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Other options proposed for Lake Emily

The special meeting in regard to Lake Emily last week was informative, educational, at times distressful, and in the end, hopeful.

The meeting was called for by Tim James from Minnesota Pollution Control (MPCA) who has been in charge of a study of the lake. He explained to the nearly 30 people present that MPCA initiated a project in 2008 to study eight lakes in Pope County. The Lake Emily Assessment program evaluated the physical, biological and chemical characteristics of the lake with the intent to identify existing problems facing the lake. At the end of the study Lake Emily was classified as an impaired lake and therefore MPCA has required that something be done to turn this around.

From this monitoring MPCA identified some crucial areas of concern. The biggest of these is the phosphorus levels in the lake. The levels in Emily are above the average recommended for a shallow lake. High phosphorus levels encourage algae growth and reduce water clarity. This, in turn, discourages weed growth which is a natural filter for phosphorus and other pollutants.

James told the crowd that there were many ways for phosphorus to get into the lake. Some of these are by natural means since there is a great deal of phosphorus that comes in simply through rain and snow. It can also come in through feedlots, fertilizers and drainage from other areas.

Lake Emily gets water through three main sources: direct drainage to the lake, drainage from Lake Minnewaska through Outlet Creek and drainage from the Little Chippewa River through Ditch 2. It is estimated that Lake Emily receives 18,270 pounds or 50 percent of its phosphorus from Little Chippewa through Ditch 2.

James went on to explain that there are a few options to clean up the lake. One that was discussed at last year's annual lake association meeting was to draw down or drain the lake, allow weeds to grow for one year and then re-fill the lake. The weeds would then work as a filter for the pollutants. This, however, caused quite an outcry from area landowners, sportsmen and many on the Lake Emily board.

Opponents of the draw down cited several instances where this was done and the result was just a weedy lake or a slough. The DNR, the overseers of the project, would have little control over how many weeds or the types and thickness of the growth. The results would not guarantee that the lake would be the same afterward. James explained that lowering the lake would be up to the local public to decide.

With most of the people in attendance at the meeting voicing opposition to the draw down, James went on to discuss a second option. Since the majority of the phosphorus is entering the lake through Ditch 2, he would propose blocking this water from coming into the lake. This would not require damming the ditch but rather in building a berm in the area of the Starbuck slough where the Little Chippewa River water has rerouted itself into the ditch.

The water that once came down the Little Chippewa from the north would then be routed through the Starbuck slough and to the Big Chippewa River.

Some of the people at the meeting voiced concern that we are just sending our problems down river and suggested that we might still get this water as the Big Chippewa backs up into the lake during high water times.

James agreed to some degree but added that the water would have to pass through the large Starbuck slough located south of Highway 28, which would act as a filter. He felt the water going into the Big Chippewa would be better than what is entering the lake now.

Another concern by some was that by cutting off Ditch 2, the water level in the lake would drop. However, James pointed out that the lake would still have water coming in from Outlet Creek at the east end, from natural drainage in the area and from the springs located in the lake.

It seemed to be the consensus that the ditch option was the best way to go but James explained that it could be a long process and he would need a group of volunteers to be "owners" of the implementation plan, people to work on the process and see it through to completion. There would be many steps needed to be taken but he felt that most of the landowners along the way would not oppose the project.

The next steps in the process will be to get the plan approved by federal and state agencies which he will be doing. He will be returning, probably to the Lake Emily board, at a future date to keep them informed and possibly request the help needed from local stakeholders.

The Lake Emily Association will be holding their annual meeting on May 6 at which time they encourage members to attend and learn more about the future of the lake.