Landowners voice concerns over Lake Ocheda management
WORTHINGTON — A group of concerned residents who live or farm around Lake Ocheda appeared before the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District board meeting Tuesday to ask about water quality and recent discussions about a possible DNR-involved drawdown of the lake’s three basins.
Don Basche, who owns a home on the west basin and chairs the OOWD’s Advisory Board, presented a list of talking points to watershed board members and said he didn’t want the discussion to be seen as “us against you.”
Basche said when the OOWD board talks about a project to improve water quality, it should talk about all five lakes — Okabena, the three basins of Lake Ocheda and Lake Bella. He also said Lake Ocheda should be treated the same as Lake Okabena because of their shared status as residential lakes.
“When we talk about this drawdown, have we ever talked about Okabena (having a) drawdown?” Basche asked. “We think Okabena has to have the same drawdown as the three lakes (of Ocheda). Is that a possibility?”
Basche also asked the board if there has been enough education with residents who live on Lake Okabena regarding the lawn chemicals and fertilizers that end up in the lake and the impact those chemicals have on the lake’s water quality.
“That’s very important for us to think about all those things,” he added.
Paramount to the discussion, however, was the potential for Lake Ocheda to be managed by the DNR and Ducks Unlimited. Representatives of the two groups appeared before the watershed board last month to present ideas on a lake improvement plan. The board continues to wait for more information from those entities.
“If you turn it over to the DNR, you lose a lot of local control … that we certainly don’t need,” Basche said. “The DNR has money to help you solve the problem, but I don’t think that’s the answer.”
He went on to suggest that if the board wants to get rid of the rough fish in the lake, the use of a chemical treatment like Rotenone would “be an ideal situation for us.”
Board members responded that because Ocheda flows into Lake Bella, where the city of Worthington’s wells are, a chemical treatment would not be possible.
OOWD Administrator Dan Livdahl said Lake Ocheda is estimated to have 600 pounds of carp per acre in the nearly 1,700-acre lake. By comparison, Lake Okabena’s carp population is below what is normally expected in a prairie lake, according to the DNR.
As for a drawdown, the board would still like to pursue that option as a means of reducing — or if possible eliminating — the fish population, whether the DNR is involved or not. A drawdown would allow the lakebed to settle and for vegetative growth to take root before lake levels would be brought back up.
“We’re looking for some solutions to delist a lake that isn’t functioning,” said OOWD board member Rolf Mahlberg, a resident of Lake Ocheda’s west basin, which was listed as an impaired water in 2010. “It’s a lake whose ecosystem has failed.
“Knowing that it’s impaired and knowing the (phosphorus) levels are that high, as a board you have to seek strategies to improve water quality,” Mahlberg added.
Livdahl said nutrient loads in the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District are lowest in Lake Okabena, increase as the water flows into Lake Ocheda and are highest in Lake Bella. Okabena, with its lower nutrient levels, presence of aquatic vegetation and low levels of rough fish, would not need to undergo a drawdown.
“(On Ocheda), aquatic vegetation isn’t able to grow,” Mahlberg said. “A three-foot (deep) lake should have some aquatic vegetation.”
“From an ecological standpoint, I understand what the board has to say,” said Joe VanderKooi, a member of the Lake Ocheda Landowners group. However, he said if his kids were to sled down the hill onto the lake and end up in 25 feet of cattails, that’s “not a lot of fun.”
Added VanderKooi: “We talked about seining the fish a year and a half ago, and now, this spring, you’re talking about giving control over to the DNR. That’s a permanent deal. How did we get from Point A to Point B without informing the landowners more?”
Livdahl said the commercial fisherman that had agreed to do seining in Lake Ocheda never showed up, and likely won’t be anytime soon.
“We asked the DNR to come in and give us some options,” said Paul Langseth, an OOWD Advisory Board member and resident on Ocheda’s east basin. “We’re not turning it over to the DNR at this point.”
Livdahl said the DNR and Ducks Unlimited ideas were going to be combined in a model plan that could be presented to landowners. The OOWD has yet to receive the information, but has discussed hosting a meeting for landowners this summer to present the ideas.
“It took us 140 years to wreck the lake — it might take us 140 years to fix it just by working within the watershed,” Livdahl said. “We have to be realistic about our expectations, too. We’re never going to be a Spirit Lake or Okoboji. We’re hoping to reduce algae.”
Joe VanderKooi said his end goal for Lake Ocheda was probably different from Ducks Unlimited’s end goal for the lake, but when Mahlberg asked what the landowners’ end goal was, there was little response.
“We have to decide what we think we want with the lake,” said Langseth. “One of the products I want to see is water clarity. In the summertime, it’s six inches or less.”
Livdahl said working with organizations like the DNR and Ducks Unlimited would provide both the expertise and the financial backing to conduct a major project on Lake Ocheda.
“What we want to do is produce a good product when we’re done,” added OOWD Board Chairman Les Johnson. “We’re going to make a decision with the best information we can garner from the best sources we can find. I want it to be the best result for all of us.”
Basche said he and others on the lake would rather be proactive than reactive to what the watershed board plans to do.
“We’re hoping when it comes time to make decisions, you will respect our opinions in the discussion,” he said.
Livdahl assured attendees that regardless of what is done with the lake, there will be a time for public input.
“The real question is, what do people want?” he asked.
Daily Globe Reporter
Julie Buntjer may be reached