Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Vision for Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka is much cleaner today that it was 20, 30, even 50 years ago. The main reason is the diversion of six sewage treatment plants that discharged directly into the lake. Nutrients in the sewage discharge spawned incredible and legendary algae blooms. By taking away the sewage inputs, the lake got cleaner, and it appears we have finally reached a new condition. Of course there will always be problems with respect to nutrients, like phosphorus in runoff pollution, but for now the situation is under control and we can look forward to enjoying a cleaner lake, especially compared to the recent past.

Now there are other kinds of pollution and impacts that are cause for concern. As a community, we should be aware of and orient our programs toward these impacts, so we can keep Lake Minnetonka clean and healthy.

Unfortunately, there is no clear vision regarding prioritizing these threats or investments for preventing or minimizing these threats.

Lake Minnetonka faces serious threats in three areas – aquatic invasive species (AIS) prevention, aquatic invasive species control and nearshore impacts, in that order.

AIS prevention must be the top priority for Lake Minnetonka. The reason is simple: As additional AIS enter the lake, its quality and condition diminish irreparably and permanently. The Great Lakes have had a century of AIS introductions and ecologists refer to the Great Lakes ecosystem as a train wreck. Lake Minnetonka has been lucky, not having a new exotic species introduction for about 20 years. However, we are tempting fate and much more investment is needed to keep new AIS at bay. I don’t think anyone has the “train wreck” vision for Lake Minnetonka.

The Lake Minnetonka Association’s vision for Lake Minnetonka is to keep zebra mussel, viral hemorrhagic septicemia, spiny waterflea and a bout a dozen other harmful AIS at our doorstep out of the lake. We have developed a plan to accomplish this, but it has not received serious consideration. AIS prevention efforts to-date have occurred in the absence of a plan or a meaningful strategic context. We remain highly exposed and can do much better.

AIS control is our next priority. Eurasian watermilfoil and curlyleaf pondweed are now in Lake Minnetonka. We have developed and proposed scientifically valid treatments to control milfoil and curlyleaf pondweed in the three bay Lake Vegetation Management Plan in 2008. This program is a stepping stone to a larger, more comprehensive and ecologically valid solution to milfoil control.

The Lake Minnetonka Association’s vision for Lake Minnetonka is to provide lake-wide milfoil control making Lake Minnetonka healthier and more pleasant for boating, swimming and other recreation.

Our last priority is to assure the nearshore land and shallow water areas on Lake Minnetonka are well managed. Nearshore areas are important for fish and wildlife habitat and therefore impacts in these areas are a concern. There have been a number of proposals and initiatives recently that attempt to protect nearshore areas, but these proposed remedies have been piecemeal and poorly focused. The lakeshore on Lake Minnetonka is arguably the most urbanized and developed of any lake in Minnesota, yet our beautiful lake boasts a world-class bass fishery as well as a healthy fishery overall. There is clearly not an imminent threat.

Lacking any clear threat should not be justification for turning our backs on these concerns however. Rather, shoreland protection and management should rely on facts and good science. Good policy and regulations should be developed to discover whether or how:

· nearshore buffers are needed or best implemented

· docks and related boating activities affect fish and wildlife

· artificial shoreland structures add to or detract from fish, wildlife and environmental values

While much of the lakeshore has been developed, there remain nearshore wetlands and sensitive areas that ought to be protected. These areas should be identified and specifically protected.

The Lake Minnetonka Association’s vision for Lake Minnetonka is the lakeshore be fully used and enjoyed without harming the Lake Minnetonka’s environmental values. Lakeshore owners should have the right to use these areas reasonably and have the obligation to assure that their use does not harm the lake. Right now, there appears to be a good balance, as Lake Minnetonka’s overall nearshore health is good.

Of course the devil is always in the details. Unfortunately there is not an official comprehensive vision or plan in place to assure that investments toward accomplishing these visions will occur. The Lake Minnetonka Association believes it is time for the entire Lake Minnetonka community to become engaged in protecting this wonderful asset.

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