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Commentary: We must all protect our lakes

By Jeanne Johnson, Citizens Climate Education Network, Alexandria, MN

Now that there is fairly wide acknowledgement that the local lakes are not going to fix themselves, we humans should get together and first acknowledge that we are the problem — every one of us — and that we have to agree on some solutions.

Currently the Douglas County Lakes Association, working cooperatively with Douglas County and the Soil and Water Conservation District, has developed a fund to be financed by public and private money and to be used to provide local matching funds for government grants. DCLA deserves great credit for its leadership.

But, let's not forget. Prevention is the most cost-effective method there is for saving further deterioration of our precious lakes and possibly our drinking water as well.

1. Salt. We are putting salt in the lakes in three ways — salting roadways, softening our hard water, and letting untreated stormwater discharge into the lakes. We can mitigate these.

2. Fertilizers. Some homeowners around the lakes are fertilizing their lawns right down to the water's edge or within runoff reach. Some have defective septic systems. Some farmers are still overusing fertilizers or leaving fields for months of the year without enough plant cover to absorb heavy rains and reduce soil runoff.

3. Development. Too much development overcomes nature's ability to cope. Not all lakes are alike but all require caring for delicate ecosystems.

4. Wetlands are nature's way to clean water. They provide this valuable service free of tax dollars. Yet, they are being paved over on a daily basis.

Some measures require little or no financing. Let's encourage homeowners to let their grass die out, plant low maintenance ground cover and dispense with fertilizers. Farmers will save on input costs by applying only essential fertilizers and only mid-season. Buffer zones can be planted with cash crops.

Some homeowners will need incentives to switch to water softeners that use less salt, appliances that use less water, and to switch from grass to less harmful groundcover. Education will be a big part of making this work. Regular septic system inspections will cost the county some money too.

Why don't county officials develop a long range development plan which would guide where and what makes sense for us and nature? The lust for property tax dollars gained from development should not take precedence over lake preservation. The county and city can strictly limit development in areas that preserve natural protection like sloughs and wetlands and lakes that are already at their limit.

Then, there's the sewer system. Some people say Alexandria should build a new system near natural systems that can absorb wastewater instead of dumping it into our lakes. Some say that would cost too much. Let's study this and have an open discussion about the findings. Years ago, there was widespread opposition to installing area sewers. Courageous leaders supported sewer development and the lakes gained some relief. ALASD should have the courage to discuss the problems in our current system.

Preventive steps now will save future taxpayer dollars.