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Four simple steps to protect lake water quality

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Want to make a difference by protecting lake water quality?

Crow Wing County reports there are four simple things people can do to help the health of surface waters:

■ Manage runoff with landscaping. Use rain gardens, berms, natural depressions to collect water and trap pollutants before they reach the water. Roots absorb nutrients and slow erosion. Berms can direct runoff to a rain garden.

■ Preserve vegetated shorelines and slopes. The vegetation buffers prevent erosion from both runoff and waves, add habitat for fish and wildlife. Buffers may be created by simply leaving a “no-mow” area with native grasses, wildflowers, trees or shrubs.

■ Routinely maintain septic systems. The county recommends pumping septic systems every three years with period inspections to make sure it is working correctly.

■ Inspect boats, motors and trailers for aquatic invasive species of plants or zebra mussels before entering or leaving public waters. Drain live wells and leave plugs out during transport.

Chris Pence, land services supervisor in environmental services, reported this year’s water plan was unique because it developed a first-of-its-kind watershed protection model, which is being used by the Mississippi Headwaters Board and other regional counties.

What makes the watershed-based model standout, Pence reported, is identification of local priority water resource concerns. Once those are identified, the county noted the model means action plans may be created for each of the 125 minor and five major watersheds in the county.

RedHouseMedia, Brainerd, created a poster and factsheets for the county using maps, graphics and a flow of information to show people how the county determines and manages risk. It also provides examples of ways people can make a difference in their own yards.

In 2013, the county reported it conducted about 3,500 to 4,000 watercraft inspections on 17 area lakes through partnerships with lake associations and the DNR. The inspections, Pence said, kept zebra mussels from entering Lake Hubert and Bay Lake.

Other listed accomplishments included the preservation or restoration of more than a half-mile of shoreline through 30 shoreline buffer and stabilization projects. Through the implementation of 36 stormwater plans, Pence estimated the county prevented nine pounds of phosphorous from entering the lake. One pound of phosphorous, he reported, equals about 300 pounds of algae.

In addition, Pence said the county conducted 688 septic system compliance inspections and found more than 95 percent were working correctly. With 23,000 septic systems in the ground, Crow Wing County is second only to St. Louis County for the most septic systems in the state.

Pence said the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency numbers show 4 percent of septic systems in the county would need to be upgraded. Pence said those nonconforming systems are identified when people seek permits or transfer property. Last year, the county issued about 800 permits.

Commissioner Paul Thiede said five years ago there was howling from the public about too many failing septic systems and what the county is doing to make sure they are functioning properly is tremendous. Pence praised staff diligence.

Realizing not everyone will come forward for a permit, the county is also doing an educational push with a guide to lake stewardship and the maps stressing there are simple things everyone can do for water quality.

Pence said the goal is to take the water plan from something that sat on a shelf to get it into the hands of people.

Thiede said the water plan provides tools to address water quality and not just for lake associations, but for everyone who lives on the lake.

“If we can do that we can have a huge impact on water quality in Crow Wing County,” Pence said.

People want to do the right thing, he said, and if they know what that is he thinks they’ll do it.

“Everybody has a stake in this,” Thiede said. “... I think there are a whole lot of people interested in water quality in this county.”

To view the county’s water plan online, go to

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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