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Lake committee looks at circulators to fight algae blooms

Water circulators could soon be proposed as a method for reducing algae blooms on Lake Mitchell.

The Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee heard a presentation Wednesday afternoon at City Hall from the SolarBee company, which is headquartered in Dickinson, N.D. The company has installed hundreds of its SolarBee circulators in various types of waterbodies.

Company officials do not know exactly how their product reduces algae blooms. They just know that, most of the time, it does produce a reduction in blue-green algae.

"It kills it," SolarBee Regional Manager Jim Ruckheim, of Excelsior, Minn., told the committee. "It dies. It's no longer dominant."

The committee is considering asking the City Council to buy one used SolarBee unit for about $22,000 from a lake association in Minnesota. The city would also need to hire SolarBee workers to install the unit, for another $3,000 to $5,000.

The proposed location for the used SolarBee is in Kippes Bay, a finger on the lake's west side between South Harmon Drive and Indian Village Road. If the unit proves successful in reducing algae levels there, the city could then consider purchasing additional units to cover the entire lake. New units cost $50,000 apiece.

The 800-pound units float in the water, but are anchored to the lake bottom. The most visible part of a SolarBee is its solar panels, which power a pump that continually brings up thousands of gallons of water and disperses it out across a large area. The pump is very low power, and only a gentle ripple is seen on the surface.

Mitchell currently is not using any in-lake methods to combat algae. Treatments of aluminum sulfate were tried in recent years, but that project was terminated following questionable results. Upstream from the lake, the city continues to fund and support a project to reduce the amount of polluted runoff that enters the lake via the Firesteel Creek Watershed.

The members of the committee who were in attendance Wednesday seemed excited about the potential of the SolarBee.

"My gut says this is the deal," said committee member Bob Sebert.

No official action was taken, but the committee asked Ruckheim to prepare some official quotes for both the Kippes Bay test project and a long-term, six-unit project to address the entire lake. If the committee decides to support the installation of SolarBees, it will need to send a recommendation to the City Council.