Leaders from Douglas, Otter Tail counties debate flooding and pollution from Nelson Lake
Strong resistance to installing Otter Tail County's first ditch in 100 years has Otter Tail County commissioners searching for solutions.
County Road 6 at Nelson Lake near Parkers Prairie has reopened for now, and heat and dry weather have lowered the lake levels, granting a small reprieve to Otter Tail County officials dealing with a thorny problem that affects pristine but imperiled lakes in Douglas County.
Nelson Lake has been flooding the county road, and officials are trying to figure out how to deal with it. A plan to build the first new drainage ditch in 100 years met a chilly reception at a public hearing in May, after Douglas County residents complained that the ditch would divert polluted water into Lakes Miltona and Ida, as well as worsen the area's flooding problems.
Douglas County commissioners have asked Otter Tail County to look for other solutions than the ditch to solve their problems, and are encouraging them to do more modeling and water testing, as well as figure out a solution within the multi-county effort to restore and protect the Long Prairie River Watershed
Douglas County Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush discussed the Nelson Lake issue and its potential impact on Lake Miltona and other lakes in Douglas County with Douglas County commissioners at their Tuesday, June 1, board meeting.
"Normally, we wouldn't get too concerned, but this body of water has high levels of phosphorus," Rush told the commissioners.
Douglas County Chairperson Jerry Rapp said it was imperative that Otter Tail County authorities knew that Douglas County wanted to be a part of the discussions.
Commissioner Charlie Meyer asked, "Why would you dump into our unimpaired water?"
He added that Douglas County does not purposely try to contaminate other lakes, which is what Otter Tail County would be doing.
Rush said the drainage ditch would not send a one-time shot of phosphorus into Lake Miltona, but contribute a continuous load. He said it made sense for the Douglas County commissioners to raise their concerns now rather than later.
Otter Tail County has received public comment from those who support the ditch, such as the Parkers Prairie Township supervisors.
On June 6, they wrote: "Our infrastructure is being impacted by the high water level on Nelson Lake. The township has incurred large expenditures building up both Nelson Road and Resser Road."
At an Otter Tail County Commission committee meeting, elected officials and staff hashed over the results of the May 5 public hearing.
“What I gleaned from that hearing was a lot of unpopular opinion about that potential project,” said Kevin Fellbaum, county drainage inspector. “From our standpoint, it being unpopular, could we possibly still push this project through? We could, as the main petitioner, but the amount of black eye the county could get from that, I don’t think it’s warranted to move forward with the project.”
Some of the ideas they discussed were installing a French drain, putting in an outlet, filtering out phosphorus before sending water downstream, and raising the road and not taking any action with the lake.
"The overwhelming consensus of the community by the voices we heard was do nothing. I think that’s still is a choice on the table for us,” said Commission Chairman Lee Rogness. “I don’t think that’s a responsible reaction to a problem by this board, to do nothing. We’ve got infrastructure galore down there that’s more than just the No. 6 road. We’ve got township roads that are under water, we’ve got real estate that’s in jeopardy.”
Often, the county hasn't taken action when rising lake levels threaten homes. However, in this case, it would cost the same amount of money to lower the lake as it would to raise the road nine feet, and would help more people.
Otter Tail officials also want to develop maps showing which areas would be flooded if Nelson Lake continues to rise in order to help residents understand potential impacts on their property.
If the lake continues to rise at current levels, Rogness said, “The township roads will be long gone. It’ll look like north of Underwood on Norway Lake. Those roads, you used to see stop signs out there but apparently they’re gone too.”