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Lake Ocheda changes require buy-in

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WORTHINGTON — Representatives from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently met with a committee of Lake Ocheda landowners to discuss a possible management plan for the lake.

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The meeting comes after two winter seasons of low water levels and little to no fish die-off in the three basins. The hope was that water levels would get low enough or freeze out to reduce the large population of rough fish.

Recent dissolved oxygen levels recorded by Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl show there is plenty of oxygen for the rough fish to survive. Ice thickness on the three basins has left, in some cases, less than a foot of water for aquatic life.

Livdahl said Ryan Doorenbos, DNR Fisheries Area Supervisor, and Bill Schuna, DNR Area Wildlife Manager, met with about half a dozen landowners and discussed the process of reclassifying the lake for ecological management.

If the DNR would reclassify Lake Ocheda, agency staff would conduct a survey and write a plan, which would then be presented at a public hearing.

“Anyone with an interest in the lake could testify and the commissioner of the DNR would decide whether to classify the lake,” Livdahl explained to board members Tuesday.

State funds could be accessed by the DNR to help manage Lake Ocheda if it was reclassified for ecological management, Livdahl said.

DNR management of the lake would likely involve periodic drawdowns, as needed, to promote vegetative growth and improve the overall lake health. As a result, the lake’s use as a fishery would be of “secondary importance.”

Livdahl said if the watershed district wanted to maintain control of the lake, it would need to develop a plan with DNR support and get a minimum of 75 percent of landowners around the lake to approve of the plan. The district would also have to find its own funding sources to implement any projects.

The cost for equipment to do a draw-down, however, may prove too costly for the district to take on. Livdahl estimates two or three pump systems would be needed — at a cost of $500,000 each — to draw down all three of the basins to a level that would ensure a fish kill.

At this point, Livdahl said the DNR wants to know if there’s enough public support to reclassify the lake.

“The DNR wants to know if public support exists or not before they put a lot of money in planning,” Livdahl said. “We would like to have a plan before we go out and engage public support. Who starts what?”

Paul Langseth, an OOWD advisory board member who also serves on the Lake Ocheda Landowners committee, said one of the concerns that arose during the committee meeting was giving total control to the DNR.

“They don’t ask the landowners,” Langseth said. “I think that’s the biggest concern. Is there some input from the public in the process?”

OOWD Board Chairman Les Johnson said the DNR has long had a vision of resurrecting Lake Ocheda and “making it much better than what it is.”

Rolf Mahlberg, another board member, suggested the DNR representatives return to Worthington for an open meeting with all landowners around Lake Ocheda.

“We have done a lousy job with water quality,” Mahlberg said. “(Water quality) is at the bottom of the bottom.

“(The lake) doesn’t do it’s job — it isn’t employed to benefit the environment,” he added. “Those bodies could do us so much good if we protect it.”

Mahlberg wants the landowners to have a say in what happens next, and Nobles County Commissioner Bob Demuth Jr., who also serves on the OOWD, agreed.

“It’s like telling a child, ‘You pick your own punishment,’” Demuth said. “Give them some buy-in.”

Livdahl said the watershed district would like to meet with landowners this summer to discuss options for the lake.

In other action, the board:

  • Discussed continued use of Bioverse products on Whiskey Ditch and in the stormwater pond in the Glenwood Heights Addition. Bioverse is again offering product to use at a reduced price as the watershed district continues to monitor the impact it has on algal blooms. A motion was approved to notify Glenwood Heights residents that if they want to continue to use the product after this year, they would need to fund it.

“We did this initially for us — to see how it worked,” said board member Jay Milbrandt. “This is an experiment. I’m not sure it’s a good enough reason to fund it if it’s just for the landowners.”

  • Approved the purchase of two more floating islands for the E.O. Olson Stormwater pond on the Minnesota West campus. The islands will add another 100 square feet of cover, and will be seeded with perennial grasses and flowers. The island plantings are hoped to soak up excess nutrients in the water that enters the pond.
  • Approved ordering grass and forbs seed from LeSueur River Seeding to plant on approximately six acres of land along the south and west sides of the Ocheyedan River in Bigelow Township. The estimated cost for seed is $1,400. Livdahl said the area will be treated this summer to kill existing growth, with the seeding to be done in the fall.
  • Learned the city public works department will relocate the boom on Whiskey Ditch from the 10th Avenue bridge to near the bicycle bridge. The boom helps block floating algae from moving farther up the ditch.
  • Was notified the Joint Powers Agreement with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources regarding the Herlein-Boote Slough diversion has been signed.
  • Approved the 2014 annual plan of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District. The plan will be posted on the district’s website, www.okabenaochedawd.org, by April 1.
  • Offered support for the One Watershed-One Plan pilot project being spearheaded in the Missouri River subwatershed.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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Julie Buntjer
Julie Buntjer joined the Daily Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington and graduate of Worthington High School, then-Worthington Community College and South Dakota State University, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. At the Daily Globe, Julie covers the agricultural beat, as well as Nobles County government, watersheds, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework (cross-stitch and hardanger embroidery), reading, travel, fishing and spending time with family. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at www.farmbleat.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7330
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