondweed and disturbance of sediments from wind and boat propellers," an MPCA fact sheet says. "External sources of phosphorus include runoff from agricultural lands, feedlots, lawns, roads and rooftops. Impervious surfaces in the watershed [paved surfaces such as driveways] cause water to move more directly into streams and lakes, without the benefit of natural filtration."
Solutions include working to reduce numbers of rough fish and aquatic plants and limiting runoff from both farmland and suburban lawns and streets.
None of this is in any way ambushing Prior Lake or watershed officials, who've been working on the problems for some time. An internal memo, for instance, points to an "aggressive street sweeping program" that is keeping "sediment and nutrients out of our lakes."
While accelerating those efforts is laudable, City Manager Frank Boyles warned the council in a July memo that "there are serious questions about whether an objective of this magnitude can be accomplished in ten years..."
And even the pursuit of it will take some dough, he added. "We have insufficient personnel to get the work done, so next year we will request another surface water employee..."
Myser was elected as an aggressive fiscal conservative. He isn't eager to raise taxes to accomplish all this. Rather, he hopes to find savings elsewhere. One possibility: Trimming back the city's ambitions in the realm of parks development as its growth in families has slowed.
Nor are the needed changes all financial anyway, he said. They also have to do with public education.
"Farms are the primary cause here, without a doubt," he said. "In the city, fertilizers with phosphorus are outlawed already for lawns, but we need to work with lakeshore owners on things like encouraging natural lakeshore buffer strips. We're putting together a plan to go after this."
David Peterson • 952-882-9023