South suburban lakes in line for health checks

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 8, 2011 - 7:49 PM

Water quality monitoring will lead to plans to protect or restore four lakes.

In the state's ongoing campaign to catalog the health of Minnesota lakes, rivers and streams, four south suburban lakes are in line for evaluations next year.

The Lower Mississippi River Watershed Management Organization will measure water quality in Sunfish Lake in the city of Sunfish Lake, Thompson Lake in West St. Paul, Pickerel Lake in Lilydale and Rogers Lake in Mendota Heights.

The goal in each case is to protect the lake if the water quality is good and restore it if the water quality is bad.

The Lower Mississippi River Watershed Management Organization is one of six such organizations in Dakota County that work to prevent flooding and improve water quality.

It is seeking $130,000 from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to assess the four lakes, and the funding is likely to be approved, said Barbara Peichel, watershed project manager for the MPCA.

Finding it difficult to deal with the many local jurisdictions that surround lakes and streams, the MPCA has since 2009 focused water improvement efforts on the state's 81 watersheds, which typically cross several jurisdictions, Peichel said.

The Lower Mississippi River Management Organization, for example, covers parts of South St. Paul, West St. Paul, Inver Grove Heights, Mendota Heights, Lilydale and Sunfish Lake.

"The idea of the watershed approach is that in 10 years we will have gone around the state and gotten most of them monitored,'' Peichel said.

"In our watershed approach we are doing a restoration and protection effort,'' Peichel said. "We used to just focus on impaired waters, but now we want to look at the ones that aren't impaired as well.''

Lakes are rated impaired if they are not fit for boating, swimming or fishing, Peichel said. About 1,700 bodies of water have been listed by the state as impaired as MPCA works to meet the federal Clean Water Act requirement that it monitor water quality in all bodies of water and, if necessary, adopt plans to improve them.

Some water quality measurements already have been taken at the four south metro lakes. Sunfish Lake, for example, is already on the state's list of impaired waters. Rogers Lake is so clean it is likely to be one that gets a protection plan, said Laura Jester, watershed administrator. For each of the four lakes, "You are either writing a plan to clean it up or writing a plan to keep it clean," she said.

To devise the lake cleanup and protection plans, the Watershed Management Organization plans to contract with Barr Engineering to take readings on each lake's water quality and water level, as well as to record what aquatic plants grow in the lake and sample lake-bottom sediments for pollutants.

The condition of each lake will be compared with the water quality the lake would have had before surrounding areas were developed, said Janna Kieffer of Barr Engineering.

In devising cleanup plans, finding out where pollutants are coming from is critical, Kieffer said. "That is how we understand how the lake is working and how we can fix it.''

Once plans are written to protect or restore each lake, funding to carry out the plans must be applied for through the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, Peichel said.

Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287

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