White Iron Chain Of Lakes Association

News & Updates Blog

AIS News - Groups Work Together to Protect MN Boundary Waters

By Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN

May 22, 2020

ELY, Minn. - Late May signals the start of boating season in Minnesota, which includes one of the world's most well-known wilderness areas. But with the threat of aquatic invasive species, a new coalition is working to protect the Boundary Waters.

This collection of lakes in northern Minnesota has largely been spared from infestation, but it could be only a matter of time before that changes. Jeff Forester, executive director of Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, says several organizations and agencies have jurisdiction over the area, which can leave gaps.

He hopes this effort will close those gaps.

"The coalition has come together and it's using a civic-organizing approach," says Forester. "So, we're organizing people to help protect the Boundary Waters."

In addition to state, federal and tribal governments, the coalition includes civic groups and local residents.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources says invasive species have been found in more than 1,100 waterways across the state. And while there have been some positive signs in lessening the impact, some worry the problem runs deeper.

In the Boundary Waters, only the spiny water flea has been detected.

In Minnesota, lake associations play a big role protecting waterways from infestation, assisting with things like boat inspections. But there aren't large associations in the Boundary Waters.

Matthew Santo, AIS tech with the 1854 Treaty Authority, says it can be a challenge getting the message through to boaters.

"One of the main projects we're focused on is increasing signage at the boat launches," says Santo, "just to give people information about invasive species, the risks involved."

Jeff Pike, a Boundary Waters-area resident who is part of the coalition, says while the groups involved have some competing interests, at the end of the day...

"We're all stewards of our lands, no matter where we're at," says Pike. "And the right thing is to try to keep the environment that we're in from being disrupted, and changed from external negative forces. And so, AIS falls right in there."

The coalition holds monthly meetings, conducted virtually right now because of the pandemic. An action plan is coming together that organizers hope will prevent any more infestations in the coming years.


Wildlife Forever and WICOLA Proclaim Minnesota Clean Drain Dry Day

For Immediate Release:

May 9th, 2020
Contact: White Iron Chain of Lakes Association: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

White Bear Lake, MN - To celebrate Minnesota’s fishing opener, Wildlife Forever, along with the White Iron Chain of Lakes Association and leading fishing, boating and conservation groups proclaim Saturday, May 9th as Clean Drain Dry Day. The Conservation Proclamation highlights the importance of fishing and boating and how invasive species are a direct threat to lakes, rivers and local economies. Simple Clean Drain Dry steps are the best ways to prevent the spread but it’s up to everyone to do their part. 

New reports show fishing license sales are up by 41% compared to last year at this time. Clean Drain Dry Day serves as a great conservation reminder for new anglers and affirms that fishing and boating are great ways to enjoy the outdoors while socially distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Proclamation partners include: Babe Winkleman Productions, B.A.S.S., CD3, Fishing League Worldwide, (FLW), Linder Media, Majk Solutions, Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, National Marine Manufacturer Association, National Professional Angler Association, Outdoor Sportsman’s Group, Pennaz Multimedia, Rapala, Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, Wildlife Forever, Wired2Fish.

“I’m proud to be joined by local and national leaders in recognizing the importance of invasive species prevention,” said Pat Conzemius, President and CEO of Wildlife Forever. “Get out, enjoy your local waters, give each other some space and remember to wear your mask when around others.”

“Invasive species are preventable if we all do our part to Clean Drain Dry, every time,” said Jeff Pike.

Wildlife Forever and WICOLA would like to remind all boaters and anglers of the MN DNR’s recommendations to maintain 6 feet of social distance at fuel stations, docks, on the water, fish with people in your household, and stay close to home this fishing opener. View the Conservation Proclamation here: https://www.wildlifeforever.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/MN-Clean-Drain-Dry-Day-Proclamation-Final-PDF-FINAL.pdf

Do your part this fishing and boating season: Clean Drain Dry all boats, trailers and gear. And remember to Trash Unused Bait or bring water from home to preserve minnows and leaches.

The Clean Drain Dry Initiative™ is a state and national campaign to educate outdoor recreational users on how to prevent the spread of invasive species. Coordinated messaging focuses on strategic content, marketing communications and outreach tools.

