Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Between our Lakes

The sand bar separating Little and Big Detroit lakes has become a gathering place for many Lake Detroiters and others.   It also serves as an important boundary between two different types of lake situations – one large and deep, the other smaller and shallow;   and it figures in the two basins’ water quality differences too (a situation which I have described elsewhere).  

Early descriptions of the lakes from the late 1800’s depict the sandbar as a more prominent physical boundary between the lakes than it is today.  Overall the water depth over the bar was much less then, and the dry points on either end were much closer to each other.   Indeed, there were at least some periods when it was possible to walk across the lake without getting wet feet.

Such walks no longer are possible, even during prolonged dry periods.   Starting in the 1888 Detroit’s water levels were raised by a series of dams by the Pelican River Navigation Company.   I don’t know the amount of the water level increase, but some indicate that the rise could have been between one and three feet. 

I also have observed that lake levels were moved higher between 1965 and 1985 due to manipulations of the Dunton Locks dam.  And since the early 1990’s precipitation has helped keep water levels high too.     

Another factor contributing to a diminished prominence of the sandbar is erosion.  It is quite likely that higher water levels have contributed to spreading of sandbar material into both Big and Little Detroit basins.

From the early days a channel has been cut through the sandbar to facilitate boat traffic between Big and Little Detroit.   The steamships which travelled between the East shore of Big Detroit through Little Detroit, and down the Pelican River to Shoreham and beyond, required a water depth of at least two feet, so in 1888 the first channel was excavated.    

The early channel was dug (and subsequently kept open) with the help of horses and mules.   In most years it provided less than three feet of depth, and even as late as the early 1950’s, there are those who insist that children walked across the lake on the sandbar, and that the depth of the channel was only “about up to our waists” – so say the informants.  In those days the channel was marked by a few tamarac or cedar stakes; at some point in the late 1940’s, a single light was added to assist night-time boaters in finding safe passage.

But after 1945 boats and motors grew in size, and the old channel became insufficient.   There was talk about enlarging and deepening the channel, much of it by Lake Detroiters and another local organization, the “Inland Lakes Boat Club”.   In the winter of 1953/54 a major dredging operation was mounted,  as described in this article from the Lake Detroiters 1954 Annual Report.  (Note the “ membership dues” referred to were from Lake Detroiters’ members.)  
The sandbar’s “island” was created from the dredge spoils at this time. 

There is some doubt that the six foot depth described in the article was actually achieved   Boats continued to grow in size, weight, and draft,  and in the late 1970’s and early 80’s  there were new pressures to widen, deepen, and lengthen the channel.   This time the Pelican River Watershed District was called upon to undertake a project to fix the channel (and to do some dredging in the Pelican River between Sallie and Melissa too).   The project was greatly complicated by regulations that prohibited disposal of dredged material spoils in the lake.   In the end this excavated materials from the channel were carried by barges to the Highway 10 public access where they were hauled away for disposal.   The project extended over several seasons, mainly because of contractor defaults;  the channel as we know it today was finally declared complete in June, 1984.  

I would welcome any additional information (especially pictures) readers can supply on this topic. 

Dick Hecock, July 19, 2013

Monday, July 1, 2013

Could it be the End of Flowering Rush?

On June 21, 2013 approximately 183 acres along the shores of Big, Little Detroit and Deadshot Bay (Curfman) were treated in a attempt to control Flowering Rush (FR).  Fourteen more acres were treated in the City’s beach area in the Park and along West Lake Drive.   Additional treatments took place in Lakes Melissa and Sallie.

The treatments were paid for by taxpayers under the auspices of the Pelican River Watershed District (PRWD) and the City of Detroit Lakes. The actual treatments were carried out by Professional Lakes Management (PLM), authorized and supervised by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.     
Flowering Rush was first observed in these waters in 1976.   Some insist that the plant was set along the shore of Deadshot Bay (Curfman Lake) as part of a residential landscaping effort.   No one has provided any direct knowledge of that act, but genetic research indicates that our FR is derived from nursery stock.  

Even in the late 1970’s Deadshot Bay residents realized that Flowering Rush was a problem and began hand-pulling.   It did not take long to learn those efforts were not solving the problem, so residents turned to the PRWD for help.   In the late 1980’s for at least two years District staff  used both granular and spray forms of an aquatic version of Roundup (glysophate) to treat FR in Detroit and Sallie,  especially in Deadshot Bay,  and near Long Bridge and other beaches where there were heavy infestations.    Though permitted by DNR, the approach was considered unsuccessful. 

Hand-pulling continued into the early nineties, sometimes by teams recruited by Lake Detroiters and other groups.   Also, because of the plant’s flowering habit and the expectation that the plant was spreading via seeds from the flowers, some efforts were made to remove the plant’s flowers during their July blooming period.  (Later it was discovered that our FR seeds were sterile, and the plants spread entirely by root fragment growth or dispersal.)

In the meantime Detroit residents petitioned the District for a project to buy a machine to harvest FR. Some mechanical harvesting had occurred using borrowed equipment in before, but new harvesting equipment was deployed in 1991, and it was used largely for FR management until 2005.   At its peak in 2002, just over 1600 tons of plant debris, mostly FR, was removed from the lake. 

The harvesting strategy was adopted because of the view, reinforced by some experts, that multiple harvest of FR stems would deprive the root mass of energy.   This was an approved strategy by the DNR, and even as recently as 2010, was their recommended method of FR control.

