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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lake County Water Data Shows Need for Environmental Action

Dakota Water Watch has issued a report on this year's water monitoring projects around eastern South Dakota. For Lake County lakes, the news mixed:
  1. Lakes Madison and Brant showed higher than average water clarity, as measured by Secchi disk readings. Lake Herman was a little murkier than the average for all bodies of water monitored. Round Lake was really murky in the summer, but cleared up fast come September and October.
  2. Brant Lake had the lowest E. coli readings in the county. Lake Madison had higher but still not bad bacteria counts. Lake Herman's bacteria counts were higher yet, including one spike in June to 232 colony-forming units per 100 mL, the highest reading found during the entire 2009 monitoring project. 232 cfu/100mL is still below the EPA standard (and newly adopted South Dakota standard) of 235 cfu/mL as the maximum single sample level for immersion recreation waters... but it's awfully close.
One way to read this data: Folks on Lake Madison continue to owe Lake Herman a big thank-you for filtering out the crap and supporting their McMansion property values (top current asking price: $870K on Woodland Drive). Of course, I'd still rather live on the rich folks' settling pond than the rich folks' jet ski range.

The non-class-warfare way to read this data: we need to take action to improve water quality on Lake Herman. While my neighbor Larry Dirks continues to fantasize about building a giant central sewer system with someone else's tax dollars, I would suggest some practical action we can take locally, through combined action of the Lake Herman Sanitary District and Lake County:
  1. Begin inspection of all on-site septic systems. There are some folks on Lake Herman and around the county who may have bought property and don't even know where their septic tanks and drainfields are, let alone whether they are in working order. Whether we require inspection and cleaning according to some timetable or pass a transfer inspection requirement like what Iowa just enacted this summer, we should inventory and monitor the onsite systems around the county.
  2. Enforce zoning regulations. I've heard some folks grumble about houses being built on land around the Madison Country Club that doesn't have the right soil for an effective drainfield. The county and the state DENR have some pretty clear rules about soil quality and other requirements for installing onsite wastewater systems. If a lot doesn't meet those rules, the county needs to get serious about saying to developers they either can't build there or they need to make improvements.
  3. Establish more buffer zones: the south side of Lake Herman has cattle pasture right at the water's edge. Many of our tributaries have cultivation very close to the watercourse. Lake County should seek funds to support its own CRP-style program to expand the riparian buffers in these areas to absorb more nutrients before they reach the lake.
  4. Continue monitoring. We can't make good policy without good data. The East Dakota Water Development District and Interlakes Water Quality Committee have provided a valuable service by starting the water monitoring project that has gathered this data about our lakes for three years now. Lake County's soon-to-be-formed water quality committee should recommend continuing this project so we can base our local water policies on science, not wishes and guesses.

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