Willing Partners For Five Island Lake

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Updates, recommendations for Five Island Lake and information about a Wetlands Coordinator were topics of conversation at The Shores last Wednesday evening. The meeting, put together by the Five Island Lake Association, included the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Management Biologist Mike Hawkins, Michelle Balmer from the IDNR’s Lake Restoration Program, Jeremy Thielges from the Natural Resources Conservation Services and members of Emmetsburg’s City Lake Board.
FILA whose mission is building awareness regarding the health of Five Island Lake wanted to have a conversation with those who are experts regarding water quality in Iowa lakes. Each of the organization representatives went through a presentation.
Balmer reminded the group that Five island lake has been studied for years beginning with the 1913 dredging project in the south bay. She then pointed to the 1970’s aquatic vegetation growth and always the nutrient fluctuations. The 2018 Study done by the IDNR showed a high phosphorus rate leading to algae blooms and the abundance of rough fish. To gain water clarity there needs to be a 70% reduction of phosphorus. The phosphorus sources come from the watershed and secondly from internal loading due to fish feeding and no oxygen. When that occurs phosphorus just recycles.
Hawkins added that phosphorus management is important especially for shallow lakes that often have nutrient sediment. There are other difficulties such as drainage tile which changes how the water comes in to the lake. These are challenges when working on water quality. He went on to say that having a healthy fish population requires good habitat. When the work on Lost Island began there was only one cattail in the lake. Only one. Small numbers of aquatic plants do not help a lake. He reminded everyone that lakes throughout this prairie pot hole region are shallow and all have similar problems.
It is good that Five Island Lake’s watershed is only 7,671 acres rather than 50,000 acres. It makes the watershed more manageable
There was a discussion about rough fish. Commercial fisheries are not as interested in common carp and buffalo carp as they once were. There is not a market for them. “That means we are trying to think of incentives to attract some commercial fishing,” stated Michelle. It was repeated that harvesting the carp population is only a drop in the bucket.
Iowa State University did some recent studies of carp populations. This included determining the age of the fish and where in the lake were they spawning. Mike said that the, “fish density wasn’t as high as I thought it would be.” 160lbs.per acre is high. The target would be 50lbs. per acre to have clean water. In Idaho there is work being done to prevent male carp from having any female offspring. It apparently is producing positive results in keeping carp populations down in those western lakes.
Jeremy Thielges brought everyone up to date on the hiring of a watershed coordinator for five Island Lake, Lost Island Lake and Silver Lake. The position has been advertised and the deadline was May 31 for submissions. He knew that there were at least four applicants. Interviews will be done within the next couple of weeks and he hopes to hire someone within a month. He went on to say that, “This person will be the face of the watershed. They will be in the public eye meeting with farmers and shoreline land owners.” The first six months of work will consist of training, learning about each lake, becoming familiar with the area and programs available. By year two, the expectation is that the coordinator will have met with everyone within the watershed. Jeremy told the group that FILA will be an important asset. The organization can talk about lake projects to citizens, introduce the coordinator and bring awareness to the work being done.
Towards the end of the session there were questions about what small projects could be initiated for water quality. Michelle had two that would work well. One was rain barrels. For $100 homeowners are usually enthralled with this type of project. The second one was taking some areas around the lake for a grass project. It involves deep aeration and topping the area with compost. The next spring the greenest, healthiest grass will emerge. “Everyone will want to know how to have the same grass and it will not require any fertilizer,” said Michelle. A project such as fish tagging can be done to obtain valuable information. This would require grant funding.
The outlet structure was discussed. It has been in existence for years and years and eventually it will need to be redone. It would be nice to be proactive with a plan that would also enhance the surrounding area so that it becomes a destination on the lake. The DNR will find out who owns all the property involved and check to see if leases are involved. It was suggested that it could be paired with a FIT trail project for a grant application.
The presentations were not negative. There were explanations followed by suggestions for projects to keep the water quality focus for the long term. Mike offered that once a lake is declared as clean water, it can remain in that state. Five Island Lake has never been a clean water lake but it can happen. The collaboration is underway. It will take time but the end result will be long term for the lake’s health.

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