Public hearing is Monday on Lake Ocheda
WORTHINGTON -- The Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District on Monday will host the first of three public meetings this year to gather input on a management plan for Lake Ocheda.
WORTHINGTON - The Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District on Monday will host the first of three public meetings this year to gather input on a management plan for Lake Ocheda.
In recent years, the district’s board of managers has worked with representatives from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Shallow Lakes, Wildlife and Fisheries programs on a plan to improve the lake’s impaired waters.
A draft of the Lake Ocheda management plan is posted on the watershed’s website, okabenaochedawd.org, and copies may also be picked up at the agency’s office in the county public works building or at the meeting, set for 7 p.m. Monday at the Hickory Lodge.
Periodically over the past five years, the watershed district has hosted meetings with riparian landowners to discuss the health of Lake Ocheda. Listed as an impaired water in 2010, the lake has an overwhelming roughfish population, poor water clarity, high nutrient load and a lack of submergent vegetation.
Through the comments received from riparian landowners, the watershed district and DNR put together a management plan that calls for periodic drawdowns of the three-basin lake. The drawdowns would be used to control the roughfish population and encourage submergent vegetative growth.
Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl said the public meetings are being offered to collect input from everyone - not just those who live on the lake. Their comments and suggestions will be gathered and ultimately presented to the Minnesota DNR commissioner later this year. The commissioner will then evaluate the plan and consider the public comments before making a ruling on the work.
“The landowners around the lake have had opportunities for input; the general public really hasn’t,” Livdahl said. “The lake doesn’t just belong to the people who live there and own land around it - it belongs to all of the citizens of Minnesota.
“This is our time for people to be educated on what’s in the plan, the purposes of the plan, the timing of the plan and be able to comment on whether they think this is a good idea or not.”
Livdahl said there is a consensus from landowners around the lake that something needs to be done to improve the lake’s health, but there is no unanimous opinion. Meanwhile, the watershed board has been monitoring the lake for water quality, clarity and nutrient load for years.
“It’s in terrible shape water quality-wise,” Livdahl said. “We need to do something.”
That said, the proposed periodic drawdowns outlined in the management plan are at the very minimum length (fall drawdown to spring fill) the watershed district can do while still expecting results for improved water quality.
Some people may want to see the drawdowns extended for a longer period - perhaps a year or even 18 months - to maximize the benefits, while others may not want a drawdown at all. Those are the types of comments Livdahl expects to hear during the public meetings. Whatever the outcome of the public meetings, he said nothing can be done without public support.
“We think we need to have, for every person who’s willing to testify and say they don’t want to see (a management plan implemented), we’d like to have people saying, ‘hey, we need to try this or we need to do something at least,”’ Livdahl said.
“I think the watershed board and the state expects local people to do what is necessary to get the lake off the impaired waters list. This is the only thing we can think of at this time that has a chance of working. Doing nothing is not an alternative any more.”
Secchi disk readings taken on the lake in 2016 showed water clarity generally under 6 inches.
“You’re dropping an 8-inch black and white disk down and can’t see it after it gets down to 6 inches,” Livdahl said. While the clarity varies from day to day and place to place, Livdahl said the goal in implementing the management plan is to increase water clarity to 2.3 feet.
“On a lake like Lake Ocheda, you should be able to see the bottom during much of the growing season,” he said. The maximum depth of the prairie lake is 4 feet.
“The minimum secchi disk reading that we’d like to see is that 1 foot. If it got to less than 1 foot, we’d look at doing that next drawdown,” he added.
Addressing the fishery While the initial drawdown proposed for Lake Ocheda would, in theory, rid the lake of its massive roughfish population, the plan calls for restocking the lake with predator fish once the drawdown is completed.
DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor Ryan Doorenbos said fish are a driving factor in shallow lakes management. Large populations of common carp and even native bullhead stir up bottom sediment and nutrients, which then lead to algal blooms.
“As a result, there’s decreased fish habitat for the species anglers are generally after,” he said. “You have a tendency to either get pea soup green water or brown water with limited habitat for both ducks and fish.”
Doorenbos said the management plan for Lake Ocheda is essentially a reset of the system.
“You drop the biomass of non-desirable fish that probably is a large portion of the biomass and reset it such that you get the more desirable fish, as well as aquatic vegetation, water clarity and everything else,” he added.
Livdahl said the lake will be restocked likely with perch and northern pike, two fish varieties that feed on carp eggs and young carp.
“We’ll never be able to eliminate them all - we just want to eliminate as many as possible and reduce the number of carp down to a manageable level,” Livdahl said.
Also aiding in control of the roughfish population is a fish barrier planned on the Lake Ocheda dam, located on the south end of the west basin. The barrier will prevent carp from entering the lake through the Ocheyedan River, which extends through Peterson Slough and into Lake Bella.
The fish barrier and modifications to the dam are estimated at $300,000.
Representatives from the Minnesota DNR will join watershed district managers at Monday’s meeting to answer questions and provide information.
Anyone unable to attend Monday’s meeting may submit written comments about the management plan to Dan Livdahl, Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, P.O. Box 114, Worthington. All written comments will be forwarded to the DNR commissioner to be considered in his ruling.