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Grassroots Action Agenda

Arial view of Itasca State Park

We are losing the full recreational and economic value of our Minnesota lakes and rivers in many different ways. The MN COLA membership meets in December to determine what issues they feel need the most attention. Below, are the 10 issues voted the highest priority for immediate action. The logic behind acting on each issue now is also included.

We do not have a paid staff so we depend on you, as an individual, to educate your fellow citizens and your leaders from the township level on up to include township supervisors, city council members and staff, county commissioners and staff, state leadership, legislators, and agency and department staff.

Thank you for your support!!

2017 Grassroots Action Agenda


(In order of urgency as voted by the membership.)

#1 - Enhance AIS inspection and decontamination for better protection of all lakes in Minnesota.

This apparently simple call to action addresses a straightforward problem: our public waters are being negatively affected by AIS. AIS are impacting the enjoyment of these precious natural resources and also threaten tourism and property values, two key economic interests of the state.

There are several key elements that must be addressed.

➸100% decontamination into and out of Minnesota at the borders.

boat wash

We can't afford to have any more AIS coming into the state so there must be decontamination at the state borders. And we certainly don't want to be an "exporter" of AIS to other states. This border protection model is already used with great success by several western states.

  • By establishing decontamination stations at existing MN DOT weigh stations we can accomplish both of these important intents. As one example, we could stop hydrilla from entering Minnesota if we have this approach in place.
  • The western states know Lake Minnetonka by name as the lake that sends the most contaminated boats across their borders. This is a clear demonstration of our inability to manage AIS and for the transient boater's unwillingness to take personal responsibility.

Action: It is imperative that Minnesotans talk to their legislators about getting started on this concept. DNR and DOT are required by state statute to begin the dialog to see how this could be done. This is doable and must be pushed forward.

➸100% decontamination into and out of Lake Minnetonka, an AIS "super-spreader".

boat inspection

Lake Minnetonka already has curly leaf pondweed, Eurasian water milfoil, zebra mussels, and flowering rush. Therefore we must stop Minnetonka from getting yet another harmful AIS and from being the largest exporter of AIS to the rest of the state as well as the western states. Can we do this at Minnetonka? Of course!

Action: All Minnesotans, and especially the property owners around and near Minnetonka, need to educate their legislators about the need of reversing today's reality of Minnetonka as a "super-spreader" and to make it happen.

➸100% decontamination into and out of Mille Lacs, a "super-spreader" of zebra mussels and spiny waterfleas.

boat inspection

Mille Lacs is the first major lake in the state with both zebra mussels and spiny waterfleas. DNR data makes it clear that this dynamic duo of AIS is destroying the fish food chain. That local economy has already crashed so boats leaving Mille Lacs must not be allowed to change the recreational value and negatively impact other local economies.

Action: All Minnesotans, and especially the property owners around and near Mille Lacs, need to stop these impacts by educating their legislators of the need for 100% decontamination of all boats leaving Mille Lacs.

➸100% decontamination into and out of Lake Koronis and Lake Winnibigoshish, "super-spreaders" of starry stonewort.

starry stonewort harvest on Lake Koronis

These two popular lakes have infestations of extraordinary insidious starry stonewort, an invasive species that the DNR does not yet know how to control.

Action: It is critical to the recreational value and economic health of the state that Minnesotans educate their legislators to the need of containing these starry stonewort infestations to stop their spread. All access to Lake Koronis and Lake Winnibigoshish should be tightly controlled until control remedies are established.

➸ Enhanced training for AIS inspectors.

ais inspection training on boat

More and more local governance units (LGU's) are taking on delegation agreements with the DNR (with lake association help) to carry out boat inspections. This means that there is much greater need for high quality training of an army of new inspectors.

  • However, inspection and decontamination training is not uniform across the state and protocols need to be enhanced to further reduce the risk of spread of AIS. MN COLA has already proposed a revision that has received interest by the DNR.

Action: Communicate your support for the MN COLA enhancements to the DNR so that every inspector is consistently as good as the best inspector.

➸ Permitting ALL fishing tournaments.

A common feature of fishing tournaments is rapid and frequent travel between bodies of water during the event. This type of activity greatly increases the odds of transporting entrapped or attached AIS to the next body of water.

  • For example, research conducted by the US Army Corps of Engineers indicates that zebra mussel can survive for 11 days in the open air with 60% humidity and an ambient temperature of 50° F, and that the survival time can be over 30 days in other temperature and humidity levels. The size of the fishing tournament is immaterial to the problem.
  • We recommend establishing a permitting process for all fishing tournaments, regardless of size, to be sure that the affected lakes can be prepared for the transient boaters. This is a very important step in protecting the lakes from AIS.

Action: Educate your township, county, and water district officials and your state legislators to the need for addressing the AIS risk from fishing tournaments.

#2 - Increase fines for AIS related offenses with a strong deterrent to increase boater compliance.

Currently, there is a larger fine for taking a deer out of season than for bringing AIS to a lake. And yet the recreational value and the economic fallout are much, much greater. AIS typically reduce property values by at least 17%. A lake with 200 properties, each valued at $200,000 could suffer a total reduction in value of at least $6,000,000 from the conscious actions of a single boater on a single entry into that lake.

