Protecting local waters: Ramsey Conservation District holds Aquatic Invasive Species public forum

In an effort to raise awareness about protecting the world’s most valuable natural resource, the Ramsey Conservation District held an aquatic invasive species public forum on March 30.

Ramsey Conservation District Manager Ann WhiteEagle and AIS Coordinator Michelle Prosser presenting updates to the Ramsey Conservation District’s AIS plans. (Sun Focus photo by Sarah Burghardt)
Ramsey Conservation District Manager Ann WhiteEagle and AIS Coordinator Michelle Prosser presenting updates to the Ramsey Conservation District’s AIS plans. (Sun Focus photo by Sarah Burghardt)

The Ramsey Conservation District works to conserve natural resources and often provides educational opportunities for residents and stakeholders to learn more about preserving and protecting the environment. Ramsey County residents came out to learn more about what could be lurking in their local lakes, and most importantly, what could be done about it.

Water quality

Maintaining water quality is imperative to the health of Minnesota lakes. Through the changing seasons, the Ramsey Conservation District works to ensure that every lake in the county is properly monitored.

A component of the monitoring is looking at chloride concentrations. This unique water pollutant is seemingly unavoidable and is posing a threat to Minnesota lakes.

The majority of chloride comes from road salt. With any Minnesota winter comes snow and ice, and winter road maintenance relies heavily on the use of salt. This de-icing method has contributed to a poor diet for many lakes and other bodies of water around the state.

Environmental Resource Specialist John Manske works to monitor the water quality of Ramsey county lakes. Alongside the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and other partners, Manske and his team have been working on the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area Chloride Project to address this issue.

“Salt is a conservative ion. It doesn’t go anywhere and it doesn’t get used by any organisms,” said Manske. “Once it enters into a body of water, it generally doesn’t come out. You’re only going to see, overtime, these salt concentrations of lakes increase.”

With no available technology to remove chloride, the project aims to create a plan to address impairments and other impacts on water quality in the entire metropolitan area. The project has established a state water quality standard for chloride at 230 mg/L, and a total of seven Ramsey County lakes are currently sitting above this standard.

“We found that a large number of lakes in the metro were already impaired, meaning that the amount of chloride in the lake is too high for aquatic life,” Manske said. “And a lot of our lakes were nearing that threshold and are at high risk of becoming impaired.”

Environmental Resource Specialist John Manske discussed the water quality of Ramsey County lakes. Seven lakes in the county are categorized as impaired with chloride according to state standards, and many are nearing risk of impairment. (Sun Focus photo by Sarah Burghardt)
Environmental Resource Specialist John Manske discussed the water quality of Ramsey County lakes. Seven lakes in the county are categorized as impaired with chloride according to state standards, and many are nearing risk of impairment. (Sun Focus photo by Sarah Burghardt)

Ramsey County uses 16 million pounds of road salt for winter maintenance a year, and it’s apparent that many of its lakes are taking the hit. Manske pointed to Little Johanna Lake, which boasts an average chloride concentration level of 853 mg/L, about four times the 230 mg/L impairment standard. Average chloride concentration levels range from slightly above, with Silver Lake at 241 mg/L, to top tiered Spring Lake at 964 mg/L.

Although, Ramsey County has seen a downward trend of road salt amounts used over the last 15 years.

“This is in part due to a number of technologies that we’ve added and most importantly using salt brine as opposed to a hard rock salt,” Manske said.

Manske added that this trend is also due to the chloride management plan (CMP), created by the MPCA, state agencies and local municipalities. The plan effectively addresses salt management practices to protect waters around the state. The CMP was designed to face the challenge of finding the balance between safe and desirable road conditions in the winter and minimizing the amount of salt used. The plan provides guidance for management activities over the next 10 years, in hopes of reducing chloride impacts in local waters.

Part of the plan includes a Winter Maintenance Assessment tool (WMAt) which can be used by all winter maintenance organizations to determine the most effective and responsible salt saving management practices.