Working with partners, Wildlife Forever coordinates statewide public outreach and educational efforts to prevent the spread of invasive species. Local counties, lake associations, and tribal associations plan to send a strong Clean Drain Dry message in 2020. Highway billboards, television and radio PSAs, sidewalk boards, posters and handouts to the public have all been planned to share the message across the state. To learn how you can participate, contact:  Dane Huinker: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

About Wildlife Forever: Our mission is to conserve America's fish and wildlife heritage through conservation education, preservation of habitat and management of fish and wildlife. Wildlife Forever is a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to investing resources on the ground. Recent audits reveal that 94% of every dollar supports our award-winning conservation programs. Please, Join Today and learn more about the State-Fish Art Contest®, Clean Drain Dry Initiative™ and Prairie City USA® at  www.WildlifeForever.org.


What is an “aquatic invasive species” and how can I help keep them out of our lake?

By Kelli Saunders (with editing for style)

We tend to hear more and more concern about invasive species, but what are they and how can we help prevent their spread?  An invasive species is one that is not native to a specific location (an introduced species), and that has a tendency to spread to a degree believed to cause damage to the environment, economy or human health.  Our watershed is vulnerable to introductions of non-native species, aquatic ones in particular, due to its proximity to other water systems and its popularity as a tourist destination.  There are a wide variety of aquatic invasive species in our basin and nearby basins.  These invasives impact our aquatic ecosystems by competing with native species for resources, such as food and habitat, and can destroy native fish spawning habitats. They are highly successful because they tend to not have any natural predators, they are highly adaptable, they reproduce very quickly and they thrive in disturbed systems. Various species of invertebrates have invaded waters through pathways that include recreational boating, bait bucket release, etc.

So….what can we do as boaters, anglers, resort owners or float plane operators to help prevent these invasions?

Did you know that if you put your boat in a lake that’s infested with an aquatic invasive species, you can threaten the health of the next lake you put your boat into if you don’t take precautions? This is one of the key vectors for the spread of invasives, but there are simple steps each of us can take to minimize the impact.  Whether you are a recreational boater, an avid angler/tournament participant, a float-plane operator, a waterfowl hunter or a resort/campground owner, here are some helpful tips to keep in mind…simply, remember “Clean Drain Dry”:

  • Clean all visible aquatic plants from your boat, trailer and equipment when leaving a waterbody
  • Inspect and clean your trolling motor as it can easily collect invasive animals and plant debris in shallow water
  • If possible, pressure spray your boat and trailer and spray inside compartments with hot water, far from the water’s edge
  • Drain your boat, ballast tanks, portable bait containers, motor, drain bilge, livewell and baitwell by removing drain plugs…upland, away from the water and before leaving the lake you were on; keep drain plugs out and water-draining devices open while transporting watercraft
  • Allow your boat and equipment to dry in the sun as long as possible (5 days) before putting it into a different waterbody
  • You cannot dispose of unwanted bait bucket contents into any waterbody. If using live bait, buy local.  Unused bait, including night crawlers, should be put in the garbage. For more information on Minnesota Bait Regulations, go to; https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/regs
  • Waterfowl hunters – clean plants and mud from your boat, motor, trailer, waders/hip boots, decoy lines, anchors, pushpoles and ATV
  • For float plane operators, pump out floats into a sealable container and dispose upland
  • Resort and campground owners, be sure your guests have helpful information available to them – pamphlets upon check-in or signs at your access points to alert customers to best practices

For more information go to; https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/ais/index.html

If you see an aquatic invasive species, take a photo, note your location, and report it to your local invasive species organization to help prevent their spread!

In Minnesota

Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., is the International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation.


White Iron Chain of Lakes - “Ice Out”

WICOLA volunteers have reported official and unofficial “Ice Out” on our Chain of Lakes;

White Iron Lake; “Ice Out on April 30th”

Farm Lake; “Ice Out on May 1st”

Garden Lake; “Ice Out on May 1st”

Birch Lake*; “Ice Out on April 27th” *unofficial

Because of White Iron Lake’s diversity, White Iron is not called ice free until it is clear from the Silver Rapids Bridge to the public landing across the lake on Pine Road.

And for those that may be wondering how this year compares to previous years, the following are Ice Out for dates for White Iron;

2020    April 30th                                

2019    April28th

2018    May 7th

2017    April 14th

2016    April 20th

2015    April 17th

2014    May 12th

2013    May 14th

2012    March 25th

2011    April 29th

Let's go fishing, boating and canoeing while enjoying and preserving these wonderful waters we call “The White Iron Chain of Lakes”.

The following link provides some additional information from the DNR web site that reports the Earliest, Latest and Median dates that you may also find of interest.



