Components of a Successful Lake Stewardship Program

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Minnesota Lakes are open to anyone to enjoy.  The responsibility for caring for lakes and preserving them for future generations is primarily borne by lakeshore property owners.   Lake property owner activism, organization and data are the most important components contributing to a successful lake stewardship program.

In 2018 a survey of attendees at the Otter Tail Coalition of Lake Associations (OTC COLA) Member meetings showed that the top two concerns for lakes were threat of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS), (88%) and lake water quality (84%).  Lakes are an important resource for recreation and for nurturing family values.  There is an inherent desire of lake property owners to preserve this resource as well as protect investment in property values.

Activism
Lake property owners need to recognize that lake stewardship starts with them and that County and State agencies, as advocates for the lakes, are much more responsive when lake property owners have the desire to protect lakes and aggressively pursue programs and actions.

Organization
There is definitely strength in numbers.  When friends and neighbors around a lake get together and determine a common objective, issues take on more gravity and it is easier to move toward achieving the objective.

In September 2018 OTC COLA sponsored COLA ON THE MOVE, a bus tour of several shoreland restorations on Big Pine, Little Pine and Lake Seven (Scalp) lakes.  The tour demonstrated that property owners exhibited a desire and a willingness to be good lake stewards.  Regarding Lake Seven, Darren Newville, District Manager, East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District (EOT SWCD) cited “Through the Lake Association, we had several landowners that had shown interest in doing something to help maintain the water quality of that lake.  That was initiated through them inviting us to present at one of their association annual meetings.” “If the SWCD had a lake association approach us with a list of 25-30 landowners that were willing to complete water quality projects on their properties that would help protect their lake and its water quality, we would do what we could to find them some designated funding to help get those projects implemented.”

North Turtle Lake Association (NTLA), OTC COLA’s newest Member, was formed with the help of OTC COLA to strengthen its position in talking with Minnesota agencies.  The new Lake Association was a substantial benefit when addressing a water level issue.  NTLA is now participating in OTC COLA’s water quality testing program to compile a multi-year trend analysis.  The trend analysis will help in its pursuit to combat the blue green algae problem they are currently experiencing.  For more information contact Jim Wilkus, President of NTLA.

Data
It is generally accepted that less than 10 years of water quality testing is inadequate for forming a meaningful water quality trend analysis used in a lake assessment.  It is true that any water quality analysis is better than none at all, but in terms of recognition of data by Minnesota agencies and grant applications, 8-10 years of data is held as a standard.  Ben Underhill, EOT SWCD states “Without continuous water testing we don’t know what condition the water is in.  We can get a snapshot by measuring it for one year, but if it is a dry or wet year (or there was some other unusual event) it may not truly tell us the condition of the lake.  This is important for planning by SWCD, County and individual lake associations.”

The OTC COLA water quality sampling and analysis program currently covers over 50 lakes in the County and has been running for over 20 years. OTC COLA Members include Lake Associations, Lake Improvement Districts and individuals. The program provides organization and education of volunteers that take the samples and also includes discounted rates for water analysis.  OTC COLA is a private volunteer group working with Lake Associations and property owners for the common good of all OTC lakes.  OTC COLA is a Member of the Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations (MN COLA) working on lake issues with all Minnesota agencies and the Minnesota legislature.

The OTC COLA 2018 Water Quality Analysis Reports include 56 COLA Member lakes that show 10 years of data.  A special Otter Tail County grant provided for testing in 2017 and 2018 of an additional 49 non-COLA lakes.  Go HERE to access the library of of all 105 reports.

UPDATE: Go HERE to access the updated 2020 Water Quality Analysis Reports for 168 Otter Tail County Lakes.

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