WILLMAR — A public information meeting about the Willmar chain of lakes, and efforts to improve and protect their water quality, will be held Wednesday at the Willmar Community Center, 624 Business Highway 71. It will begin at 6 p.m. with an open house featuring various exhibits and information displays, followed by short presentations at 6:30 p.m.
Topics will include the Robbins Island Regional Park, Willmar Area Lakes Association, history and current condition of the lakes, water quality testing, and project ideas to improve and protect water quality.
West of Highway 71, Swan, Willmar and Foot lakes dominate the north half of the city, often picturesque glinting in the rising and setting sun. However, beneath the picturesque appearance, water quality tests show they barely meet, or even fall below acceptable standards for shallow prairie lakes.
The degradation dates to the town's early days, when the lakes were a convenient place to dump everything from trash to livestock waste. Before regulations controlled them, sewers and outhouses sent raw waste into lakes and streams.
"During the first 75 years of Willmar's existence, it was a downright shame how Foot Lake was abused," wrote the late Erv Rau, Willmar businessman and mayor. "Lots of sewers dumped into the lake and anything people wanted to dispose of was hauled out onto the ice and naturally sank to the bottom when the ice melted in spring."
Today, rules and laws prohibit so-called "point" sources of pollution — municipal and industrial wastewater. However, "non-point" sources, such as pollutants carried in stormwater runoff, remain a threat to water quality in lakes and streams.
Once a lake experiences degraded water quality from pollutants, restoring and protecting it takes a lot of time, money and effort. Some of that effort occurs in the formation of lake associations, and some through regulation such as the city of Willmar stormwater management permit.
In recent years, communities and landowners have been more aware of the need to care for lake water quality. Residents along Willmar Lake formed the Willmar Lake Association, which later expanded to Willmar Area Lakes Association, including Swan and Foot lakes.
Intensive testing conducted in 2008 and 2009 by the Hawk Creek Watershed Project showed Willmar and Swan lakes failed to meet the water quality standard for shallow prairie lakes, while Foot Lake did.