Area water advocates learn, network at conference
More than 300 lake association members, local government officials and water advocates of all stripes gathered at Cragun’s Resort May 1-2 to learn about challenges faced by the state’s freshwater lakes and rivers.
The goals of the 2014 State of Water Conference, sponsored by Conservation Minnesota, the Freshwater Society and numerous state agencies, were to assemble leaders in water advocacy to work toward solutions, develop relationships and become educated on the issues.
Paul Austin, executive director of Conservation Minnesota, spoke about the importance of holding such a gathering.
“You, your friends, your neighbors and your colleagues are the people who are going to make a difference in our state,” he said. “Seeing this group of people has already given me that energy and excitement.”
Steve Woods, executive director of the Freshwater Society, motivated attendees and memorialized his organization’s founder, Dick Gray, who died in March.
“(When Gray started the organization), he was 50 years old, he had a home, three kids, a day job, bills to pay, and somehow he gave a rip,” he said. “Too often we put these people on pedestals. But no, they’re regular people, they just give a rip.”
Woods shared that despite the tremendous challenges of aquatic invasive species (AIS), pollution, shoreline degradation and more, recent data indicates that the quality of 92 percent of the state’s lakes has remained steady or improved.
“You’re entitled to an upward trend in water,” he said.
The conference featured a keynote address from conservation activist and former state legislator Darby Nelson, author of “For Love of Lakes,” who spoke on the paradox of loving our lakes, yet degrading them.
Nelson said that only a small percentage of what’s going on in our lakes can be perceived from the surface, and he encouraged everyone to go snorkeling to gain a more complete picture.
“Incomplete perceptions produce incomplete understanding,” he said. “One snorkel experience can totally change one’s understanding of the nature of a lake.”
Conference goers attended numerous sessions led by experts from across the state. Sessions focused on AIS, restoration of aquatic habitat, watersheds, nutrient management and runoff as well as strategies for getting things done on the local level.
Members of several local organizations attended the conference. Austin said they selected Cragun’s for the event because Brainerd is in the middle of the state.
“We wanted to bring this back to the center of the lake world,” he said.
Nick Bernier, vice president of the Mission Lake Association, said that he was encouraged to hear of researchers’ modest success with developing controls for AIS, particularly Eurasian milfoil and zebra mussels, both of which affect the Mission Lakes.
Still, Bernier said the association’s main challenge is the lack of funding for treating AIS. He said the group has considered pursuing the establishment of a lake improvement district (LID), which is a taxing district set up around a lake to assist with funding lake improvement projects.
“We are now mostly dependent on donations and some modest grants from the (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources) for our annual treatments to keep AIS at manageable levels,” he said. “We’re having trouble keeping (up) with AIS spread.”
Bernier said the association left the conference committed to work with the Crow Wing County Land Services Department on shoreland use and permitting, particularly over concerns about lots currently for sale on their lake.
“(They) are on lowlands that we feel should not have construction on them for ecological reasons,” he said.
Joy Majsterski, a member of the Lake Ossawinnamakee Property Owners Association, said she learned about preventing soil erosion at a presentation by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.
Planting rain gardens and building vegetative buffers were two strategies for erosion prevention discussed.
“Our lakeshore board is very interested in this area and will be actively promoting this,” she said.
Majsterski said a topic she wished she’d heard more about at the conference was the impact of fracking and mining on water quality.
“The public needs to be aware of the negative impacts of this and to think in a forward way, not 10 or 20 years of money making,” she said. “We all need to become stewards of our land and animals.”
Chelsey Perkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at facebook.com/PEJChelsey and on Twitter @PEJ_Chelsey.