An April 25th View of Birch Lake

Birch Lake, Finn Bay, is edging towards Ice Out.


An April 18th View of White Iron Lake

An April view of White Iron Lake.

Hopefully Ice Out will be here soon.


Training Event April 17th - Onsite Sewage Treatment Program

Training Event – April 17th

The UMN Onsite Sewage Treatment Program along with the Minnesota Department of Health are offering FREE septic system and private well homeowner education classes across Minnesota. 

The Septic Secrets Webinar provides information that enables property owners to maximize their septic and well investment including how they work, the needed maintenance and use tips.

Webinar Registration: Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates

April 17, 2020
Contact: Jeff Forester, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 952-854-1317

University of Minnesota Water Resources Center – Fact Sheet Protecting our Water Takes Good Drinking Water and Septic Systems


Spring Rendezvous - Cancellation

With regrets, we must cancel our WICOLA Spring Rendezvous Meeting scheduled for Saturday, April 18th.  The cancellation is due to the COVID-19 safety measures.  The Minnesota Department of Health announced a series of community-level strategies to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in Minnesota communities including not holding meetings where the event cannot have social distancing of participants of at least 6 feet.  Our meeting space cannot distance people sufficiently.   Additionally, our speaker is under travel restrictions from UMD and cannot be present in person.

 We will look for opportunities to possibly reschedule the meeting.  

 Thank you.


White Iron Chain of Lakes Association (WICOLA)
PO Box 493
Ely, Minnesota 55731
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Pack it In, Pack it Out – In Winter Too!

By Kelli Saunders (with minor editing for style)

Ice fishing, snow machining, hiking, skiing…these are all great outdoor lake-based activities we are so lucky to have on our doorstep.  Inevitably, we will bring food and drinks and, with that…garbage.  With the winter season upon us and holidays around the corner, I’d like to dedicate today’s column to discussing garbage and the importance of not leaving it on the ice.

Every winter, thousands of people head out onto our lakes for ice fishing tournaments, family fishing days, snow machining on the ice road, winter construction projects, accessing cabins by car/truck and skiing or walking trails.  Some days, it looks like another city has sprung up on the ice and it can make for an excellent winter experience.  With this comes ice huts, campfires and temporary “campsites”.  The amount of garbage that is potentially generated in a single day, especially on a weekend, could be immense and we all need to remember that the lake’s ice surface is no place for garbage to be left, only to land in the lake when the ice melts in the spring.  Just like the mantra for backwoods camping, it’s important to remember “pack it in, pack it out”.  It’s not a case of out of sight, out of mind…the health of our lakes depends on us being vigilant about ensuring we keep items that don’t belong in the lake, out of the lake.  Plastics, cans, food items, paper, metals, furniture and construction scraps don’t have a place in the lake - they need to go into either proper recycling or waste disposal back on land. Fish, plants and the water we drink will all deteriorate if pollution continues to enter our waterways.  

In Minnesota, there is a program called “Keep it Clean” that began in 2012.  Ice fishing is a huge industry on the southern end of Lake of the Woods and so this program began in order to ensure that people removed their garbage off the lake. In 2018 alone, 850 lbs. of trash were collected and hauled away off Lake of the Woods. 

In Ontario, a person found leaving garbage on the lake can be charged under Sec 27(1)(b) of the Public Lands Act for unlawfully depositing any substance, material or thing on water or ice covering public lands (i.e., the lake). Public information and tips can certainly help – individuals who see an offence can contact the MNR tips line (1-877-TIPS-MNR; 1-877-847-7667) or Crime Stoppers (1-800-222-TIPS; 8477).

While I’m emphasizing winter in this article, it is equally important to remember this practice in the summer.  No matter what the season, take a garbage bag with you and be sure to bring all garbage back at the end of your trip - an especially good thing to remember over the Christmas holidays.

This is my final article until spring 2020.  Thank you to all who have been reading this column since June 2019 – I appreciate the feedback I’ve received!

This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation (www.lowwsf.com).

Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., is the International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation. 


Why Does the Water Flow North, Where Does it Come From and Where Does it Go?

By Kelli Saunders

Have you ever wondered where all the water in Lake of the Woods comes from, where it goes and why it flows in a northerly direction?  The answer is in the history books – it all began when the glaciers that once covered this area started to recede and left us with the watershed landscape we have today.