  • Education has helped make most boaters aware of AIS, but it hasn't always changed behavior. The recreational and economic consequences of bad behavior must not be allowed. It is not fair to anyone in the state, including the boater, who cannot possibly escape the detrimental economic and life-style changes that follow an infestation.
  • Businesses will falter or fail, services will be curtailed, and the ability to enjoy the thing that attracted them in the first place will be degraded. Each new AIS changes that lake forever. If we are serious about retaining the great fishing and pristine waters that remain, we must stop the spread of AIS

Action: Educate your legislators to the importance of preserving the recreational value of our public waters and your economic base by substantially increasing the fines on behaviors that will damage that base.

#3 - Ensure sustained funding for the University of Minnesota AIS Research Center (MAISRC) to help discover solutions to our AIS challenge.

Scientific research takes a relatively long time but it is a vital component in stopping the spread of AIS.

MAISRC funding from the state legislature expires in 2018. New funding must be approved in this 2017 legislative session to keep the research moving and to avoid any potential brain drain.

Action: Educate your legislators about the vitally important research being carried out at the AIS Research Center and to indicate that there must be a long-term funding stream so that the best talent can be attracted and retained.

#4 - Increase grants and expedite permitting for AIS control efforts.

spraying for AIS plants

Communities including Mille Lacs have already undergone severe economic contraction with the crash of their fisheries brought on in significant part by the ravages of AIS. It is estimated that zebra mussels and spiny waterfleas now filter every gallon of water in Mille Lacs every day.

  • Yet, the last few years have brought significant reductions in the grant monies made available to LGU's and lake associations. This reduction has been coincident with the $10 million in AIS program now flowing to the counties from the state legislature. As a result, many water bodies are no longer able to get DNR grant funds for AIS plant control efforts.
  • The permitting process for these AIS control efforts also needs streamlining, especially for control efforts that are repeated year after year.

Action: Talk to your legislators about the need to restore and increase the DNR plant management grants, and to establish multi-year control permits.

#5 - Modify DNR protocols for managing public access.

Lake recreation and tourism are critical components of the economy in Minnesota. This necessitates the need for a select number of public accesses. At the same time, public accesses are the primary source of AIS introduction into a given body of water. It is therefore critical to rethink the function and structure of public accesses.

➸ Remediate existing accesses.

boat wash

Accesses built without best practice designs must be remediated so that we can reduce the spread of AIS from lake to lake.

Action: Talk to your legislators and local elected officials about the need to rethink the policies around public accesses in light of the recreational and economic costs of AIS.

➸ Moratorium on new accesses.

boat inspection

Lakes without public access should remain that way until such time as we have learned how to manage the AIS that we have in the state. Installing a new access on a given lake at this time of high infestation risk is not justified given the known economic consequences of AIS infestations, all irreversible

Action: Talk to your legislators and local elected officials about the need to rethink the policies around public accesses in light of the recreational and economic costs of AIS.

➸ Containment must be an option for new AIS.

boat inspection

There is no economic justification for keeping access open to a lake that becomes infested with a new AIS species that we do not know how to control (i.e., starry stonewort). Containment must be complete (all DNR, LGU and private accesses).

Action: Talk to your legislators and local elected officials about the need to rethink the policies around public accesses in light of the recreational and economic costs of AIS.

#6 - Establish Freshwater Protection Areas (FPA's).

headwaters of Mississippi river

There is a continuous complex balancing act going on under the surface of any lake and everything there must be in balance for the lake to remain healthy enough to maintain its recreational and economic value. When things get out of balance, it is nearly impossible to get it back to its original state.

  • Next door in Wisconsin, a study predicts a 90% decrease in walleye lakes in the next 40-50 years because the lake fisheries will be out of balance due to overfishing, nutrient load, and/or environmental warming. The same trends are likely to happen in Minnesota unless something is done.
  • Several preservation areas have been established in important marine regions and oceans with great success: the native species rebound in a remarkable fashion. It is time to try this concept in freshwater, right here in Minnesota, where many lakes are under high biological stress. The DNR defines Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA's) to protect important land, but has no equivalent approaches to protect water.

Action: Talk to your legislators about the need to start this new program aimed at preserving the tourism importance of one of the biggest and most iconic lakes in Minnesota… Lake Itasca.

#7 - Implement aggressive septic system requirements.

Much of our septic system infrastructure is old and leaking which results in a nutrient overload in a lake. In addition, drinking water obtained from sewage polluted surface water must first be cleaned—at significant expense.

  • Importantly, our polluted surface water typically connects with our groundwater causing a system that is unfit for human consumption. Water pumped from these underground systems into municipal and private water supplies must also be purified at significant expense. It is much more cost effective to bring old and decrepit septic systems up to a level of industry best practices than to perpetually clean sewage from surface and groundwater.
  • While many counties require a septic system compliance inspection when properties change hands, the transfer of a property between family members is often not a trigger for an inspection. As a result, many of these systems are out of compliance, some are obsolete, and the water pollution continues.

