Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, Sept. 4, 2000

Winsted Lake improving slowly but steadily

By Jane Otto

In Minnesota, just about anyone would like to live by, near, or at least in somewhat close proximity to a lake.

The development on Winsted's lakeshore is confirmation of that fact.

People are drawn to lakes, possibly because of the calming effect looking out over water can have, but most likely its because of the recreational activities it affords.

Flipping through the pages of the Winsted Centennial history book, photographs show that residents as far back as the early 1900s enjoyed the recreational advantages of living nearby a lake.

Children played in ice boats during winter, men fished behind the Vollmer roller mill, and fireworks were shot from boats sitting in the lake's middle.

A casual viewer now can see that Winsted Lake isn't quite the recreational lake of days gone by, but it is certainly on the upswing.

"It's improving inch by inch," said Gene Hausladen of the Winsted Lake Watershed Association.

The association is a spin-off of the Winsted Lake Committee which was formed in 1979. The Rev. Jack Brunner of Holy Trinity, Steve Laxen, Gary Lenz, and Doug Neumann were the committee's first and only members.

Committee projects were often abandoned due to either cost or size. But, despite the small numbers, they did get the lake on the right track.

The group was instrumental in getting a carp barrier installed and in having a computer-generated map of pollution sources made with water samples from throughout the watershed.

They also lobbied at the state level to upgrade the sewer system, which resulted in federal grants to help Winsted divert the South Lake outlet to empty below Winsted Lake.

Rerouting the South Lake outlet eliminated a major source of phosphorus pollution. In the early '80s, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency had allowed the city to have its wastewater treatment discharge flow into South Lake which raised the phosphorus levels.

Phosphorus a nutrient that causes the algae to grow. The algae, in turn, blocks out sunlight preventing weed growth which lowers oxygen levels, none of which is good for fish.

Winsted Lake's pollution problems go way back and stemmed mainly from not knowing the right thing to do.

Raw sewage was dumped into the lake until 1965 when Winsted's wastewater treatment plant was built.

The theory had been "the solution to pollution is dilution," said Dave Mochinski of the Winsted Lake Watershed Association.

Since the formation of the association in 1994, reversing lake pollution has stepped up a few notches.

People laughed at the association for thinking it could clean up the lake, Mochinski said. But, "it was a no-lose project. The lake was so bad, you could only improve on it."

"Then when people heard we were eating the fish from it, that was something," he added.

People do fish the lake now. Ice houses dot the lake in winter, which only a few years ago was not a common sight.

Winsted Lake is a nutrient-rich lake which, though good for algae, also promotes both weed and fish growth.

"More weeds mean more fish," said Hausladen. "We get ecstatic about weeds."

The lake was stocked with bluegills in 1990 and is producing a huge number of northerns, said Mochinski.

"When we see big carp, then we know the northerns are eating the little carp," Hausladen said.

Winsted is a shallow lake. At most, the depth is about 12 feet. However, the depth isn't necessarily the problem, said Mochinski. It's the clarity, or, rather, the lack of it.

"About five years ago, you might have been able to see down about six inches. Well, I don't know what it was, but it was bad," Hausladen said.

Now, that depth is about two feet. That's still not good. Hausladen said the clarity should be about three feet in August.

"August is a mucky time for lakes. The lake's been warm all summer and algae has a chance to grow," Mochinski said.

"Even Lake Minnetonka is doggy this time of year," said Hausladen.

A clear lake is the result of less runoff and what's in that runoff. Hausladen said that Winsted Lake is actually having its best year so far.

Several reasons can attribute to that fact.

It was a relatively dry winter, so there was less spring runoff. Another reason is runoff from Dairy Farmers of America (now DairiConcepts) has ceased and less tillage has resulted in less soil going into the county ditch.

About 75 percent of the watershed is agricultural. The county ditch handles runoff from almost 18,000 acres which has an inlet into Winsted Lake.

Keeping ditches clean is a big part of maintaining healthy lakes and rivers. Something as simple as grass stripping is a big deterrent to soil runoff, Hausladen said.

Since the ditch was dug, in the early 1900s, Hausladen estimated that about 900,000 tons of soil has arrived in Winsted Lake.

However, residential runoff, though only about 25 percent of the watershed, is more potent than agricultural sediment.

"Everything you put on your lawn winds up in the lake," said Hausladen.

Grass clippings, weed spray, lawn fertilizer ­ if they fall on the asphalt, then they proceed to the lake at full strength.

Hausladen said the association has received excellent cooperation with local vendors in carrying phosphorus-free fertilizers. This area is very rich in phosphorus. Nitrogen and potassium is all that's needed to fertilize, he added.

Residents, though, have been very cooperative, Hausladen said. In the last eight years, the lake front has really developed. Those property owners have worked to prevent soil runoff by installing such things, as rock abutments.

Both Hausladen and Mochinski agreed that the lake cleanup would not be possible without cooperation from the city. The City of Winsted has paid for the lake curtain and split the cost of the ferrite treatment this summer. The city also picks up the tab for the electricity for the aerators.

Cleanup, however, is an ongoing process and relies on the help of government, residents, the agricultural community, and Mother Nature.

"We've done a lot for the lake in a relative short amount of time," Mochinski said.

"But, we can't guarantee it will stay that way," Hausladen said."The lake is a constant battle."


What you can do

Here are a few simple rules to follow which will make for a better lake and thus, better fishing.

  • Use phosphorous-free fertilizer. Keep chemicals away from curbs, sidewalks, and streets.
  • Keep grass clippings off the streets.
  • Clean up any gasoline, oil, or chemicals.
  • Don't wash cars on the driveway. Most detergents have some phosphorous in them.
  • Animal droppings should be kept off the streets and well away from the lakeshore. Use a pooper scooper.


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