Between 7,500 and 12,500 years ago, this area was completely under water.  Lake Agassiz, the product of a melting continental ice-sheet, covered what is now western Minnesota, eastern North Dakota, southern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario.  As the glacier retreated, so did Lake Agassiz, leaving lakes and rivers in the low-lying areas.  As the immense weight of the glacier on the land lessened as it retreated, the earth’s surface began to rise (isostatic rebound), first in the south and much later in the north– what resulted was a tilt in the land that would see the northwestern portion of the basin lower than the southeastern.  This is why the flow of water is towards the northwest.

The surface area of Lake of the Woods is 3,850 sq.km – where does all this water come from?  By far, most of the water (about 75%) entering the lake is from the Rainy River at Fourmile Bay at the south end.  In fact, the Rainy River drains a massive land area of more than 50,000 sq. km (Clark and Sellers, 2014) in both Ontario and Minnesota, with its headwaters just west of Lake Superior. To put this into perspective, the total land area of Nova Scotia is 55,000 sq km, including Cape Breton and many other coastal islands, so the size of the watershed draining via the Rainy River is immense! Other sources of inflow to Lake of the Woods include the smaller streams and rivers encircling its perimeter, rain falling directly on the lake and, when water levels are lower on Lake of the Woods than Shoal Lake, water can flow in from there as well. 

So, once the water is in the lake, where does it go? From Lake of the Woods at Kenora, the water flows north and then west down the Winnipeg River to Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba and ultimately down the Nelson River to Hudson Bay.  There are two main outlet channels, known as the Eastern Outlet and the Western Outlet, in Kenora. There is also a small gated culvert at the west end of Portage Bay which discharges water into Mink Bay and then down the Winnipeg River.  Another “outlet” is the aqueduct in Shoal Lake that provides water to the City of Winnipeg.

Here is an interesting piece I took from the Lake of the Woods Control Board website (www.lwcb.ca): “A drop of rain landing on the extreme upper end of the basin on the Canada-USA border (just west of Lake Superior) will travel about 820 km before it exits the bottom end of the basin at Lake Winnipeg. During its trip, the drop will decline through a vertical distance of about 260 m.”  Now, that would be an interesting trip!

This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation (www.lowwsf.com).

Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., is the International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation.

WICOLA Editor’s Note; The Minnesota DNR has more info about the flow of water in MN (Chapter 2 pages 27 & 28; pdf page reference 11- 12). https://files.dnr.state.mn.us/education_safety/education/project_wet/waterways/ww_2.pdf


What Happens to the Lake When it Freezes Over?

By Kelli Saunders (with minor editing for style)

Given the cold temperatures lately and the quick freeze-up on the lakes around us, I thought it would be interesting to look below the ice surface and find out what really happens under there all winter. For those of us who ice-fish, we know full well that the lake is still full of life, but let’s take a closer look.

During the summer, lake surface waters warm and this layer of warm, less dense water floats on top of the deeper cold waters that are denser.  This is known as lake stratification.

As fall progresses, lake surface waters cool, become denser and sink and with help from the wind, the lake waters mix from top to bottom.  This is what is called fall “turnover” and it plays a critical role in determining what life can survive over winter.  As winter begins to set in, the entire lake cools to 39°F.  Water reaches its maximum density at this temperature.  When air temperatures drop more, the surface waters cool even further and at 32°F start to freeze.  At these temperatures, water expands and become less dense, so it stays afloat as it turns into ice.

Lake turnover is critical in freshwater lakes, because it is this transformation that replenishes dissolved oxygen levels in the deepest lake waters.  Once the ice forms, there is no oxygen exchange between the water and the atmosphere and the light needed for aquatic plants to produce oxygen is reduced. When the lake surface freezes over, the oxygen in the lake is what it is…whatever oxygen exists at that point in time has to last all winter long for the critters that need it. For this reason, many plants, animals and other forms of life hibernate or go dormant in winter, but a surprising number remain active in colder months. In fact, some organisms only spring to life once a lake freezes over and many others survive only by clinging to the ice’s underside.  I was recently reading an article about a team of researchers who looked at 100 freshwater lakes around the world to investigate what life exists under the ice.  While we think of algae as a summer phenomenon, these researchers found algae clinging to the underside of the ice in many of the lakes because this is where light is most available at this time of year. Until the ice melts in the spring, these algae and zooplankton are an important food source for newly hatched fish.

