Summary Report on the Septic System Inspections at Big Fish Lake
by Sue McGuire, Stearns County Environmental Services Department
During the summer and fall of 2004 the Stearns County Environmental Services Department conducted an on site inspection program for all the individual sewage treatment systems on Big Fish Lake. The inspection program was a result of a Clean Water Partnership Diagnostic Study that had determined that a significant portion of the water in the lake is coming from groundwater. Since failing sewage treatment systems can contaminate the groundwater, the quality of the water in the lake could also be impaired.
Of the 184 individual sewage treatment systems on the lake, 126 (68%) were certified to meet performance expectations as stated in the Minnesota Statutes. These 126 systems, therefore, passed the inspection and should be adequately treating the sewage. Fifty-six of the systems (30%) are not in compliance, either because the tank is not solid or because the drain field is too close to the groundwater table, or both. Two systems have not yet been inspected.
Letters will be going out from Environmental Services on approximately April 1, 2005 to all the homeowners. The letter will inform each homeowner of the results of the inspection of his/her sewage treatment system and how to proceed. The letter will indicate what, if anything, needs upgrading and who to contact to have the work done. Information is enclosed on securing lowinterest (3.5%) loans to pay for the upgrades. Those whose systems are in compliance do not need to take any action other than routine maintenance, i.e. having the tank pumped every three years, or more often depending on use.
All the systems that have passed inspection will be issued a Certificate of Compliance. This Certificate remains in effect for three years from the time of issuance. If the property should change hands or if a land use permit is requested from the County during those three years, a new Certificate would not need to be secured. Ordinarily the fee for a Certificate of Compliance is $175.00. In some cases it is also necessary to do soil borings before the Certificate can be issued, and this is an additional $250.00.
The Stearns County Water Management Committee, along with the Big Fish Lake Association, has sponsored this inspection and funding has come from Stearns County Environmental Services Department as part of an effort to maintain good water quality at Big Fish Lake.
Volunteers Are Needed to help with DNR studies
The DNR is conducting a comprehensive survey at Big Fish Lake mid-April through the third week in September. Volunteers are needed to help with nets and instruments. Work partial weekdays. Good experience for students home for the summer. Please send your name and phone number to the editor and I will forward the list to Paul Diedrich at the DNR. The studies involve fish, aquatic plants, and water testing. Volunteer your time by writing today: firstname.lastname@example.org Tentative schedule of lake assessments from the DNR: Ice-out fisheries assessment – mid-April to collect baseline info on northern pike; Electrofishing for bass assessment – about May 1 or a little thereafter; Walleye fry stocking – About May 15 depending on spring phenology; Curled pondweed – at the time of peak abundance around June 1; Netting – Week of August 8; Electrofishing evaluation of the walleye fry stocking – 3rd week in September.
Managing our Curly-leaf Pondweed
Matt Peters attended a curly-leaf pond weed seminar in early February. Our 2003 lake study identified curly-leaf pond weed in Big Fish Lake. Over 700 Minnesota lakes now have the invasive non-native species.
This noxious aquatic weed grows in dense mats and overtakes all native aquatic plants, even the aggressive Eurasian water milfoil invader. (Milfoil has not been identified in our lake.) The seminar cautioned against exposing the lake bottom by stripping, cutting or pulling native aquatic plants. Disturbing the lake bottom invites the growth of unwanted aquatic plants, just as tilling your garden encourages spontaneous growth of weeds.
The seed pods of the curly-leaf pond weed are called turions. These turions fall off the aquatic plant in late summer. Turions have known to survive from five to 10 years under water without germinating. Only repeated freezing temperatures for six weeks at 20° or colder kills the turions and prevents growth of the curly-leaf pond weed.
The DNR will be conducting studies this season to identify the extent of the infestation at Big Fish Lake. Effective herbicides are available to control the problem. DNR permits are required beforehand. Property owners need to consent to eradication. Come to the annual meeting for discussion about how we can deal with this invasive species.
HERE ARE SOME SIMPLE, IMPORTANT “BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES” YOU CAN USE AT HOME
- Septic systems should comply with local ordinances and be properly operated and maintained.
- Do not put household cleaners, paint, solvents and pesticides down the drain.
- Practice water conservation in the home.
- Use only phosphorus-free soap in the dishwasher, laundry and bathrooms.
- Limit the use of antibacterial products.
- Pump your septic systems at least every three years, and more often depending on use & occupancy.
- Do not use a garbage disposal. Raw, undigested food can ?oat to your drain field and plug the system.
- Practice good lawn maintenance.
- Limit fertilizing. Use only zero-phosphorus fertilizer unless a soil test indicates a need for phosphorus.
- Do not fertilize within 50 feet of the lake shore. Do not fertilize your drain field. Set your mower high.
- Keep grass clippings, leaves, ash, charcoal, and pet waste out of the lake and away from the lakeshore.
- Reduce or eliminate pesticide use on the lawn and garden. Pump lake water instead of applying fertilizer.
- Maintain or establish a shoreland buffer zone of natural vegetation.
- Buffers prevent erosion and infiltration of nutrients into the lake.
- Buffers should be a minimum of 30 feet.
- Encourage woody vegetation and tall grasses to stabilize the shoreland.
- Minimize the disturbance of aquatic plants as they help to stabilize shorelines.
- All shore line alterations require a Stearns County permit. Call (320) 656-3613 before disturbing soils.
