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Lake cleanup plan moves forward

Lake Winona and Lake Agnes, each suffering from poor water quality, have moved a step closer toward what proponents say is a plan to clean them up.

Representatives from the Alexandria Lake Area Sanitary District and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency "reached an initial agreement on how to proceed" at a meeting last week, according to a district news release.

Technical and logistical issues remain, the release said, adding that the two parties "agree there is a pathway toward setting the plan in motion and achieving the shared goal of improving water quality in Lake Winona and Lake Agnes."

A final agreement could save the sanitary district $14 million. It discharges into Lake Winona, a shallow lake in the Alexandria city limits and the first link in the chain of lakes. Lake Agnes is the second.

Winona's phosphorus levels cause significant algae blooms, and the sanitary district teeters on the brink of having to install expensive infrastructure to further reduce its phosphorus emissions in order to renew its operating permit.

However, the district has argued that invasive carp, not the treated wastewater its discharges, are the main culprit for stirring up phosphorus. The tentative agreement the sanitary district has reached with the state calls for removing carp from Lake Winona and treating Lake Agnes with alum, which would bind with phosphorus and sink it to the bottom.

The meeting produced no written agreement. Details that still need to be worked out are the time frame for the sewer district's permit renewal as well as lake management strategy, said Daniel Marx, a lawyer representing the district.

The PCA has previously agreed to work with the sanitary district on this new strategy, and the Legislature and Minnesota Gov. Dayton allocated $600,000 toward the estimated $1.2 million cost earlier this year.

"This is a prime example of what can be achieved when groups set aside their differences and work toward a common goal," said Roger Thalman, chairman of the sanitary district.

"We are grateful for everyone who helped make this project a reality."

He cited four area legislators — Sens. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) and Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), and Reps. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) and Mary Franson (R-Alexandria) — as being instrumental in securing state funding. Thalman also said the MPCA provided vital support and is working with the district on a solution.