What about those fish swimming around in frigid waters? Fish can survive the freezing-over of lakes because they are cold blooded, meaning their body temperature matches their environment.  Colder temperatures mean a reduction in their metabolism and a slowing down of respiration, digestion and activity level; since their food supply is reduced, this is a great example of an adaptation mechanism. Cold-blooded reptiles and amphibians that overwinter under the ice survive by hibernating in the mud at the bottom of ponds or shallow bays of lakes.

It is truly amazing that, in the cold and the extreme darkness of a frozen-over lake, life can continue below the surface where nature adapts and provides enough resources to get through to the next spring.

This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation (www.lowwsf.com).

Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., is the International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation. 


What Does Water Mean To You

As part of the International Watershed Coordination Program the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation has partnered with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to conduct interviews with people who live and work in this watershed in order to get a sense of values around water quality and some of the barriers to stewardship, restoration or protection.

The three main goals of this project are:

  • Determine the drivers and constraints for taking part in water protection/restoration among those who live in the watershed
  • Better understand how involvement or interest in water protection/restoration initiatives varies across the binational watershed
  • Inform strategies for policy-makers, resource professionals and other local actors to best design and promote water resource programs that are ecologically, hydrologically, and socially relevant and responsive to changing conditions

Kelli Saunders, International Watershed Coordinator, is in the process of setting up timeslots for phone interviews with those who may be interested in participating.  It takes only about 30-40 minutes and timeslots are available either during the day or in the evening.  Please let Kelli know if you would be willing to take part in this binational project.

Kelli Saunders, M.Sc.

International Watershed Coordinator

Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation

Office: (807) 548-8002

Cell: (807) 465-4289

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Give to the Max Day

Give to the Max Day returns on Thursday, November 14, 2019!

GiveMN launched in 2009 as a collaborative venture led by Minnesota Community Foundation and many other organizations committed to helping make our state a better place.

 WICOLA is a registered participant for GiveMN (Give to the Max Day – Nov 14).

Please consider making a donation by either;

  1. Going to the Give to the Max home page, Click on “Donate Now”, Type “WICOLA” in the Search Box, Click on the “WICOLA Icon”, and make your donation.
  2. Go to the “Membership” Tab above, Click on “Donate Online”, and then “Donate”

Thanks from WICOLA for your generosity.


Canada’s Science Activities in the Watershed

By Kelli Saunders

A few weeks ago, I outlined the work that Minnesota is doing to understand water quality on Lake of the Woods through its Total Maximum Daily Load study.  Over the next few weeks, I will highlight the work on the other side of the border being done by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC).  For the past 3.5 years, ECCC has been conducting integrated research and monitoring to get a handle on water quality conditions and algal blooms.  This has included projects such as the development of satellite tools to identify and monitor blooms; research into the status, trends and drivers of algae blooms; measuring nutrient inputs from shoreline developments; developing a model to help determine the effectiveness of nutrient reduction strategies on the water quality in Lake of the Woods; and, predicting the lake's response to climate change.  They have been collaborating with other agencies who are also doing research in this basin.  Today, I’ll focus on the satellite remote sensing project, with input from ECCC’s lead scientist for this project, Dr. Caren Binding.

Remote sensing allows scientists to capture frequent snapshots of algal bloom conditions across Lake of the Woods in near-real-time (within a few hours of the satellite passing over), providing observations not possible using ground-based sampling alone.  It provides the ability to see day to day variability of algal blooms on the lake, between-year changes in the size of blooms and timing of bloom severity and an understanding of the processes that drive blooms.   How does this relate to what’s actually happening in the water, you ask? When present in sufficient quantities, phytoplankton (microscopic plant-like organisms including cyanobacteria) can cause dramatic changes in water color and form visible scums at the water’s surface that are detectable from space using camera-like optical sensors on-board the satellites.  What is happening on the water can be interpreted in the satellite images over a large geographic area.

Algal bloom maps for Lake of the Woods are being produced daily during the open water season and are compiled into annual bloom reports that document the seasonal progression of the blooms.  ECCC has developed a suite of bloom indices (extent, intensity, duration and severity) so that they can compare conditions over time.

At their peak, blooms have covered an area of 3000km2 (nearly 80% of the lake) and lasted up to 140 days. To date, 2019 has seen the lowest severity bloom on Lake of the Woods over the last two decades, but additional monitoring this fall will determine if that will still be the case. Satellite-derived bloom indices show significant seasonal and between-year variability in response to weather conditions but suggest a trend of decreasing bloom severity in recent years.

