Motorized boating ban a possibility on impaired lake

After nine years on the Planning Commission, Marvin Reed has resigned. He was gifted a white bear statue for his service by Mayor Jo Emerson at the Oct. 8 City Council meeting. Reed is moving to Ohio to spend more time with his grandchildren. City Manager Ellen Hiniker said the city will miss his “words of wisdom and problem-solving skills.” Reed called his tenure on the commission “very worthwhile” and encouraged people to be engaged in the community. 

WHITE BEAR LAKE — Goose Lake is the most impaired lake on the Vadnais Lake Area Watershed Management Organization (VLAWMO) list. The lake is the headwaters for Lambert Creek, which drains into Vadnais Lake, a source of St. Paul's drinking water. 

The water management organization, formed in 1983 to protect a 25-mile area of watershed, is proposing treating East Goose Lake with aluminum sulfate, or alum, a chemical compound that binds with phosphorus and sediments in the water and settles to the lake bottom. 

City Manager Ellen Hiniker discussed the proposal at the end of a long Oct. 8 City Council meeting that included assessment hearings and variance requests. Goose Lake residents waited patiently to hear the discussion, which always follows old and new business.

If the alum treatment goes forward, the city would need to adopt an ordinance restricting motorized boating for three years or more. Goose Lake is shallow (maximum depth is 7.4 feet) and motors would stir up the bottom, negating the treatment's effectiveness. Cities have that restriction authority, Hiniker noted.

But there is opposition from homeowners who live on the lake, noted the city manager, based on emails and conversations.

Councilman Bill Walsh doesn't feel the cost/benefit ratio is there for the treatment, which would cost about $170,000. VLAWMO would apply for a grant to offset the cost and the city would contribute $35,000. 

Both Councilmen Doug Biehn and Kevin Edberg want to know what impact Goose Lake has on other water bodies. "It's not OK if high phosphorus levels are impairing other lakes," Edberg said. 

Phosphorous fuels algae growth, giving many Minnesota lakes a green, soupy appearance during warmer months. Once applied to a lake, alum binds with phosphorus, making it unavailable for algae to consume. Bald Eagle Lake, for example, was treated twice with alum to target phosphorus. The lake met state standards for water quality after the first treatment for the first time in more than three decades. 

"The lake is ripe for blue-green algae blooms; dogs die from it," pointed out Councilman Dan Jones, who sits on the VLAWMO board as the city's representative. "VLAWMO's mission statement is to improve water quality. There is no other treatment besides alum. If we want a clean lake, this is the price we pay. Goose has been a terrible lake for years."

Mayor Jo Emerson said she was reluctant to have staff draft an ordinance due to homeowner opposition but felt VLAWMO "has put years into the recommendation." She agreed there is a cost to property owners. In a memo to the city late August, VLAWMO staff stated that property values are negatively affected by lakes dominated by algae blooms and that algae is the reason East Goose Lake is nearly devoid of plants.

Normally, there is no public hearing at a first reading of an ordinance but because of the interest, the mayor agreed to allow it. The item will be on the Oct. 22 agenda. The ordinance will receive a second reading, followed by another public hearing,  at the Nov. 26 council meeting.

 Boating and waterskiing would still be allowed on West Goose Lake. 

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