FLLA buoyant about lakes’ future

Submitted photo
This year’s annual meeting of the Forest Lake Lake Association was moved to Stella’s to accomodate more members.

The Forest Lake Lake Association took a positive look at issues affecting the first, second and third Forest lakes and the lakes’ residents during its annual meeting on April 20. Two key components of the meeting were the management of aquatic invasive species and work being done to improve water quality on the lakes.

Water quality

At the start of the meeting, FLLA President Stev Stegner assured the crowd of around 200 gathered at Stella’s that the association tries to strategically manage its funds (currently, he said, the association has about $30,000 in the bank) to go farther through cooperation and the acquisition of state grants.

“We try to leverage the money that we get from you guys to work with the city of Forest Lake and watershed district to do water improvement projects along the lake,” said the former mayor.
Mike Sorenson with the Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District spoke on some cooperative water quality efforts with FLLA and the state government that are current or upcoming. He explained that by 2040, the district hopes to have reduced the amount of phosphorus – a plant nutrient that nurses algae, which turns lakes green and murky – running off into the lake by about 1,100 pounds.

The first project, the Forest Lake Wetland Treatment Basin, was the excavation of phosphorus-filled soil from a wetland on the east side of third lake, allowing the water that runs from the wetland into the lake to be clearer again. The second was the installation of sand filters enhanced with iron filings that cling to phosphorus in an area near the HiLo Lane neighborhood, where water drains into second lake. The first project is expected to reduce phosphorus flow into the lakes by 56 pounds per year; the second, 12 pounds. Neither number is insignificant, said Sorenson, when one considers just how much effect a small amount of phosphorus can have on a body of water.

“Each pound of phosphorous can grow up to 500 pounds of algae,” he said.

Coming up, however, are two projects that will remove even more phosphorus out of the water. The first is the district’s plan to get together with city officials in Forest Lake to talk about the best way to optimize street sweeping in areas of high phosphorous runoff to keep organic material and other substances from flowing into the lakes. The second project is a $1 million effort (80 percent of which is funded by the state) to capture runoff water into Shields Lake (one of the primary phosphorus contributors to the Forest lakes) and to treat Shields Lake with alum, which will bind with the lake’s phosphorus and sink it to the lake bottom. The collected runoff would be used to help irrigate Forest Hills Golf Course, saving water usage there as well.

The Shields Lake project is expected to keep 77 pounds per year of phosphorus out of Shields, and the alum treatment is set to reduce 250 pounds per year more, which in turn will reduce phosphorus flowing from Shields into the Forest lakes.

“That’s a really significant amount of phosphorous,” Sorenson said, adding that the Shields Lake project engineers were “giddy” when they calculated how much phosphorus would be reduced under the plan.

Once all four plans are in effect, the district estimates that it will be about 32 percent to its goal of 2040 phosphorus reduction.

Invasive species

At this year’s meeting, as in 2016, the hot topic of the event was aquatic invasive species, as lakeshore owners are still adjusting to their new reality after zebra mussels and Eurasian watermilfoil were found in the lake system in 2015. While the association is still hard at work combating and reducing the numbers of curly-leaf pondweed, flowering rush and watermilfoil in the lake, the focus of the April 20 discussion was the zebra mussels. The small, shelled mollusks were discovered too late to be eradicated from the water altogether, but Blue Water Science’s Steve McComis said that fortunately, conditions like the lake’s lower calcium level and lack of hard underwater surfaces make conditions suboptimal for the animals. Last year, Blue Water found measurements in first lake of 200 to 34,000 per square meter in first lake and roughly 1,000 per square meter on second lake, with none found in third.

“Even though (34,000) is a lot, … they can get a lot higher than that under the right conditions,” McComas said.

McComas said the mussels’ population in the lakes will likely continue to grow for the next three to five years in first lake and next 10 years in second and third lakes, at which point the dissolved oxygen in the water will begin to deplete and cause the populations to die out. Eventually, the dieouts will lead to larger quantities of dissolved oxygen again, however, likely leading to population rebounds.

“We’re going through some of these cycles for the long term,” McComas said. “This is probably the long-term condition for Forest Lake.”

Since Forest Lake doesn’t have much in the way of a rocky bottom, those swimming in the lake won’t have to worry as much about the sharp mussels clinging to surfaces humans might touch, though McComas said the animals will affix themselves to aquatic plants if hard surfaces are not prevalent. He recommended that lakeshore owners find a device that works for them – he suggested a golf ball grabber or a clam digger – to scoop clumps of mussels out of the water near the shore.

Lastly, he told attendees that they should not be discouraged about the presence of mussels in the lakes, noting that their filtration of lake water will likely lead to clearer water, more lake plants and different distributions of fish populations – but likely a similar amount of fish in the lakes overall.

“Forest Lake is still a great lake with many, many natural resources,” he said. “Don’t forget, the aquatic invasive species, a healthy lake and these recreational opportunities can all still coexist.”

Upcoming events

The Forest Lake Lake Association is holding several events this summer, all of which are open to the public.

June 24: FLLA will partner with Abbra Carpet to steam clean boats at Lakeside Memorial Park.
July 23: Boat tie-up.
August 12: FLLA will help with the Northern Lights Paddle, Yoga and Music Fest, supplying boats, volunteers and race monitors.
June through August: FLLA has a booth at Arts in the Park.

Visit ourforestlake.com for more information.