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Lakes being poisoned? Douglas County Commissioner Jerry Rapp thinks so

Rapp would like weeds removed manually or mechanically.

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A sign on the beach at Lake Brophy County Park near Alexandria notifies swimmers that the water was chemically treated to reduce weeds. (Lowell Anderson / Alexandria Echo Press)

Douglas County Chairman Jerry Rapp doesn’t like “using poisons” in lakes to kill off weeds.

“I am leery about using this practice (herbicides) in our lakes,” he said at a recent Douglas County board meeting. “We need to do this manually or with machines. We preach clean water but we have to practice what we preach.”

Jerry Rapp

Rapp said he was bringing the issue of using herbicides, or what he calls poisons, up to the board because of the weed issue at the beach at Lake Brophy County Park.


Douglas County Parks Superintendent Brad Bonk said the beach started receiving treatments three years ago. In 2019, one application of herbicide was applied to the beach area as there were many complaints about the weeds at the beach.

In 2020 and again this year, two applications of herbicide were applied to the beach area, Bonk said, one at the end of May and another after the Fourth of July. The reason why, he said, was again because of the complaints he received about how weedy the beach area was.

Douglas County Land and Resource Management Director Dave Rush said herbicides are used often, especially by farmers. The many different chemical products used, he said, get tested extensively but that people need to follow instructions on their use.

“We use these chemicals to manage the natural environment,” Rush told Rapp. “Brophy has a beach and the county treats the beach area.”

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Weeds and lily pads grow on the edge of the swimming beach at Lake Brophy County Park near Alexandria. The water at the swimming area was treated with a chemical to control aquatic vegetation. (Lowell Anderson / Alexandria Echo Press)

Rush said it may seem alarming to some because of the signs that are posted, but said the treatments have to be permitted through the state and that a requirement is to post the permit. He said the treatment is aquatic approved and that an abundance of caution is used when applying it. Bonk added that there are no restrictions for swimming and that it is perfectly safe to swim right after it is applied.

Rush also mentioned that the county offers grants to area lake associations for plant management using the same chemicals. In the last three to five years, Rush estimated the county has given out between $50,000 and $70,000 in grants to lake associations to treat acres of water.


“It is much more effective than doing it manually,” he said. “It (herbicides) is a practice that has been going on following the guidelines set by the state. If the county doesn’t want to do it, then we need direction to do what you want.”

Dave Rush

Rush noted that mechanical removal of weeds is expensive and not as effective.

He also noted that using herbicides is permitted through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“The DNR allows it, permits it,” he said. “It is desired by the public and it is requested by the public.”

Rapp, who is also not a fan of using calcium chloride on icy roads, said he would prefer weeds over using chemicals in the lakes.

“How can you call it clean water?” Rapp stated.


Rush said that Rapp had a valid point and it is commendable to do it organically, but that there is still a desire from the public to take care of weeds using herbicides.

“We are here to do what you want,” Rush told Rapp. “But we are being asked to do this by the public.”

Commissioner Heather Larson asked if there has been any testing done on fish, to which Bonk said he was sure there has been. He said the herbicide used by the county is not a residual chemical and that it is broken down once it is applied, which is why people can swim immediately after it is applied.

Obviously, he said, people shouldn’t drink the water, but it is safe to swim in.

"The treatments don’t sound bad, but they don’t seem right. We have strict rules but then we put this stuff in our water. This tells me something is wrong with it."

- Jerry Rapp, chairperson, Douglas County Board of Commissioners

Rush said on Lake Brophy, there is strong weed growth and that there is more and more weed growth in other area lakes, too. This means, he said, that more and more lakeshore property owners are going to be wanting to do something to eradicate their weeds.

He said weed roller or weed jets, which are mechanical ways to get rid of weeds, also need permitting.


Rapp suggested just using a chain behind a boat, but was quickly told that it is illegal unless you have a permit. Bonk said there are companies that use that method and that he could look into the cost.

Brad Bonk

“The treatments don’t sound bad, but they don’t seem right,” said Rapp. “We have strict rules but then we put this stuff in our water. This tells me something is wrong with it.”

Larson said she would be in favor of doing something organically versus chemically.

“I want my kids, personally, to be in the cleanest water possible,” she said.

Bonk asked if he should research other options to find out the costs and Rapp said he would like to see what it cost to have weeds removed mechanically.

“I will get prices for you,” said Bonk. “We have to do something and we will do what the board wishes.”


No formal action was taken at the July 20 meeting, other than directing Bonk to research options and cost. No date was set for when the issue will be brought back to the board for action.

Celeste Edenloff is the special projects editor and a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. She has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in 2016 to once again report on the community she calls home.
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