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Local waters impaired

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl stands on the south bank of Lake Ocheda's west basin Thursday afternoon. The lake has been added to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's impaired waters list for 2010.

WORTHINGTON -- Earlier this week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) released its draft list of impaired waters for 2010.

Among the 147 lakes to be added to the list are Lake Okabena in Worthington, the west basin of Lake Ocheda in Nobles County, Flaherty Lake in Jackson County, Bloody and Lime lakes in Murray County, and Bean, Bingham, Eagle, Talcot and the north portion of Double lakes in Cottonwood County.

With the newly drafted list, Minnesota now has 3,049 impaired waters on 1,205 lakes and 436 rivers statewide.

The impaired waters designation, and the subsequent Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study that will need to be performed, will eventually open the doors to state and federal funding.

The TMDL study determines the sources of nutrient pollution in lakes and rivers, from ag land runoff to feedlots and septic systems, urban stormwater systems and recycling of the sediments in the lake bottom.

Dan Livdahl, administrator of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, said Lake Okabena and Lake Ocheda were likely deemed impaired because of excess nutrients and algae growth in the lakes. Nearly 20 years ago, the Clean Water Partnership identified Lake Okabena, Lake Ocheda and Lake Bella as hyper-eutrophic, meaning there are a lot of nutrients in the water, he said.

Livdahl has conducted water sampling on Lake Okabena each year since 1998, while sampling on Lake Ocheda was done in 2007 and 2008. The two-year sampling project on Lake Bella just wrapped up this week. If Lake Bella is to be listed as impaired, its earliest designation could come in 2012.

"The good news is any action we take to clean the waters upstream from Lake Bella will hopefully improve Lake Bella," Livdahl said.

Mixed reactions

While the impaired waters designation is the first step to accessing state and federal funds for water quality improvements, it will likely be met with mixed reactions from local landowners.

The first public meeting on the newly released draft of impaired waters will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 5, at the MPCA regional office, 1420 E. College Dr., Marshall.

Livdahl said when the Clean Water Partnership study was conducted in the watershed in 1990 and 1991, it cost about $180,000. Half of that cost was paid for by the city of Worthington. The biggest complaint at that time was spending money on a study instead of using it to fix the lake.

He anticipates some of those same concerns, along with the potential for increased regulations, to be raised this time around.

On the flip side, the impaired waters designation paves the way for grant funding, including dollars from the new statewide tax dedicated for clean waters.

"I think that will be positive for Lake Okabena and Lake Ocheda," said Livdahl.

Since the Clean Water Partnership study was conducted, Livdahl said some real improvements have been made in the watershed.

"The sources of pollution coming into the lake may be significantly different today," he said.

Livdahl expects results from a TMDL study will focus on improving agricultural land practices and lead to funding that can provide incentive payments to install filter strips, complete wetland restorations and convert to conservation tillage.

"I would think we will see more money available for urban stormwater practices like rain gardens, and education of local residents on how they can protect water quality," he added.

Impairments on the rise

Jan Voit, administrator of the Heron Lake Watershed District, has worked with impaired waters designations since the late 1990s. There are 32 impairments to lakes and streams within the HLWD at this time, and Flaherty Lake northeast of Heron Lake is among those to be added in 2010.

"Other than Lake Pepin, ours is the biggest TMDL study done in the state of Minnesota," Voit said. The agency did its TMDL study in partnership with Cottonwood County, and it included the entire west fork of the Des Moines River Watershed. It was a seven year process to complete it, she added.

"When we started, there weren't many people doing TMDL studies," said Voit.

Since 1996, the HLWD has offered cost-share and incentives to landowners for establishing practices that improve water quality. Those practices will continue on a larger scale with the completion of the TMDL study, said Voit.

Water sampling will continue as well. The HLWD does water quality monitoring each year on Jack Creek, Okabena Creek and the Heron Lake Outlet, while samples are taken on Heron, Graham and Fulda lakes every three years.

This year, Voit said they had a special grant to take samples on Corabelle, Timber and Teal lakes.

A lengthy process

Despite funding available to address water quality, Voit said the issues affecting southwest Minnesota lakes and rivers are likely to be around for a while.

"Once you're listed, your goal is to get off, but it's going to be really hard to do that," said Voit. "It's taken us 100 years to get to where we're at now and it's probably going to take more than that to turn it around."

"I think the water quality standards that have been set for lakes in Minnesota are stringent enough that most lakes in southwest Minnesota will remain on the impaired waters list for a long time," added Livdahl. "The MPCA is real aware that water quality standards will be hard to meet here because of our shallow prairie lakes."

Nobles County Soil and Water Conservation District technical coordinator Ed Lenz has been monitoring water quality on the Kanaranzi Creek in the Kanaranzi-Little Rock (K-LR) Watershed District for the past two years. He said results of the first year of testing showed such high levels of E. coli and turbidity that the MPCA likely didn't want to wait around for the completion of the two-year study to make the impaired designation.

Lenz said the Little Rock River was added to the impaired list two years ago as a result of testing that was conducted in Iowa.

"Eventually, I would expect every stream course in southwest Minnesota to be impaired for something," said Lenz, adding that the region's landscape, animal agriculture and farming practices all contribute to the impairments.

As for the solution, Lenz said he anticipates steps could include improving failing septic systems, helping farmers and landowners determine correct amounts of manure application, working on stream banks and installing buffers.

"We're trying to find ways to help the community and help the area, and not put all of the burden on farmers and landowners," he said.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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