Long Lake Waters Association takes shape

A dock at Nelson Lakeside Park in Long Lake looks out onto Long Lake proper. (Pioneer photo by Sean Miner)
A dock at Nelson Lakeside Park in Long Lake looks out onto Long Lake proper. (Pioneer photo by Sean Miner)
By Sean Miner
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Concerned citizens in Long Lake and the surrounding area are taking serious steps to combat water quality issues facing the town’s namesake. Banding together to preserve the lake under the banner of the nascent Long Lake Waters Association, these citizens took the first steps toward organized, collective action in a series of meetings, the last of which took place on
June 22.

“They are noticing some changes in the water body, some concerns that they shared with me,” said Jen Kader, program manager at the Freshwater Society. “They’re looking for ways they can address those concerns as a group. At the meeting last week, we sat down and identified the goals they have.”

That meeting, which took place at the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District headquarters in Minnetonka, was attended by around 10 people. One of them was Long Lake City Councilman Marty Schneider.

“It was a good start,” said Schneider of the meeting. “One of the things that came out of the meeting, from my perspective, is that I really feel that the organization or association should be one that is all-inclusive for really any community members whatsoever.”

Kader, whose employer supports and guides the development of lake associations throughout the watershed, echoed this sentiment. She pointed out that water quality issues affect far more than lakeshore property owners, and that, often, lake associations spring up from one issue that has a community-wide impact.

“Lake associations, eventually, really are a great, coordinated voice for those around the water body,” said Kader. “I think we’re still early on in that process of identifying what that rallying piece is for this group, but as we continue to meet and really flesh out what this lake management plan looks like, we’ll be identifying what short-term and long-term actions are needed.”

Many of the issues facing Long Lake stem from water clarity and quality. The lake received a “D” water rating in 2015 from the MCWD, down from its historic average of “C”, and it’s not just the letter grades that people are noticing.

In part due to the contributions of geese and other waterfowl on the lakeshore, Nelson Lakeside Beach closed a few times last summer due to high bacteria levels in the water. These closures are not uncommon for many other lakes in the summer, but a beach closure sign is one of the first experiences many will have with water quality — especially the kind that isn’t obvious to the naked eye.

Kader described lake associations as a key way to communicate both the problems facing the water body and its connected community, as well as the best ways of solving it.

“You start with the science, and the history of what you’re dealing with,” Kader said. “From there, it’s all about relationships.”

Those relationships, said Kader, take many forms. Forming a mutual understanding of exactly what is having a negative impact on water quality and building a social connection around the water is one form, as is reaching out to policymakers to encourage the drafting of environmentally helpful land use policies and other political action.

Schneider pointed out, however, that water quality can, and perhaps should be, improved in small, incremental steps.

“We need to, as best we can, make the community and lake users aware of what steps can be taken on a very basic level to improve water quality — and there are many of them,” said Schneider. “I like the idea of the comprehensive plan that the MCWD is putting together, but that’s sort of a 10,000-foot-bound look on what we see over the next decade evolving. I feel like we need to do things right now, and I think we can.”

Those things aren’t just the responsibility of lakeshore owners, either. In large part due to the way water moves across land, water quality is everyone’s business, as Schneider pointed out.
That, he said, was part of the idea behind calling the fledgling organization the Long Lake Waters Association, rather than phrasing it as a lake association.

“With creating a lakeshore or homeowners’ association, it often leaves out a larger part of the community that is affecting the water quality, anything from runoff from plowing … to what people do with their yard waste community-wide,” said Schneider. “It’s great to have dedicated people who want to help the water … but at the same time, we have to look at the broad influence that is affecting Long Lake.”

That influence requires looking upstream and downstream, said Schneider. But, he noted, the process is more about finding solutions rather than apportioning blame — and Kader pointed out that the waters association is the perfect place for moving past finger-pointing and moving on to collective action.

“It’s amazing what happens when you do have people who disagree with each other at the table,” Kader said. “When you can move past the finger-pointing…and realize we have shared interests in resolving the issue at hand, that gets more toward the solution-oriented.”

Thankfully, the solutions don’t always have to take the form of drastic changes.

“If you try to fight off too much right away and say, ‘We’re going to change everything,’ then it doesn’t happen and you lose interest,” said Schneider. “If we see incremental progress, it’ll build that momentum.”

All in all, both Kader and Schneider emphasized the importance of community involvement to the success of Long Lake. Another meeting is tentatively slated for Tuesday, July 21, with details forthcoming, and anyone interested in preserving the lake is welcome to attend.

“If people are interested in preserving [Long Lake], enhancing it and having it continue to be an asset for the community, they are welcome to show up and plug in however they see fit,” Kader said.

For more information on Long Lake water quality, visit the city website at www.longlakemn.gov.