This is a great story about a group of citizens in one northern Minnesota county who got together several years ago to work on preserving the county's beautiful lakes. An all-volunteer group, they have an impressive list of successes.
In 2008 Itasca Waters was officially formed as the Itasca Water Legacy Partnership. Their mission statement, "Team Up for Clean Waters," reflects their collaborations between public and private organizations to retain the quality of the beautiful lakes and rivers that exist in Itasca County. Itasca Waters' volunteers take on a big project, get it up and running well, and then turn it over to the appropriate government agency or private interest.
In its first year, the new organization received nearly $600,000 in grants. That money included $100,000 to establish a certified water quality testing lab located at Itasca Community College, $75,000 to educate lakeside home owners about healthy shorelines, and $79,000 to help lake residents bring septic systems up to code.
Through 2016 Itasca Waters has applied for and received over $1.5 million in grants from sources for water quality projects in Itasca County. You can see a list of completed projects and grants at www.itascawaters.org.
Itasca Waters was approached by the Turtle Lake Association to take over a project which had dominated the association's budget and time - the control of purple loosestrife, an invasive species which was beginning to explode in Itasca County. Itasca Waters took on this project and went after grants to expand the battle to many other lakes.
Infestations were mapped throughout Itasca County. Two varieties of Galerucella beetle had been studied in Europe and found to be very plant specific in feeding on purple loosestrife. Some were released beginning in 2007 on Turtle, Portage, and Bowstring lakes. Between 2012 and 2014 over 260,000 beetles were released in 26 locations.
The result? Purple loosestrife is now under control in Itasca County and the project has been handed over to the Itasca Soil and Water Conservation District.
AQUATIC INVASIVE SPECIES
By 2014 the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) like the zebra mussel, curly-leafed pondweed, Eurasian watermilfoil, and many more had become a critical problem. The state had begun making substantial grants to counties to develop control programs.
With grants from the DNR and Itasca County they were able to hire five people who did about 1,200 watercraft inspections, finding 29 percent with violations.
In 2015, they were able to hire 11 employees. They did 9,000 inspections - 12 percent had violations.
In 2016, Itasca Waters had 19 employees and did 19,000 inspections... there were only 4.4 percent who had violations.
The program was working. The number of violations had significantly decreased.
-Reaching children has been an important goal for Itasca Waters. Its first Youth Water Summit was held in 2011, and the summit has been held every year since, In 2017, 400 Itasca County fifth graders participated in the event. The sessions engaged and educated students in good environmental practices having to do with water.
-An all day adult program, "Water Summit: Team Up for Clean Waters," was held in 2011 covering topics such as sensitive lakeshores, watersheds and mercury, good habitats for fishing, AIS, conservation easements, septic systems, and climate change.
-In 2015, Itasca Waters cohosted "Healthy Watersheds Conference: Water and Forests," presenting new concerns such as pharmaceuticals and endocrine active chemicals in surface water. Participants learned about assessing habitat on their lake lots and ways to keep the watershed healthy.
WHAT IS THE NEXT BIG THING?
And Itasca Waters is excited to announce this as the organization's primary focus over the next few years. Essentially this will provide help to lake property owners who want to improve their shorelines. This could translate to buffer zones, native plants, rain gardens, better drainage, or a host of other things that will keep Itasca County lakes healthy and the lakefront properties more attractive and valuable.
HOW TO BE AN ITASCA
Itasca Waters is a membership organization and is looking for people who want to help. JOIN US and become a member or make a donation to a great cause at www.itascawaters.org! Go to the Contact Us page if you would like to work with us or give us a good idea or comment.