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Mitchell mayor warns of consequences in not addressing local lake's water quality

The city of Mitchell has three scenarios in hand to restore water quality at Lake Mitchell, but there's another option that's rarely uttered by city officials.

Algae turns Lake Mitchell green near the Lake Mitchell Day Camp on Tuesday. (Evan Hendershot / Republic)
Lake Mitchell in the summer of 2017. (Evan Hendershot / Republic)
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The city of Mitchell has three scenarios in hand to restore water quality at Lake Mitchell, but there's another option that's rarely uttered by city officials.

Mitchell was given the preliminary draft of a $73,725 report this month, which highlighted several ways the city could work to reduce algae at Lake Mitchell in the coming years. The projects ranged as high as $87 million, as reported by Omaha-based water quality specialists Fyra Engineering.

Those options would make improvements to the watershed, divert nutrient rich water away from Lake Mitchell or bombard the lake with a chemical to limit algae growth - or a combination of all three. But Mitchell Mayor Jerry Toomey says there's another option.

"Doing nothing is an option, but we must consider the consequences and the economic impact this would have for our city," Toomey said in an email to The Daily Republic last week. "To mention just two, our lake is a huge quality of life issue for our local residents and visitors, and doing nothing will have a serious impact on lake property values."

With that in mind, Toomey has his sights on different options.


"To do nothing will prove to be catastrophic for future generations," Toomey said in a written statement this week.

Aside from the $87 million restoration scenario, $6 million and $31.2 million proposals were also introduced this month. The Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee recently gave most of its attention to the $31.2 million option, which would utilize an underwater pipe to transfer some water from one side of the lake to another - without ever making contact with the body of water.

The refined versions of the proposals could include different cost estimates, and a public presentation will be held on Jan. 9 at Mitchell Technical Institute.

About a month prior to the public forum, Toomey asked residents to ponder whether doing nothing is feasible.

"For those who suggest that we can't afford to do this, they should also ask themselves if we can afford not to do this," Toomey said last week.

As for a public vote on the issue, which some Mitchell City Council members have proposed, Toomey is on board. But, he said, he would like the council to vote on the recommendation of the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee first, and then the project could be referred to a public vote if that's what the citizens desire.

While Toomey suggested citizens consider whether the city can afford not to address the lake, the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee spent little time considering the option this month.

A week after being presented with the report from Fyra, the focus of the committee was on the proposed solutions during its hour-long meeting. Only committee member Brian Temple mentioned the do-nothing option, and it wasn't an idea he supported.


"I mean, we're just going to keep getting worse if we don't do something, and I think Fyra's probably got some ideas that are going to be helpful," Temple said at the Dec. 12 meeting.

This week, Toomey cited more reasons why doing nothing to address the lake could have a negative impact.

Toomey said phosphorus content in the lake is estimated to rise by 43 percent by 2030 if nothing is done to limit nutrient loading into the lake. He also said the quality of life would diminish for lake users, and he attempted to paint a picture for locals about what life would be like with water quality conditions continue to plummet.

"Picture a lake where boating activities are limited to no water contact because of high toxin levels and health risks," Toomey said on Wednesday. "Imagine a lake where fishing is no longer recommended and a lake with more frequent fish kills that causes strong lake odors and a high cost for clean up."

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