Action: Talk to your local elected officials about the need for required, periodic septic system inspections and maintenance to stop failing systems from polluting our precious water resources.

#8 - Muskie stocking and protection must be limited to native Muskie lakes.

Muskies are native to about 44 Minnesota lakes and 8 major rivers. However, for many years, the DNR Muskie stocking program has artificially greatly expanded this natural distribution to another 60 plus lakes that did not have a native Muskie population.

Also, the Muskie size restrictions have been modified by the DNR to achieve very large Muskies, i.e. trophy-size fish (54 inch minimum keep size).

  • The DNR and the Muskie anglers may want Minnesota to become the Muskie fishing capital of North America, but the ecological and economic considerations are missing. The decisions for expansion in the numbers of Muskie lakes have been made without lake associations at the table, and lake association input collected during the public comment period has been routinely ignored.
  • Artificial range expansion and modified size restrictions are of great concern because there is insufficient science-based evidence to show that Muskie stocking in non-native lakes does not harm the biological balance of the lake.
  • Another concern is the rapid and frequent movement of Muskie anglers between bodies of water. A zebra mussel can survive for 11 days in open air with 60% humidity and an ambient temperature of 50° F; even longer on cooler days. As a group, Muskie anglers comprise a small percentage of the total Minnesota fishing population, but they increase the risk of spreading AIS due to the lake-to-lake nature of their traveling sport.

Action: Approach your elected officials with all the Muskie facts pertinent to your ecological concerns and long-term economic well being of your area. Acknowledgement of the views from all sides of these issues are critical to finding a solution. And importantly, request that lake associations have a seat at the table when Muskie stocking recommendations are being considered.

#9 - Move the authority for AIS to MPCA.

The DNR is effective at carrying out the mission for which it was created. However, that mission, defined decades ago, did not contemplate the impacts of AIS, nor the speed at which these infestations are showing up in our public waters. In contrast, the far newer Pollution Control Agency (PCA) was established as a science-based agency to address the harms to the environment from many forms of pollution, and in many ways, AIS is a form of pollution for our public waters.

  • As it related to public waters, the DNR has a dual mission of promoting water access and protecting the water resource. This leads to conflict, especially now when the mission does not account for the recreational value and the economic impact of AIS. PCA does not have that dual mission. While PCA is concerned about the cost of implementing regulations, they are focused first and foremost on controlling the harmful effects man has caused to the environment.
  • The lack of science-based policies in the AIS area at the DNR is evident by this simple example: There is no peer-reviewed science behind the DNR's 21 day quarantine for moving docks and lifts, when in fact, zebra mussels may continue to live out of the water for up to 30 days depending on the ambient temperature and humidity. If these unregulated processes are followed, docks and lifts may still be littered with live zebra mussels as they are moved into another body of water.
  • AIS prevention and management requires regulation of LGU's, businesses, and individuals to achieve the desired result of stopping the spread of AIS. Personal responsibility is insufficient to achieve a meaningful result against the spread of AIS. Unfortunately, our recreational and economic value from our public waters is hanging in the balance.

Action: Inform your legislators that the organizational structure of PCA is much better suited for this task than is the DNR.

#10 - Implement a watercraft operator license program.

spraying for AIS plants

As with driving a car, boating is not a right to Minnesotans. It is a privilege that comes with responsibilities. Doing everything one can to protect lakes from AIS is one of those responsibilities. Boating responsibly, safely, and especially not under the influence of alcohol, are other responsibilities.

Driving a car requires a license; therefore it is logical that driving a boat should also require a license.

Action: Discussion the benefits of requiring a boating license with your legislators.

lake and shore

MN COLA serves to coordinate the efforts of all lake, river, and watershed associations in Minnesota, related to shoreline preservation and restoration, water quality, prevention of aquatic invasive species (AIS), and sustainable uses and development for bodies of water in all counties, which include: Aitkin, Anoka, Becker, Beltrami, Benton, Big Stone, Blue Earth, Brown, Carlton, Carver, Cass, Chippewa, Chisago, Clay, Clearwater, Cook, Cottonwood, Crow Wing, Dakota, Dodge, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Goodhue, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, Hubbard, Isanti, Itasca, Jackson, Kanabec, Kandiyohi, Kittson, Koochiching, Lac Qui Parle, Lake, Lake Of The Wood, Le Sueur, Lincoln, Lyon, Mahnomen, Marshall, Martin, McLeod, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Mower, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Norman, Olmsted, Otter Tail, Pennington, Pine, Pipestone, Polk, Pope, Ramsey, Red Lake, Redwood, Renville, Rice, Rock, Roseau, St. Louis, Scott, Sherburne, Sibley, Stearns, Steele, Stevens, Swift, Todd, Traverse, Wabasha, Wadena, Waseca, Washington, Watonwan, Wilkin, Winona, Wright, and Yellow Medicine.

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Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations

Web design, Curtiss Hunt; masthead photo, Kathyrn Jonsrud; footer photo, Amanda Weberg.