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Scott Rall: Patience is required to do great things

BY SCOTT RALL

The Globe outdoors columnist

There are times when I am sitting around looking back on the completion of this conservation project or that wildlife program and how their success adds to the quality of life in southern Minnesota. The efforts take time and energy to complete.  Some go very smoothly and others take an almost unlimited amount time and effort to complete. In the end, regardless of which kind of project it was, they are all well worth it.

The Okabena-Ocheda watershed board is working on one of those projects that takes a really long time. That project is the improvement of the water quality in the Lake Ocheda.  It is a very large lake for this area and is located south of Worthington about three miles. It is made up of three distinct basins and totals about 1,700 acres.

It is a shallow lake, about four feet over most of its area.  These shallow lakes used to freeze out almost every year, and as a result most of the common carp would die off in regular intervals. With an increase in yearly precipitation over the past 20-30 years and with the prevalence of more and more farm drainage taking place, lakes like Lake Ocheda now hardly ever freeze out.

As a result, the carp survive, grow and thrive, and the result is some very bad water quality. Carp stir up the bottom and re-suspend sediment and other pollutants in that sediment. That causes algae blooms and makes the lake almost unusable for recreation for many days over the summer.

The improvement of the lake has been talked about for more than 50 years.  I have read meeting minutes from 1955 that contained complaints about the quality of the water in the lake.

The Okabena-Ocheda watershed decided that five decades of taking about it was long enough, and now action is required, not just more talk.

They held public meetings for five years, gathered input from anyone who wanted to give it and designed a plan to manage Lake Ocheda for better water quality.

They engaged the Minnesota DNR to write a water quality management plan and then shared that plan with the public through a public hearing process.  The plan was modified and tweaked and was ultimately approved. It calls for the outlet dam to be modified to allow for a lake draw-down with the intent of killing off the carp with a winter kill freeze out. The draw-down will start in early fall, and when spring comes around the lake will return to its normal level.

The plan requires the help of Mother Nature. We need a dry fall and a hard winter to be successful.  This draw-down effort might take more than one attempt to be successful.

So things should start happening now, right? Well, they needed an Army Corps of Engineers permit to proceed. That required some final engineering of the modification to the dam to be completed, and it was done by an engineer at Ducks Unlimited who has lots of experience in the area.

That was done, which took six months. The permit application was submitted and ultimately approved. And when it was complete, they needed a permit from the Minnesota DNR.  It is now in process. The plan is to finalize the permits soon. When all the permits are in place, they will let the construction bids, hopefully in February with a draw down and dam reconstruction, to start in Aug.-Sept. of 2019.

It does not matter how organized you are. The multiple processes that have to be done and the multitude of agencies that are involved make these programs multiple-year efforts, no matter how good of a job the applicant does.

After five years of solid work in behalf of the watershed, the project now has a heartbeat and is moving forward. I, for one, am looking forward to much cleaner water in the lake for many reasons. We humans will benefit from the clean water as does the wildlife in the area.  We will also be sending cleaner water to Lake Bella where our city’s water wells are located.

In the end, the lake which now is not much more than a giant mud puddle with limited utilization, will be a clear water resource fall all to enjoy.   

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