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Lake board looks at nonprofit options

The members of the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee are interested in seeking out philanthropic measures to help fund upgrades to the maligned lake, including exploring the creation of a nonprofit group.

Algae in Lake Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Algae in Lake Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The members of the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee are interested in seeking out philanthropic measures to help fund upgrades to the maligned lake, including exploring the creation of a nonprofit group.

During the board's regular meeting Tuesday at Mitchell City Hall, members did not take any official action but discussed a possible nonprofit "Friends of ..." group to potentially raise funds and apply for grants to help improve the lake.

Since the advisory committee is a group within the city government's purview, the creation of such a group would have to be done separately, but Chairman Joe Kippes said he believes the committee owes it to the community to explore as many sources of funding as possible. He mentioned local foundations and nonprofit groups, along with corporate entities that might be interested in restoring the lake.

City officials have already had cursory conversations with members of District III Planning and Development, Ducks Unlimited and the James River Water Development District about possible watershed funding that could be allocated in early 2019. Mitchell Public Works Director Kyle Croce said more would likely be known about the viability of that in the coming months, primarily focusing on issues north of Lake Mitchell.

Mitchell City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein said the work would likely be done in connection with the JRWDD, with 5 to 10 miles upstream of Lake Mitchell being a likely target area for projects.

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Board members were generally supportive of the plan and said they wanted to make sure they were doing their part in making the best possible use of funding platforms.

"I like that idea. I don't know if it feels like we're maybe twiddling our thumbs a little, but maybe we could be creating some positive momentum," committee member Mark Puetz said. "You never know until we try."

Mike Vehle said he wants to ensure a potential nonprofit would be set up correctly and avoid potential conflicts of interest.

"We're looking at several years of that group applying and asking for money," he said. "I think it's worth it to get our own group established and with the people that are interested."

He added that the committee has always had an interest with the watershed, noting it's estimated to be about 50 percent of the problem. But he doesn't have a preference in whether the watershed work or the dredging is done first.

"The order doesn't make a difference, as long as they're done somewhat closely as far as time goes," Vehle said.

Earlier this year, the committee in conjunction with the Fyra engineering work, recommended three phases of work: in-lake (dredging, estimated at $11.3 million done over 1-2 years), near-lake (retention ponds, wetlands, alum treatments, estimated at $8.48 million, over 2-3 years), and watershed (an effort that will likely be ongoing).

Kippes noted they're short on the funding for dredging work but believes more people are interested and involved with the outcome of the lake.

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"We're about $11.3 million short," Kippes said. "We're going to have to put something together that we can go ask (people). I guess I'm optimistic about that. The one thing about our lake that has become true is that it's become a much bigger topic than it was a year ago, both statewide and nationwide."

Lake levels

In the opening period of the meeting, Kippes noted that the lake seemed "as green as it's been," which backs up data indicating higher levels of phosphorus and chlorophyll in the lake this year.

Data from the weekly tests of phosphorus, chlorophyll and microcystin in the lake shows generally higher figures in two of those three categories. From July until the end of August, chlorophyll testing levels at the Public Beach and Sandy Beach spiked twice on separate occasions around 150 micrograms per liter, including more than 300 micrograms per liter during the week of Aug. 6 at Sandy Beach.

But in March, the city also changed its policy for harmful algal blooms in the lake, noting that a public health warning would only be issued if the chlorophyll concentrations were above 50 micrograms in all three testing locations. That resulted in far fewer public health warnings in connection with the lake compared to 2017, but the status of the lake was in a "public health watch" for much of the summer.

The phosphorus counts in the lake for 2018 were above any point last year for 12 straight weeks, from July 9 through September. (Phosphorus is tested in the center of the lake, Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Powell said.) Lake Mitchell had a water warning issued on July 9, 2018.

Kippes said the data was at least good to know and see, and he suggested that his fellow members share them with the public when possible.

Also mentioned was that Lake Mitchell, in the 2018 South Dakota Integrated Report for Surface Water Quality Assessment from the DENR, is a Category 5 lake. That is the worst possible category but does make the lake a priority for potential funding options, Powell said.

Related Topics: LAKE MITCHELL
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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