To slow algae growth and clear up the pea green waters of East Goose Lake, lakeshore residents will need to stop boating on it for at least two years, according to scientists with an east metro water management organization.
But the nearly 20 homeowners who live on the lake are pushing back, saying that losing their boating rights would be unprecedented in Minnesota and tantamount to an illegal seizure of property.
They also question the benefits of the proposed chemical treatments, which they say may not be a permanent fix while promoting excessive weed growth in the shallow lake.
“It’s directly impacting our property values drastically,” said Lindsey Carpenter, who owns a home on the lake with her husband, Kurt. “We don’t think this is the right fit and we absolutely don’t think they have to remove homeowners from the lake.”
Scientists with the Vadnais Lake Area Water Management Organization (VLAWMO) are asking the city of White Bear Lake — where East Goose Lake is located — to ban motor boats on the lake while they conduct treatments with alum, which settles to the lake bottom and stops nutrient-filled sediment from feeding algae blooms. The draft ordinance seeks a three-year ban, though they say they can get the job done in two.
“We can’t get at the big problem in the lake without addressing the sediment,” said Dawn Tanner, a scientist with the Vadnais Lake watershed agency, which oversees 25 square miles of Ramsey and Anoka counties.
The impassioned debate has been playing out this fall before the White Bear Lake City Council, which agreed to delay a decision until the agency secures a grant needed to carry out the alum treatments, which could cost an estimated $170,000.
With more than half of Minnesota’s lakes, rivers and streams declared impaired in a report this month by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), all sides agree that communities and lake homeowners across the state will be having more such difficult discussions for years to come.
“There are no bad guys in this equation. It’s a tough one,” says White Bear Lake Mayor Jo Emerson. “Everyone wants clean water.”
Emerson, who’s not a voting member of the City Council but holds veto power, said she’s against closing East Goose Lake to resident boaters for the period sought.
Questions over alum
Goose Lake — divided by Hwy. 61, which created east and west halves — was a wetland 100 years ago. From the 1930s until the ’60s, the city discharged its treated wastewater there, Tanner said. That discharge, combined with stormwater runoff from increased development, created the lake, which is only 7 to 8 feet deep. The lake is now surrounded by homes and businesses.
Decades of wastewater discharge has left excessive sediment on the lake bed, fueling nearly 90 percent of the algae growth, Tanner said. Rough fish such as bullheads stir up the bottom and make the problem worse.
An alum treatment “settles on the sediment where it forms a layer that acts as barrier,” according to the MPCA. About 65 Minnesota lakes have undergone alum treatments since the 1980s, most of them in the metro area with sediment that’s feeding algae blooms.
“To reduce disturbance to the sediments, there may be no-wake or slow-wake restrictions,” an MPCA spokeswoman said. “It would be up to the local lake authority whether to close the lake.”
Tanner said West Goose Lake also would benefit from an alum treatment but that the VLAWMO isn’t seeking to treat that half, in large part because it’s home to the Midwest Ski Otters performance water ski team.
Tanner said the alum treatments would be part of a series of long-term measures to improve the lake, including bullhead removal and better stormwater mitigation.
The lake’s problems simply can’t be ignored, agency staffers say. By law, the VLAWMO must take steps to clean up impaired bodies of water, which are owned by the state and not just the landowners around them, Tanner said. Goose Lake is at the northern end of the watershed and flows into East Vadnais Lake, which is the drinking water reservoir for St. Paul.
Moreover, toxic blue-green algae was detected in the lake in years past and as recently as last summer, Tanner said. Blue-green algae is bacteria that can sicken humans who swallow it, touch it or inhale airborne water droplets containing it. It’s known to kill dogs, she said.
Tanner acknowledged that reduced algae will mean more vegetation.
“Plants and clear water are a healthy part of a shallow lake,” she said. “A lot of people in the metro move to a lake and expect an ‘Up North’ lake. They want low nutrient levels and sandy bottoms. What makes lakes heathy here are lily pads and other native vegetation rooted and floating. But a lot of times, people want to get those out of the way.”
‘Big love’ for the lake
For homeowners on the lake, the proposal to close the lake to boating for several years and watch as weeds overtake it is devastating.
Lindsey and Kurt Carpenter are part of the Ski Otters team and bought a home on East Goose Lake so they could walk out to their boat and be on the water in minutes. The Carpenters said they’ve partnered with the Vadnais Lake watershed agency for years, allowing staffers on their property to conduct testing and monitoring.
Lindsey Carpenter, an attorney, said she and other homeowners have researched alum treatments and don’t think they’re right for East Goose Lake.
“What will happen is our lake will become a swamp,” she said. “It will be taken over by weeds. It will be weed-fest.”
Even if the contested alum treatments did move forward, Carpenter said she hasn’t found convincing evidence that a boat ban is needed. Other shallow lakes, including Kohlman Lake in Maplewood, have undergone the same treatment and continued to have boating.
“The boating restrictions feel very heavy-handed and unnecessary,” said lakeshore homeowner Brad Gartzke, noting there are just a handful of motorized boats on the lake in any given summer.
Gartzke said there’s a fear that temporary boating restrictions could one day be made permanent. “We bought the house because it’s on a lake,” he said. “We want our daughter to grow up being on the water tubing and water-skiing.”
Carpenter said she worries that the VLAWMO is resorting to scare tactics. While officials say that blue-green algae has been detected in the lake, she says there have been no major algae blooms there since 2013.
“Our lake has been consistently improving and it’s the best it’s ever been since 2001, when we started skiing on it,” she said.
Carpenter said she also has found no other examples of communities limiting boating during alum treatments. She’s pushing the VLAWMO to explore other types of treatments that will reduce algae and improve water quality without limiting recreational access.
“Let’s work together and be partners as we always have been,” she said. “We have a big love for this lake. We want to work together. We don’t want to be pushed off the lake.”