The Chetek Chain of Lakes has brought many things to our community that we likely wouldn’t have without them. We live in a community that supports several retail stores, banks, multiple restaurants, downtown shopping, our own police force and a strong fire department. Many residents and visitors might not have come here if it wasn’t for the chain of lakes!
Now, imagine what our lakes and streams would look like if the only water entering them was from rain or melting snow. Unfortunately, other materials enter our lakes through the forces of gravity moving materials from higher ground to lower ground (to our lakes/streams). Rain, snow and storm-water move other substances to our lakes if they are not stopped. Even materials that are 10, 20 or 30 miles away will eventually end up in our waters over time. This means that all citizens and visitors can make a difference in protecting and improving our lakes, no matter how far from the lake they actually live.
Looking back 150 years, our country was growing rapidly and much of the land was being cleared for logging. Forests were converted to farmland and pastures. In the process many of the natural buffers that were removing foreign contaminants before they entered our lakes and streams are now gone. Over time, we figured out what was happening to our waters, and efforts were made to correct some of the problems created from the past 150 years. Today, we are trying to make corrections to return our waters to their former glory. Government agencies like the DNR, EPA, Conservationists and University of Wisconsin work continuously on improvements, and local groups like our own Chetek Lakes Protection Association (CLPA) and Red Cedar Water Quality Partnership are working together to reverse a century of damage to our waters. If everyone can do a handful of small things that prevent runoff into our lakes, we will see a benefit sooner. Here are some examples of easy, common-sense things that property owners and visitors can do to help protect and preserve our lakes:
1. Manage nutrients—Excess nutrients, namely phosphorus and nitrogen, are the primary cause of excess weed and algae growth in our lakes. Controlling these nutrients requires a joint effort by area farmers, property-owners and visitors. Reducing or eliminating fertilizer use on lakefront lawns and creating buffer zones will reduce these nutrients from directly entering the lake. Sweep up any fertilizer that falls on driveways and walks and spread it in vegetated areas. Use phosphorus-free soaps and detergents whenever possible. Dispose of animal waste properly.
2. Manage run-off—Create and maintain natural vegetation buffer zones along shorelines to slow rapid run-off and trap sediment before it flows into the lake during heavy rainstorms. Divert rain gutter discharge into rain barrels or vegetated areas and away from paved surfaces and storm sewers as many times they drain directly into the lakes. Consider taking your car to a car wash where the drainage water is treated instead of doing it on your driveway where the run-off can flow into the sewer and eventually the lakes.
3. Plant cover crops—Plant cover crops on hillsides and slopes to reduce erosion and improve soil quality and appearance. There are a variety of groundcovers that are decorative, hardy and require little or no maintenance.
4. Maintain sewage systems—Have your septic system inspected regularly to ensure untreated sewage is not entering the lakes. Barron County requires septic tanks to be pumped, inspected and re-certified every three years. Properly decommission unused wells, septic systems and manure storage systems to assure that groundwater discharge doesn’t enter a drinking water aquifer or the lakes.
5. Control natural debris—Lawn waste such as leaves, pine needles, grass clippings and campfire and burning pit ash also contain nutrients harmful to the lakes. They should not be dumped or stored close to the lakeshore. Consider composting your lawn and garden waste. Raising your mower height can help your lawn establish deeper roots to help it better survive dry periods. Mulch and leave your grass clippings on the lawn as thatch and a natural fertilizer.
6. Practice responsible boating—When boating and fishing on the lakes strictly observe posted “No-Wake” zones which are designed to increase water safety and reduce erosion of the shoreline and lake bottom. Avoid using your boat engine to trailer your boat. This practice known as “power loading,” in shallow areas near landings, stirs up sediment and erodes the area around the landing. It is also illegal in many areas.
Understanding our eco-system and following these simple recommendations can help assure Chetek continues to be a great place to live and visit in the future.