County Board discusses Lake Wakanda water quality

WILLMAR -- The poor water quality of Lake Wakanda, located in southern Kandiyohi County, has been studied for at least 15 years and not much has been done yet to make improvements.

WILLMAR -- The poor water quality of Lake Wakanda, located in southern Kandiyohi County, has been studied for at least 15 years and not much has been done yet to make improvements.

A draft management plan to improve the water quality could provide the necessary vehicle for action in the near future. The plan was presented Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners by local representatives from the state Department of Natural Resources' Division of Fish and Wildlife.

"It's time to quit studying and start doing something," said Commissioner Richard Falk, who praised the DNR for its work in developing the plan.

Two important parts of the draft proposal include restoring Grass Lake and reducing pollutants in Lake Wakanda, including sediment, phosphorus and fecal coliform bacteria.

High levels of fecal coliform bacteria have been detected in County Ditch 23, which takes storm water out of Willmar and eventually into Lake Wakanda.


The high fecal coliform bacteria counts have been found just upstream from the Willmar municipal treatment facility near Cash Wise, according to Commissioner Harlan Madsen. The waste treatment plant is located on Seventh Street Southeast. Cash Wise is located on Third Street Southeast.

Madsen said the source of the bacteria needs to be found and stopped.

In addressing the DNR, Madsen said if his dairy farm was putting that kind of fecal material into the water system, "you guys would have me in jail." He asked why the state Pollution Control Agency, which has strict guidelines for animal feedlots, wasn't conducting the same kind of oversight in the city of Willmar.

Madsen urged the local DNR officials to use whatever leverage they have to encourage the Pollution Control Agency to pay attention to the fecal coliform bacteria coming out of Willmar.

"I've had lip service but no action from the PCA," he said, adding that agriculture does play a role in the water quality in Lake Wakanda and chain of nearby shallow lakes.

Allan Bjornberg, a Lake Wakanda resident who's been involved with volunteer testing of the water in the drainage ditch and the lake, said Willmar is "an all-American city above ground with problems beneath."

Commissioner Richard Larson, from Willmar, said the issue with fecal coliform bacteria being found at off-the-chart levels in the drainage ditch in Willmar has been discussed for two years without action. He said the city of Willmar has taken positive steps in some water quality issues but needs to work on this issue.

The commissioners asked City Attorney Rich Ronning, who was in the audience, to take that message back to the Willmar City Council.


Ronning, who also has property on Lake Wakanda, had a few things to say about the DNR's fish and wildlife management plan for Lake Wakanda. He questioned why the DNR wanted to keep stocking walleye into the lake, which he said is better suited as a waterfowl resting spot.

Part of the DNR's plan includes drawing down the water level of the lake, installing structures to prevent rough fish, like carp and bullheads, from getting into the lake and using reverse aeration to assist in winter-killing the fish to get rid of undesirable fish.

Falk said the problems with Lake Wakanda are easy to see but that finding the correct solution isn't so easy. But Falk said waiting another 10 to 15 years to do something isn't an option.

He said the county is ready to do its part in restoring Grass Lake, which would help with Willmar's storm water retention and reduce pollutants going into Lake Wakanda.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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