Cormorants, egrets, blue herons and wood ducks used to visit LeMay Lake, one of Eagan’s more than 1,200 lakes, ponds and wetlands.
Now, though, it’s mostly pesky Canada geese and mallards that soil the walking paths as well as the water.
LeMay Lake and three others like it — Carlson, Fitz and Holz — joined the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s impaired waters list in 2014, and the city is moving to restore the lakes’ water quality and clarity. The problem is excessive phosphorus, which can cause algae blooms and plant growth. It’s unpleasant to swim, kayak, canoe and fish. It’s unsightly and potentially dangerous, in the case of toxin-producing blue-green algae.
The fix is multipronged, lengthy and expensive.
The Eagan City Council recently included $922,500 in its 2016 budget to improve lake water quality and clarity — part of $12.6 million the city plans to spend through 2020. The work will be done over the next five years, but the city won’t recoup its investment for 20 years, according to finance director Tom Pepper.
If the council approves the overall budget and fee schedule, an average household that uses 20,000 gallons of water per quarter will see its storm drainage utility rate increase 66 percent next year, which translates into $6.60 per quarter per household.
Businesses will pick up a larger share; 76 percent of businesses will see an increase of less than $200 per quarter.
“Businesses are 15 percent of the land mass but 30 percent of the storm drainage,” said spokesman Tom Garrison. “They’re the ones with the larger, harder impervious surfaces — sidewalks, roof lines, parking lots.”
Public hearings on the budget and fee schedules, including utility rates, will be held the evening of Nov. 30 at Eagan City Hall.
City officials said it’s better to spend some money now than more money later.
“No one likes a rate increase,” said Mayor Mike Maguire. “If we wait to implement known solutions and measures that prevent pollution, it will be even more costly to address lake water quality issues later.”
Eagan has worked with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) since 2008 and has used almost $450,000 in grant money to prioritize 30 of the city’s larger lakes and then diagnose and compile water quality data on 12 lakes, said Eric Macbeth, water resources manager for Eagan.
Eagan’s plan for the next five years is to reduce the amount and the impact of stormwater that drains into lakes by enlarging storm ponds; reducing runoff from residential and business properties through education, working with businesses on drainable hard surfaces and construction of rain gardens, and introducing alum to the impaired lakes. Alum, a chemical compound, is a time- and scientifically tested method that works, Garrison said.
Macbeth stressed that reducing phosphorus in the lakes doesn’t mean there won’t be any algae blooms or that the lakes won’t have any plants. Algae blooms are dependent on the weather, and plants provide natural habitat for fish, which in turn attracts aquatic birds.
“We can’t tell people that they’re going to catch fish that are 5 pounds heavier than before,” Macbeth said. “Conditions, though, will be more pleasing aesthetically and provide more relief from situations people find objectionable.”