Except that by 2002 District staff had come to the conclusion that though the harvesting equipment provided some aesthetic relief from the scourge of FR, it did not offer a significant amount of control of the plant, nor did it prevent the spread of the nuisance.       

In 2003 the District began testing several herbicides with six test sites on Big Detroit and Dead Shot Bay.   Nearby control sites were employed to evaluate the testing.  During the following year, some additional sites were used for other herbicides.   Different chemical formulations and different application methods were used.  Though results were inconclusive the District was allowed for several more years to do some more extensive treatment with Imazypyr on emergent stands of FR.   Some control was obtained, but emergent plants in deeper water, and submerged plants were unaffected and continued to spread.     

In 2009 PRWD held a public meeting to obtain input from almost 100 citizens and local officials.   As one outgrowth from that effort the District called together experts from across the nation for a meeting in St. Paul to consider further treatment strategies.   That meeting led to District-initiated multi-pronged research on the nature of FR and some alternative treatment efficacies.    A collaborative effort involving Mississippi State University Institute of Geosciences, the Army Corps of Engineers, and Concordia College (Moorhead), supported by the taxpayers of the District, the City of Detroit Lakes, and the Minnesota DNR, was carried on in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and led directly to last week’s expanded treatment program utilizing the herbicide Diquat.    On-going research on treatment impacts on Flowering rush and native aquatic plants directed by Dr. John Madsen of Mississippi State Geosciences Institute will continue  with funds provided by PRWD.  


Monday, June 3, 2013

Lake Detroiters History :: "What goes around comes around, at least somewhat"

Early Association Logo
Current Lake Detroiters Logo
What goes around comes around, at least somewhat

Lake Detroiters Association’s roots reach back almost 70 years.  A group of Detroit Lakes residents identifying themselves as the Detroit Lakes Property Owners Association, began meeting (and collecting dues) in 1944, finally preparing a detailed action plan in 1949.   Changing the organization’s name, then filing of Articles of Incorporation, Lake Detroiters Association, Inc. was officially established on March 4, 1950.    All funds and memberships of the predecessor organization were transferred to the new one. 

In reviewing old minutes and annual reports of LDA, I am struck by how today’s LDA organizational characteristics and programs are not so different from those of the organization in its formative years.  First of all, dedicated and effective leadership marked the early days of the organization, and that is clearly the case now.  For most of the 1950’s there were three officers and nine directors, nearly the same as the present board.    The directors in the 1950’s were geographically distributed and identified by the beach they represented, just as current board members are drawn from all shores of the lakes (though less now is made of their representation of a specific beach identity).  

By 1953, the LDA membership committee had  morphed into a beach captain system featuring 25 zones;  we currently have more than 50 but many of the interesting old beach names have survived - White Clover, Wildwood, Burritt, Nodaway, Long Bridge, Nason Bay, Pokegama, and others. 

“Active” memberships in those years ranged from 120 to 135 households, not so different than today, though a much higher percentage of possible members at the time.   But  in 1951 there were 7 “Associate” members (living near, but not on the shores of the lake),  and 32 “Sustaining” Members, local downtown businesses including Norby's, the banks, auto dealers, and hardware stores. In a nod to the past, in 2013 LDA Directors began a campaign to gain support from local businesses and other friends of Detroit Lake.

By the way, dues in 1950's were $5 for Active members, $2 for Associates and $10 for “Sustainers”.  Given that a 1950 $5 bill is worth about $45 today, LDA’s current regular dues are a real bargain.     We are closer to the inflation rate with the new sponsors who are being asked to pay $100 to show their support.    

LDA in the 1950’s had an elaborate committee structure; in addition to the 25 beach captains, there were 11 committees with a total of 52 committee-members, though there was some overlap in those roles.  I think it is a fair statement that more members in those days were involved in LDA leadership and activities.   

We share many of our current LDA concerns with our predecessors.   Last year’s low water level was a problem for many Lake Detroiters and there were some who urged that “something should be done”.   Throughout the 1950’s, LDA’s Water Level Regulation committee agitated for management of water levels at the Dunton Locks dam – they wanted low water in the winter to lessen shoreline erosion, and high water in the summer to facilitate boat navigation.    (I'll write more of this some time – suffice it to say LDA caused some lake level management attempts but they didn't work).     

Just as we worry about water quality problems now,  in the 1950’s LDA's  Sanitation and Pollution Committee’s campaign focused on upstream “polluters”  -  their work led to the city re-routing milk processing plant  waste from the storm-sewer  dumping into Detroit Lake to the sanitary sewer system (to be sent downstream to Lake Salle!).  Their efforts also resulted in construction of a sediment basin for a storm-sewer leading to the Pelican River.   The Weed and Algae Committee sponsored and supported chemical treatment and mechanical harvest, and explored dredging to remove silt and weeds.  The Fish and Game Committee's work yielded more frequent and accurate fish surveys on Detroit, and a special stocking program using LDA funds.  

Other committees of the 1950’s included Watercraft Regulation, Property Protection, Utilities and Taxes and Insect and Land Weed Control.   Their accomplishments included dredging, signposting, and lighting the channel, a mosquito eradication program, a vandalism and burglary reward system, and enhanced law enforcement to control bad boating behavior.

So LDA’s current mission “to promote the protection and enhancement of Detroit Lake has a solid basis in the organization’s history.   

Dick Hecock
June 2, 2013