City action coming on Lake Orono water quality

by Kurt Nesbitt
Contributing Writer
City action in response to the water quality of Lake Orono, including dredging, may come up in the future.

Elk River city officials and members of the Lake Orono Improvement Association met to hear the association’s data on the quality of the water in that lake, and its plans and ideas for how to improve it, at a City Council work session Monday night.

Representatives of the group presented the Elk River City Council with a summary report of conditions in the upper and lower portions of the lake and five actions the association wants to take in response to those findings.

Members of the Lake Orono Improvement Association and the Elk River City Council met Monday to discuss the lake. Lake Orono is a shallow, 300-acre body of water in Elk River.

The report found that curly-leaf pond weed, natural plant overgrowth, algae proliferation and sediment build-up are holding back recreation on the lake. The report said the Elk River is the main source of the problem, since it transports about 200,000 acre-feet of water downstream every year and carries anywhere from 40-60,000 pounds of phosphorus and as much as three to five million pounds of sediment into Lake Orono each year, most of which ends up in upper Lake Orono.

The report makes several recommendations. It recommends the association get the City Council to adopt the association’s new lake management plan, then implement a plan to get rid of the problematic vegetation, which includes looking into the feasibility of dredging Lake Orono and a partial lake drawdown.

Land and vegetation management plans, including a lake improvement district and a “Friends of Lake Orono” fund, are the last two phases recommended by the report.

Council members directed city staff to keep working with the association on the issue.

Mayor John Dietz said formal City Council action on the report will be coming in the next few months.

Lake Orono Improvement Association President Christy Cox said the council’s approval just gives the association permission to move forward with its goals. She said the association also plans to meet with Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, to discuss state funding for the project.

The association is also going to start making more detailed plans to accomplish its goals.Patrick Plant, chair of the association’s Lake Orono Water Quality Committee, said the association will develop formal, detailed plans of action and finalizing how much those plans will cost.

The association is also going to look further into the sources of the pollution and which actions it needs to take to get rid of pollution. He said the association might look at new ways of funding, such as a lake improvement tax district near the lake as well as a small, city-wide tax.

The association is also looking at asking other counties for funding and at the state’s Legacy Fund.

He said if Elk River households contributed $1 a year it “could have a major impact.” The association would have an open house if it decided to pursue any money that might use taxes, Plant said.