- Work with local officials
- Be part of the local water planning process; ensure that the county comprehensive water plan contains protective and rehabilitative management for Big Fish Lake, Long Lake, our wetlands and tributaries.
- Get to know your county commissioners. Share your concerns with them.
- Become part of the local decision making process.
- Support the work and projects of the Big Fish Lake Association.
- Become part of the decision-making process for local land use ordinances-serve on the township board, soil and water conservation district board, water planning board, or other local government committees.
Dues are Payable
It’s time to renew your membership by paying dues when you find a red ‘X’ next to your name on the mailing label. Please remit a check to the Big Fish Lake Association at Post Office Box 458, Cold Spring, MN 56320. Dues are $15/annum, $12.50/annum for seniors. Thank you!
Your contributions to this newsletter are always welcome.
September Meeting Notice
The late-summer Meeting of the Big Fish Lake Association will be held 10 o’clock a.m., Saturday, September 17th, 2005, at the Blue Heron Supper Club in Cold Spring. Coffee and an assortment of rolls will be provided. We have a full agenda.
Letter from Association President Bob Killmer
The heat was on this summer!
I’m wondering how everyone was staying cool this summer. We all know how many families were staying cool on Saturdays and Sundays. The popularity of this lake is tremendous. When you mention to someone from central Minnesota that “I live on Big Fish Lake,” what is their response? This is what I hear: Wow, you sure are lucky, that lake is the most beautiful in the area, and the water is always so clear, we love to go to that lake!
Do you feel fortunate that you have a lake home on this lake? Just look at what we have every day. We have bald eagles soaring and circling, loons calling through the night, owls in the woods and coyotes in the distance. We have average fishing on our lake-not poor-and it will improve soon. Please ask me about my sources! We have people parking anywhere that they can, just to spend a day on this lake.
would like to ask everyone for just a little more help, only a little work from everyone. Learn what it takes to be better stewards of our lake and our wetlands. The Big Fish Lake Association meeting held in the spring and fall should be attended by all the home and cabin owners on the lake. In a short period of time you will learn a lot. Come to the meeting on September 17 early and you’ll have an opportunity to visit with old friends and meet new neighbors. Your attendance is very important! Refreshments will be served, you have already paid for in part with your association dues.
“Your lake needs your help!”
Report on the summer progress from the Fisheries Focus Group, by Barb Lahr
There were too many northern pike in the lake so a slot limit was established this spring. The goal is to harvest as many of the small northerns as the limit allows and increase the size of the average fish to 24 inches in length. All 24 to 36 inch northerns must be put back in the lake until we see a better balance and diversity. The slot limit remains in effect for 10 years.
The DNR has conducted comprehensive fish and weed surverys this season including spring trap netting, spring short-term gill netting, routine summer population assessment netting; and noxious weed surveys using GPS mapping to identify and monitor our curly leaf pondweed and other weed concerns.
Electrofishing evaluation of walleye and fry stocking will occur around the third week in September.
Barb Lahr will report on the slot limit, the denial of spawning grounds, more news, September 17th.
Dues are Payable
It’s time to renew your membership by paying dues when you find a red ‘X’ next to your name on the mailing label. Please remit a check to the Big Fish Lake Association at Post Office Box 458, Cold Spring, MN 56320, or bring your remittance to the meeting, September 17th, 10 a.m. at the Blue Heron. Dues are $15/year, $12.50/year for seniors. Your dues help pay for production and mailing of this newsletter, and other Association projects. Thank you!
About Our Clean Water Partnership, by Mary Schramel
The Big Fish Lake Association initiated a Lake Management Plan in 1998 which included Long Lake. A grant to complete a study of the lakes was approved in February 1999. This is a two part grant. Phase one of the study included collecting water samples, flow rates in the inlets and outlets of both lakes, and secchi disk readings. The DNR fisheries conducted an aquatic plant assessment. The total grant amount of Phase I was $66,000. Phase one was completed with a final report dated August 2003. This complete report is available by contacting Bob Killmer of the BFL Association.
The results of this report include these recommendations as summarized on page 4, “Efforts to maintain the water quality goals should include septic system upgrades, regular septic tank pumping, minimization of agricultural runoff, and natural shore land management and landscaping activities. Development of the shore land and the surrounding watershed should be done in such a manner to minimize water quality impacts to these lakes”. A more detailed recommendation list is found on page 60 and 61 which states, “Wetlands provide natural filtering and removal of sediments and nutrients from storm water runoff. Incentives should be given to return these areas to wetlands whenever possible”. Phase two of the study is for Big Fish and Long Lake Associations to approach all their lake residents for support to implement the recommendations in this report. It is this study which precipitated the septic system analysis and upgrade recommendations. There were 56 septic systems at Big Fish Lake that needed to be upgraded as a result of the Lake Study Grant. Of these, 22 permits are pending installation, and 20 septic systems are already upgraded. The remainder are in the design stage.
The following note from Hank Schreifels of Stearns County answers “Why all the pipes in my yard?” The individual sewage treatment system rules require inspection pipes on all septic systems. The septic tanks will typically have three pipes extending above ground: one over the inlet, one over the outlet and one in the manhole cover. The number of drain field inspection pipes depends on what type of system you have installed. Pressurized beds and mounds are required to have at least one inspection pipe. Trench systems require an inspection pipe in each drop box and at the end of each trench. Inspection pipes can be cut of flush with the ground so you can mow over them. Septic tanks need to be maintained with regular pumping.