ECCC is developing a web mapping tool that the public will be able to use in the future to see bloom development online in near-real-time, access bloom reports, and historical data to track changes in bloom conditions.

Tune in next week for more on ECCC’s work in the watershed!

This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation www.lowwsf.com


Starry stonewort invasion in Minnesota lakes

Webinar: Starry stonewort invasion in Minnesota lakes (spread & impacts)

By The Aquatic Invasive Species Detectors Program @ University of Minnesota

Date and Time

Thu, October 17, 2019

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM CDT

Mark your calendars for Thursday, October 17th at noon to tune into a webinar from MAISRC graduate student Carli Wagner. Carli will be presenting her graduate research on one of Minnesota' newest -- and least understood -- aquatic invasive species, starry stonewort. This was one of the most popular talks at the 2019 Aquatic Invasive Species Research and Management Showcase, so if you missed out, now's your opportunity to hear directly from Carli.

The webinar is free but registration is required.

Talk details

The invasive alga starry stonewort (Nitellopsis obtusa) has become an increasing problem in Minnesota lakes since it was first identified here in 2015. In several lakes, starry stonewort is widely established and can grow abundant and dense. This growth certainly has recreational impacts, but the ecological effects of starry stonewort in Minnesota lakes are unknown. Potential impacts to native aquatic plants are of particular concern since they are an integral part of lake ecosystems. Carli examined the impacts of starry stonewort on native aquatic plants and tracked its invasion over multiple years to assess how it spreads and changes habitat. She found that starry stonewort negatively affected multiple aspects of native aquatic plant communities -- from individual species to functional groups to overall diversity and abundance. Starry stonewort can quickly expand and alter plant communities as a result. These findings fill knowledge gaps related to the impacts of starry stonewort in Minnesota lakes and can be used to guide response efforts.

More information

In the meantime, brush up on this research project on The University of Minnesota website.


What Can I do?

Part Two; Does it Really Matter What I Do?

By Kelli Saunders

Last week, I introduced the idea that we can all make a difference when it comes to protecting our watershed and, collectively, that can have a huge impact.  This week, I am continuing that conversation with a few additional ideas that are easy to do and are relevant whether you own waterfront property or not.

Reduce the toxic chemicals in your house – what goes down your drain eventually goes to the nearest waterbody, whether its via the sewage treatment plant or a storm drain on your street or your own septic system.  Try to transition from harsh chemicals to more natural products - baking soda and vinegar have great cleaning power!

Use a rain barrel to collect water for your gardens and household plants – reducing water consumption is always a good thing. Slowing down or retaining runoff from storm events can reduce the amount of phosphorus and sediments entering the lake or river, protecting water quality and nearshore fish habitat.  Especially if you have a septic system, minimizing laundry use, switching to low flow toilets and taking shorter showers will help your system work efficiently.

Reduce solid surfaces on your property whenever possible and increase porous surfaces.  Runoff is accelerated on smooth surfaces and will carry contaminants with it as it flows to the nearest lake, stream or river.  The filtering effect of natural, porous surfaces is beneficial downstream.

Boat responsibly!  The bigger the wave, the bigger the impact on shoreline erosion.  Erosion releases phosphorus, so slow down and reduce your wake around shorelines.

Your pet’s waste contains phosphorus and bacteria, which can run into the lake when it rains.  So, pick up after your dog and flush it down the toilet so the septic system or sewage treatment plant will treat it in the same manner as human waste.  For a fun take on what the City of Duluth is doing to encourage pet owners to pick up after their pets, take a look at this video, produced by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Duluth Regional Stormwater Protection Team: https://vimeo.com/355427843.

Get involved with organizations who are focused on watershed stewardship – your local lake association, like the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association, or Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation, a local Soil and Water Conservation District (in Minnesota), or environmental committees affiliated with your local municipality or county are just a few examples. The 2018 and 2019 Binational Lake Association Network Events were attended by members of the WICOLA Board.

This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation (www.lowwsf.com).

Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., is the International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation.


Does it Really Matter What I Do?

By Kelli Saunders

The short answer is YES.  Reducing impacts on our environment has to be a collective initiative and every single person and the changes they make will have an impact.  In past articles, I’ve focused on what agencies are doing to understand watershed issues and work towards protection.  Today and next week, I’ll focus on ideas that we, as watershed citizens, can all do.

