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Lake Ocheda restoration project moves forward

WORTHINGTON — The Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District (OOWD) will seek the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ assistance in a proposed restoration project for Lake Ocheda. The project, while in its infancy, hopes to increase water quality, clarity and aquatic vegetation while reducing the carp infestation.

According to Dan Livdahl, OOWD administrator, the district opted to pair with the DNR on the project for a number of reasons.

First of all, the DNR has the engineering knowledge and experience to write and execute a management plan. In order for the watershed district to write the plan itself, engineers would need to be contracted. By utilizing the resources of the DNR, the plan can be drafted and theoretically executed on a faster timeline than if the district handled the matter on its own.

Secondly, the cost of the project could easily reach $1 million. If the district were to tackle it solo, those costs would be forced onto local taxpayers in the form of tax increases or the district would have to wait until enough money could be saved. Livdahl said the current levy provides the district $180,000 annually, and a combination of tax increases and saving would likely have to be used to raise the funds.

A third option would be for the district to find grant money. Livdahl was hesitant in pursuing that avenue because of the large number of agencies vying for the same grant funds. Conversely, DNR has funds available to pay for the project without increasing taxes or forcing the project to be put on hold for a number of years.

Issues at hand

One of the major dilemmas to tackle is the overabundance of carp and other rough fish in the lake. It is said that the lake contains 600 pounds of carp per acre of lake. Taking into consideration that each fish weighs approximately six pounds, and the lake is 1,800 acres, that is easily 180,000 fish with the population increasing regularly.

Livdahl explained the fish dig in the bottom of the lake, preventing aquatic vegetation from taking root. Vegetation plays a vital role in keeping water clear and clean. The digging can also release sediment into the water giving it its cloudy appearance. High winds can also cause the bottom surface to be stirred up with the lack of vegetation. Fertile soil and silt from the shoreline being deposited into the lake creates an even larger problem. Ideally, the water should be clear enough to see through to the 4-foot bottom. To date, the clarity is less than a foot from the surface of the water.

The plan

While the DNR has not written an action plan to date, Livdahl shared what would likely be components needed to manage the lake. One part of the plan would be to draw down the lake. By drawing down the lake, the overpopulation of fish could be eliminated. The plan would also call for the addition of game fish. The introduction would serve a dual purpose; offering better fishing for recreation and increasing carp predators such as perch to keep the population under control. Finally, the plan would focus on replacing aquatic vegetation to keep the water clear and healthy.

Public concerns

Livdahl shared that some concerns have been raised over the potential change to the view of the lake if a drawdown is implemented. He noted if the drawdown was completed at the right time of year, the possibility for cattail and other weeds would be lessened, but there are no guarantees.

“People are worried that the view will change. Especially they are worried about vegetation along the shorelines. We hope that if we drain the lake during the winter and refill it during the Spring, there shouldn’t be any cattails,” Livdahl said.

Other concerns have been raised over a misconception that by having DNR work on the plan, the district will lose its management of the lake. Livdahl revealed that the DNR ultimately manages all of Minnesota’s lakes.

Before work begins on Lake Ocheda’s restoration, the public will be given ample opportunities to offer comments. Currently, it is unknown when the plan will be written and available for public comment and review.

Daily Globe Reporter Robin Baumgarn may be reached at 376-7323.