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Not enough being done to prevent zebra mussels spread in Kandiyohi Co. lakes; one official says issue has potential to be 'biggest bombshell' ever for co.

While there are steps to combat Eurasian water milfoil and curly pond leaf that are already in many lakes in Kandiyohi County, there is no effective way to rid lakes of zebra mussels. Tribune photo

If anything is going to be done to prevent invasive species like zebra mussels from entering county lakes, it may have to be done locally.

Kandiyohi County Commissioner Dennis Peterson said legislators do not understand how serious the problem is and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is procrastinating and not taking necessary action.

The end result will most surely be a disastrous infestation of zebra mussels that could cause property values around high-priced lakes like Green Lake to plummet, he said.

A 30-percent drop in property values is already happening on lakes near Alexandria where zebra mussels have been found, Peterson said. If that happens here it will be the "biggest bombshell this county has ever seen," said Peterson, who's afraid that it may already be too late to prevent zebra mussels from entering Green Lake.

During a report Tuesday at the County Board of Commissioners' meeting, Peterson said it's time for local lake associations and residents to "really raise heck."

For the last several months, Peterson has been attending statewide meetings with the Department of Natural Resources to come up with legislative recommendations to combat invasive species, especially zebra mussels.

Peterson was the only county commissioner on the advisory committee headed by the DNR. The panel also included resort owners and boat manufacturers.

Peterson said he was encouraged by the initial meetings and urgency expressed to do something to prevent the spread of zebra mussels. But he said he is very disappointed with the report the DNR is sending to legislators. He said it does not go far enough in stiffening action against violators, including boaters who knowingly leave an infested lake and enter a non-infested lake without properly cleaning their boats.

Peterson said other states are investing significant funds in preventing the spread of invasive species and implementing fines of $5,000 to $10,000. Fines in Minnesota are $260. "It doesn't make any sense," said Peterson. "It's like they're afraid to bite the bullet," said Peterson of the DNR.

With 860,000 boats in Minnesota, he knows it's impossible to inspect every one, but Peterson said stronger enforcement with hefty fines could make a difference.

"We wanted faster action and more action, and it looks like we're not going to get it," said Peterson.

Last year the Green Lake Property Owners Association used some of its own funds to help complete a DNR survey of boats going in and out of Green Lake.

That survey showed 16 "high-risk" boats came into Green Lake from lakes already infested with zebra mussels.

The survey shows the "vulnerability of Kandiyohi County lakes and watersheds to zebra mussel infestation in the near future," wrote Ann Latham, a Green Lake resident who's been active on the issue.

This year the Green Lake association will use $10,000 and the Kandiyohi County Lakes Association will use $5,000 to fight invasive species locally. Another $5,000 will be requested from the county's water planning task force.

Peterson said local dollars only go so far, and that state action is needed. He said the DNR is also limited by legislative directives.

Peterson said one way to get legislators' attention is to attend a meeting at 1 p.m. Friday at the Douglas County Library, 720 Filmore Street in Alexandria. The hearing will be hosted by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, who is chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

In other action Tuesday:

- A grant agreement with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources was approved by the commissioners that will free up $1.6 million to be spent on the Grass Lake restoration project. The funds were part of a previously approved state allocation earmarked for the restoration of the wetland -- a project that ultimately aims to improve water quality in Lake Wakanda. The money will be used for small-scale construction and additional land acquisition.

- Rick Reimer, from the Kandiyohi County Soil and Water Conservation District, gave a report on the different types of programs the agency has conducted in the county, including a variety of farmland and shoreline erosion prevention measures, stream bank stabilization, wetland preservation, control of invasive weeds and education.