One of the common concerns I hear is whether septic systems are having an impact on water quality. If not properly maintained, septic systems can pollute the lake with phosphates and bacteria. Grease, oils, harsh cleaners and supposedly “disposable” personal products can really stress out a septic system, clog it up and reduce its efficiency. Follow this mantra: “If in doubt, don’t pour it out”.  A septic system needs regular check ups and pump outs and needs to be large enough in size for the home it is servicing.

Reducing or completely eliminating fertilizer is an important consideration for everyone, no matter where you are located.  Whether you have shoreline property or not, fertilizer will find its way to the lake or river either as direct runoff at the shoreline or via storm drains.  The phosphorus in fertilizer feeds algae in the lake, so it’s best to minimize or avoid use or better yet, switch to phosphorus-free fertilizer.  When you are in the store, look for a “zero” in the middle of the three numbers on the fertilizer bag.

Keep used oil, household cleaners, paints, bug sprays and other hazardous waste out of the landfill and out of the lake.  Take these items to a hazardous waste collection depot to be recycled or disposed of properly and don’t allow any spilled materials to be washed down your driveway, where it can find its way to the nearest waterbody. .

Why not grab your neighbours and all the kids and walk around the block to collect garbage?  What a great way to educate your children that throwing trash out in the environment is not a good choice and that, together, good work can get done fast.

Plant a tree!  Trees and shrubs act as natural filters and stabilizers to limit runoff and reduce soil erosion.  Soils that contain phosphorus, if eroded and washed into the lake or river, will contribute to the nutrient load.

Stay tuned for more ideas next week – pick one or two of these ideas to put into action this fall!

This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation (www.lowwsf.com).

Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., is the International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation. 


Minnesota is Losing Ice

Minnesota is experiencing changes. It's getting warmer and wetter, which has shortened lake ice season. For example, Lake Osakis - an average-sized lake in central Minnesota - experiences ice-out more than a week earlier now than it did in the 1940's (see graph to the left).

Average temperatures are rising around the globe, particularly in northern regions like Minnesota. Minnesota's winters are warming faster than any other season. We don't get as cold as often anymore (see graph below).

Weather versus climate - you may wonder, what's the difference? Annual weather patterns are variable. Some winters will be cold, still more will be mild. Weather is a snapshot in time, like a photograph from childhood. Climate is measured over decades, tracking changes over the course of a lifetime.

A shortened lake ice season has environmental and cultural effects for Minnesota:

* A longer open water season, in combination with increased stormwater runoff and erosion caused by heavier rain, means that many bodies of water will experience more algae blooms.

* Warming surface waters are leading to a loss of fish habitat for many prominent species, including trout and walleye.

* Shortened and unpredictable ice cover results in condensed ice-fishing seasons.

We need more data on lakes all across the state to better understand how the ice cover season is changing.  The State of Minnesota began collecting lake ice data from citizens in the 1970's and is always looking for more volunteers. The larger the data sets available to researchers, the better we can understand the effects that changing ice cover has on lake health, local wildlife and citizen lake use. Become a MPCA Ice Reporter Today.


Minnesota’s Approach to Protecting Lake of the Woods

By Kelli Saunders

It’s been very interesting to watch the progress that has been made over the last 12 years or so with regards to understanding water quality conditions in this watershed.  Today, I’m going to focus on the approach used by our neighbours to the south. There is a very systematic, well funded, practical approach used by the state of Minnesota – when a water quality condition doesn’t meet the state standard, a whole process kicks into gear to study the problem and determine what is needed to fix it.

Over ten years ago, Minnesota’s water quality sampling on Lake of the Woods indicated that the lake had levels of both total phosphorus and chlorophyll-a above state standards and these contribute to algal blooms and other conditions harmful to aquatic life and recreation.  Because the state standard was not met, the U.S. portion of the lake was deemed “impaired”. Under the US Clean Water Act, states are required to develop total maximum daily load (TMDL) studies for their impaired waters – basically, this is determining the daily load of a pollutant the waterbody can handle, but stay within the standard.

The TMDL study also includes the development of a detailed implementation plan which outlines the necessary actions to restore water quality to within the standards. When a water body is restored, it can be removed from the impaired waters list. In addition, monitoring will continue over the long term to ensure standards are maintained.  The bulk of the work began in 2015 and in the summer of 2018, the final report was submitted to the USEPA and is currently under review before final approval.

