WORTHINGTON — After a somewhat successful drawdown in the winter of 2020-21, the Lake Ocheda Management committee — comprised of a small group of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources staff, Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District representatives and landowners around the lake — will meet Monday to decide whether to do a consecutive drawdown this fall.
Continued low water levels in the lake make it an ideal time for a second attempt, OOWD Administrator Dan Livdahl told the board of managers during a Tuesday meeting. Livdahl said pulling the stop logs at the Lake Ocheda dam will only bring the lake level down one foot.
“We’re seeing a fish kill right now,” he said, adding that freshwater drum (sheepshead) minnows are primarily being found floating along the shoreline on both the east and west basins of Lake Ocheda. “Those were the first minnows that died last winter too. They’re more susceptible to low oxygen.”
Livdahl anticipates the group will decide to begin another drawdown as soon as possible in an attempt to kill the remaining fish in Lake Ocheda. The drawdowns were identified as a management tool to rid the lake of an extremely high population of common carp. The carp stir up sediment and root out vegetation, which has led to poor water quality in the lake and a decade-long inclusion on the state’s impaired waters list.
“We think 75% to 90% of the fish died (last winter),” Livdahl said. “We got rid of a lot of fish, but we didn’t kill them all.”
Since the DNR created the lake management plan, it makes the ultimate decision about a drawdown. The watershed district provides input and carries out the management.
Jay Milbrandt, a Lake Ocheda landowner who had to deal with a large share of dead fish on his lakeshore this spring, said he would like to see the watershed district include clean-up as part of its budget in the future. Following this spring’s fish kill, the district did provide a 75% cost-share with lake property owners who submitted a bill for clean-up.
“That was disgusting,” Milbrandt said of the dead fish that washed ashore on his property and were then piled up on his property. “It decreased our enjoyment of the lake during the summer.
“If we’re creating that condition, we should help out,” he added.
Livdahl said the watershed district has money available and could help cost-share with clean-up. While that decision doesn’t need to be made immediately, he said he strongly supports the drawdown.
“We’re this far into it,” Manager Casey Ingenthron said. “It will be a great opportunity (to try to kill the remaining fish.”
Following the discussion, the board voted unanimously to support another drawdown, if that is what the DNR recommends.
Collaboration sought on school district property
Following a request for designs from Houston Engineering earlier this year to collaborate with Independent School District 518 on a water quality project on its property south and west of the new intermediate school, the board considered a couple of options Tuesday.
In each design, a pond would be created on the property to store water that drains from agricultural land toward Lake Okabena.
“Either pond has about the same effectiveness for removing pollution,” Livdahl told the board. “I thought they did a really nice job with both of them.”
The ISD 518 Board of Education has yet to see the designs, and Livdahl suggested he and one or two watershed board members present them with the proposals. If the school district supports the project, the watershed would apply for a Clean Water, Land and Legacy grant from the state of Minnesota to help fund the estimated $1.2 million project.
Since the current period for grant submissions ends later this month, Livdahl suggested they continue to work on the proposal with the idea of submitting a grant request next summer. If one is awarded, it would cover 75% of project costs, with the watershed district and potential partners to fund the remaining 25%.
“The city has funds to do (projects) within the Sunset Bay watershed, and we have money as well,” Livdahl said, adding that the school district’s contribution would be to donate the land where the storage pond would be constructed.
In other business, the board:
Approved a draft 2022 budget in advance of a public hearing at the Sept. 7 board meeting. The district intends to levy $253,000, with $261,750 in projected revenues and expenditures.
Approved an erosion control permit for the city of Worthington to complete bituminous overlays on several streets.