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Managing curly leaf pondweed a $200K annual cost for Lake Osakis

Osakis Lake Association hopes lakeshore taxes can cover the bill through a Lake Improvement District

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The Osakis Lake Association is trying to form a Lake Improvement District to fight an aquatic invasive plant called curly leaf pondweed. (Echo Press file photo)

Curly leaf pondweed invaded Lake Osakis decades ago, so long ago that many boaters assume that the wavy-leafed plant belongs there, said Osakis Lake Association President Bruce Magnus.

However, it’s actually a trouble-making intruder originally from Eurasia, Africa, and Australia that the DNR says was first noted in Minnesota in 1910. Magnus estimates it will cost about $200,000 a year for three years to treat.

If it doesn’t, he said, the problem will continue to get worse, as curly leaf pondweed not only clogs boat motors and fishing lines, but spawns other problems as well, such as spurring algae growth.

"The biggest complaint I hear from people is the algae and the muck on the lake bottom as well as what's washing up on the shore," he said. "The algae will get worse, which is a public safety issue. Our membership is telling us they want the lake cleaned up."

Magnus is among a group of Lake Osakis residents urging the formation of a Lake Improvement District with the targeted mission of taxing lakeshore owners to generate money to manage curly leaf pondweed, along with dollars raised through separate fundraisers and grants. But they have to overcome the skepticism of at least one elected official, Douglas County Commissioner Jerry Rapp, to do so.

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"I'm leery about starting a new program," said Rapp, whose district includes the eastern side of Douglas County, including the part of Lake Osakis that is in Douglas County. Most of the lake is in neighboring Todd County. "Every year we keep adding more and more lakes that are contaminated and we're not gaining. So that tells me that everything we've done is not working. Yeah, you can slow it down, but if you're just slowing it down, that's not the answer either."

Magnus said he disagrees with the idea of just letting invasive species take over.

"When the road buckles and the pot hole develops, you drive around it?" he said. At their annual meeting this year, 125 members showed up, and they unanimously raised their hands to support the formation of a lake improvement district. "We asked for opposed and nobody spoke up, and nobody raised their hand."

Magnus does not claim that spraying will eradicate the weed, but at least it will knock it back so that it becomes less of a nuisance and can be more easily managed. The spray that is used targets only curly leaf pondweed, he said, and doesn't bother native plants.

Lake Osakis sits within three local jurisdictions — Douglas and Todd counties and the City of Osakis — and any plan to move forward would require the approval of all three to form a joint powers board.

The Todd County commissioner who represents that side of the lake, Randy Neumann, said he does support forming a lake improvement district, and that he owns a lake lot and sees first hand how curly leaf pondweed affects use. When he and his wife took their new their pontoon out recently, the weeds wrapped around their boat motor and they had to reverse course to spit it out, he said. It's messier for jet skiers, whose machines get bogged down when going through a patch of pondweed, he said; they have to pull it out of their engines by hand.

"I was really shocked with the amount of curly leaf that's in Lake Osakis," he said. "It's really expanded."

Curly leaf pondweed can form large mats that float on the surface of the water. When it dies, plant residue washes onto the shore.

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Magnus said that the lake association alone can’t fight curly leaf pondweed, as it lacks the funds. Dues cost $50 a year, and fewer than a quarter of the 883 lakeshore properties belong to the association.

Surveys have found 367 acres of curly leaf pondweed in an area where the Minnesota DNR allows spraying. While that’s only a small part of the 6,400 acre lake, the weed causes widespread problems, Magnus said.

This year, the association paid $25,000 to spray curly leaf pondweed, mostly in the narrow northern part of the lake, which angered those who live in the wider, southern end.

“We could only afford to spray 33½ acres,” Magnus said. “There’s a large portion that wasn’t sprayed because of financial reasons.”

Lake Improvement Districts, also called LIDs, have been allowed in Minnesota since the 1970s. They typically form after a majority of property owners in the affected area petition their city or county for one. The local government agency has to approve them, and appoints the first members, although during the second year, all seats are voted on by members of the LID.

There are 52 lake improvement districts in Minnesota, said Kathleen Metzker, a DNR land use hydrologist. The DNR advises LIDs, although they are overseen by the cities or counties they are in. Local governments appoint board members the first year, she said, and after that, they are elected by property owners within the Lake Improvement District.

Typically LIDs form after a majority of property owners petition their local government body, she said. However, city or county elected officials can also create them through resolution. In this case, Magnus said, no petition has been done.

"No need," he wrote in reply to an email question. "Commissioners are willing to initiate it by resolution due to the cost of the CLP (curly leaf pond) management."

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However, Raap said he might require a petition as a condition of his support for a LID. From his perspective, a LID would simply allow property owners to be taxed twice for their land.

"What's this money actually going to do?" he said. "They would have to give me enough information to my satisfaction to say we can or will make a difference."

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