The web-based tool allows these organizations to analyze their own practices and helps to decide where opportunities exist to improve. Effective in both a cost-savings standpoint and reduction in additional chloride-impaired lakes, the tool allows for continuous and trackable improvement.

Aquatic invasive species prevention plan

In 2014, a county tax bill was passed to provide funds for aquatic invasive species (AIS) prevention. Each year, a total of $10 million is given to Minnesota counties to support AIS prevention programs, with funds used under individual county discretion. Funds are divided for each county depending on the number of watercraft trailer launches and number of watercraft trailer parking spaces.

Natural Resources Manager Michael Goodnature outlined the work that the Ramsey Conservation District has been doing for the past few years with state funds for AIS prevention. (Sun Focus photo by Sarah Burghardt)
Natural Resources Manager Michael Goodnature outlined the work that the Ramsey Conservation District has been doing for the past few years with state funds for AIS prevention. (Sun Focus photo by Sarah Burghardt)

With funds released in 2014, Ramsey County held a resident and stakeholder meeting to gather information to draft a plan outlining AIS objectives and initiatives for the next two years.

Natural Resources Manager Michael Goodnature identified certain key areas that the county focused on in 2014-16.

“The whole concept when it came to these initiatives revolved a lot around education outreach,” Goodnature said.

The outreach included vibrant and organized signage at all Ramsey County access sites, designed to make residents aware of rules and regulations for the area.
Goodnature said access site inspections were also ramped up to ensure that no invasive species were entering local waters.

“This was a huge deal when it came to prevention and education,” Goodnature said. “When people pull up and see an actual body there at the launch, they can discuss ways AIS are introduced in the lakes and taken out.

“But one of the problems that we ran into was actually finding staff to sit at the access sites,” Goodnature said. “So that’s something we’re looking to expand within the next few years.”

This year, the county plans to hire its own inspectors as well as contract with WaterGuards, a program that specializes in watercraft inspections and AIS prevention. These efforts will increase inspection hours from 348 in 2016 to 2,142 hours this year.

“We expect to be at all of your lakes, every weekend,” Ramsey Conservation District Manager Ann WhiteEagle said.

According to a survey sent out by the Ramsey Conservation District, residents identified watercraft inspections to be of top priority.

Although, some stakeholders attending the forum and members of local lake associations believe that rather than focusing on prevention, more funds should be appropriated to remediation of invasive species.

Keeping aquatic invasive species out of Ramsey County lakes is of top priority for the Ramsey Conservation District. This year, boat inspection hours are expected to increase from 348 in 2016 to 2,142 hours. (Photo courtesy of Ramsey Conservation District)
Keeping aquatic invasive species out of Ramsey County lakes is of top priority for the Ramsey Conservation District. This year, boat inspection hours are expected to increase from 348 in 2016 to 2,142 hours. (Photo courtesy of Ramsey Conservation District)

“All of the lake associations seem to be burdened that it’s their job to do the remediation,”  Long Lake Improvement Association President Rich Kusick. “Any lake association is typically made up of landowners, but the lakes are public waters. I don’t think its fair to burden the homeowners with the cost to remediate the problem when, more than likely, it was brought in by the public.”

Although these concerns are valid, remediation is an ongoing and expensive process. According to Manske, eradicating an invasive species after it has infested a lake has never been successfully accomplished in Minnesota. He said herbicide treatments should be viewed as ongoing maintenance, not remediation.

“That’s why our focus has really been on prevention, because that is the only way to really help a lake,” Manske said. Manske said that although lake homeowners may be solely concerned with the current infestation they have, it would be hard to imagine what the next invasive species ramifications could be. “We really need to focus on not getting lakes contaminated with another species,” he said.

Manske added that with the current amount of funding going toward Minnesota lakes, all funds would be exhausted in remediation efforts with just a handful of lakes.

“We have 120 lakes in the county, and we could maybe treat four or five and that would exhaust our entire budget,” Manske said. “It really doesn’t make sense to get involved in the maintenance of an ongoing infestation.”

Contact Sarah Burghardt at [email protected]