Five lakes and one creek in northeastern Ramsey County are the target of an intensive cleanup plan over the next several years to clear the waterways that are becoming choked by pollution.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has drafted a plan estimated to cost about $2.5 million to $7 million over the next several years to reduce pollution levels in East and West Goose Lake, Gem Lake, Gilfillan Lake, Wilkinson Lake and Lambert Creek. The six bodies of water are clustered northeast and southeast around the junction of Interstate 35E and Highway 96.

The lakes were declared impaired by the MPCA three years ago, and the creek was listed in 2008.

"Those lakes have been plenty ripe this summer," said Mark Burch, chief engineer and public works director for White Bear Lake, speaking of East and West Goose Lake, which are connected. "The problem with those lakes is they have a very high phosphorus content, so there's been a huge algae bloom all summer."

The two small lakes lie on either side of Hwy. 61 coming into White Bear Lake. "Unfortunately, that's the first thing people see," he said, and there would be strong interest in getting the problem resolved.

The chief problem in all of the targeted lakes is excessive phosphorus, a polluting nutrient that comes from several sources, including leaves and grass clippings, fertilizers, runoff from soil and hard surfaces like roadways and from sediment in the lakes themselves that get stirred up by rough fish such as carp and bullheads or boat motors, said Chris Zadak, project manager with the MPCA. Being fairly shallow, and surrounded by mostly developed areas, they are especially prone to nutrient pollution overload.

"Typically, when adding lakes and other waterways to the impaired list, across the metro or across the state, phosphorus is our number one concern," Zadak said.

Bacterial pollution is the chief concern for Lambert Creek, which comes from human, pet and wildlife waste.

The plan calls for a reduction of phosphorus in the lakes ranging from 24 percent in Gem Lake to 91 percent in East Goose Lake to get them back to state standards and off the "impaired" list. Bacteria in Lambert Creek will need to be reduced by 61 percent. The MPCA is taking public comment on the proposal until Oct. 15 before being sent on to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for final approval, likely before the end of the year, Zadak said.

Ramsey and Anoka counties, the cities of North Oaks, White Bear Lake, Gem Lake, Vadnais Heights, Lino Lakes and White Bear Township, along with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, would be affected by the plan. It's not clear how the cleanup steps outlined in the plan will be funded, Zadak said, but costs are typically shared by the state and local communities, and could include grant money from the state's Clean Water Fund.

Those steps are detailed in the plan and vary in specifics for each body of water depending on the magnitude and sources of the pollution.

West Goose Lake, for example, plays host to the Ski Otters Water Ski Club, which puts on popular shows during the summer months. The club pays to treat the lake to hold down growth of aquatic nuisance weeds, but the powerful engines used by the boats stir up bottom sediments, the reports says, repeatedly disrupting plant growth and releasing phosphorus that had been deposited in the lake from the White Bear Lake wastewater treatment plant, which used to discharge into the basin.

The plan calls for the ski club and the Vadnais Lake Area Water Management Organization to collaborate on efforts to cut down on that particular source of phosphorus.

The watershed district also has taken drastic measures to get rough fish out of East and West Goose Lakes. Last spring, after ice out on the lake, about 8,000 pounds of bullheads were removed from lake by net in a licensed harvest over three weeks. A similar harvest is set to be repeated next month. Game fish are not harmed during the netting.

The biggest ticket items, proposed for each of the lakes, are the addition of detention ponds designed to capture runoff and trap nutrient pollutants before they can reach the larger bodies of water. It also proposes better street-sweeping equipment and frequency of their use in communities around the lakes. And for lake homeowners who have manicured lawns going to the lakeshore, the plan urges they be restored to natural vegetation that better filters pollutants.

A cheaper part of solution, also common to every lake in the plan, is the addition of rain gardens around the lakes, Zadak said. Rain gardens using native plants to soak up rainwater have been proven effective in shielding lakes from the kind of nutrient pollution targeted by the plan.