The TMDL study examines the pollutant sources that are contributing to the water quality standard exceedances. These sources could include tributaries to the Rainy River, tributaries that drain directly into the lake, septic systems, wastewater treatment plants, and industrial facilities. An additional source could be the lake itself, through a process referred to as ‘internal loading’, where historically accumulated phosphorus in the lake bottom comes back into the water. Finally, atmospheric deposition can be a source when nutrients are carried into the system through wind currents and precipitation. Since Lake of the Woods has such a large surface area, the effects of atmospheric deposition will likely be higher than with most other lake TMDL studies.

Once the nutrient sources are identified, the TMDL study examines how much pollutant loading Lake of the Woods can take in without becoming impaired. Once the lake’s ‘loading capacity’ is determined, the pollution reduction needed to restore water quality is calculated by subtracting the current amount of pollution loading from the lake’s loading capacity. The TMDL study also accounts for a margin of safety and future growth.

The goal of Minnesota’s TMDL program is to address Minnesota sources of pollution that contribute to a water quality problem or impairment in Minnesota’s waters. Minnesota recognizes and cares about the downstream impacts of their nutrient sources to the waters of Canada and they have a long history of working cooperatively with Canadian partners, which predates this TMDL project. In fact, many of the numerous cooperative efforts and activities over the past 15+ years have generated significant data and information that have been directly used in the development of the TMDL. Last summer, our Minnesota partners came to Kenora to talk about the TMDL and will share more information once the study is approved and finalized.

This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation.

Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., is the International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation. 


Civic Engagement – We All Can Play a Role in Protecting Water Quality

By Kelli Saunders

Last week, I mentioned that there are three components to the International Watershed Coordination Program here in our basin, one of them being the “local” or grassroots component.  This is where you come in.  Protecting water quality is everyone’s responsibility, but how does an individual find a way to make a difference?  Let me offer a few ideas based on the civic engagement work we do with our partners.

We are so fortunate to have over 40 lake associations in this watershed – most are in Minnesota, but the largest in Ontario is right here!  The Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association (LOWDSA) has been promoting good water stewardship for over 50 years and absolutely anyone, not just waterfront residents, can be a member.  They have a strong environmental focus and we partner with them regularly.  For the past three summers, for example, LOWDSA has been a key partner in our cross-border drain stencil project working with children in the community to paint the message “A Healthy Lake Starts Here” or “Dump No Waste” beside storm drains - to date, well over 300 drains have been painted in three communities, reminding us that only rain should go down the drain, because these drains direct runoff directly to our nearby waterbodies.  As a way to support the many lake associations in the basin, we also host an annual Lake Association Network Event, bringing together like-minded individuals who are motivating their members to be good stewards in a wide variety of ways.

This past year, as a partnership with MPCA, Koochiching Soil and Water Conservation District and University of Minnesota, we are conducting one on one interviews to discuss values around water and the barriers and opportunities to being a good lake steward.  With opinions coming in from Minnesota and Ontario, it will be interesting to compile the responses; the end goal is to be sure we are helping break down the barriers and understanding what motivates individuals to become involved. 

On both sides of the border, there is an army of volunteers who collect water clarity data and water samples that are analyzed for phosphorus.  This is civic engagement at its best, supported by the provincial and state governments.  In Ontario, volunteers with the Lake Partner Program collect total phosphorus samples and make monthly water clarity observations on their lakes during the summer months. By measuring total phosphorus and water clarity, it is possible to detect long-term changes that may be due to impacts of shoreline development, climate change and other stresses. Phosphorus is measured because it is the nutrient that stimulates algal growth in the majority of Ontario lakes.  Similarly, in Minnesota, the Citizen Lake/Stream Monitoring Program has a network of volunteers who conduct water clarity tests at least twice a month each summer at designated locations on lakes or streams. To determine water clarity, volunteers find the disappearance/reappearance point of a Secchi disk as it descends into a lake or a specially designed stream collection tube. With both programs, the data being collected by these volunteers are often the only data that exist in more remote locations and are very valuable.

These are only a few of the civic engagement projects ongoing here in the basin – there are lots of ways to get involved - if you are interested in any of these initiatives, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Next week, I’ll be focusing on the work Minnesota is doing to get their portion of Lake of the Woods off the state’s impaired waters list!

This series is provided as part of the International Watershed Coordination Program of the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation (www.lowwsf.com).

Kelli Saunders, M.Sc., is the International Watershed Coordinator with the Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation. 

PO Box 493
Ely, MN 55731

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