Eye on KELOLAND: Cleaning up Lake Mitchell

Eye on KELOLAND

LAKE MITCHELL, S.D. (KELO) — Efforts are underway to clean up a once popular lake. For much of the summer Lake Mitchell is closed to swimmers, algae blooms create high levels of toxins. But the city has a plan to clean up the lake and restore it to its former glory days.

Lake Mitchell is a beautiful lake, once used as the city’s water source, it is now just a recreation lake.

Swimmers at Lake Mitchell

Back in the 60’s & 70’s the lake was full of boaters, and swimmers. But you won’t find much recreation going on now days.

And that’s why Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson has made it his mission to find a way to restore the lake to its former glory.

Tom Hanson: You grew up here, what is it like for you to see this lake shut down and nobody out here enjoying it?

Mayor Bob Everson: Oh you know this used to be busy all the time particularly the 4th of July. you know it kinda of hurts to not see people using the lake like they used to.

That’s because at times the water can be dangerous for people. On this day, the shore on the west side of the lake has a lot of foam, which is commonly caused by too much phosphorus.

The problem is phosphorus, nitrogen and other chemicals from waste and fertilizer make their way into Firesteel Creek which runs from near Wessington Springs all the way to Lake Mitchell. Algae feeds on the nutrients and chokes the lake with plant life. The Blue Green algae produces a toxin which can build up to dangerous levels.

The city tests the water every week during the summer and issues watches and warnings, often telling people to stay out of the water. Late in the summer it can develop a smell from decaying plant life.

The city has an ambitious plan, and Mayor Everson admits restoring Lake Mitchell will take money and time.
City leaders have come up with a plan with two phases. And one won’t work without the other.

One phase involves dredging the lake and removing a million cubic yards of sediment contaminated with phosphorus. The cost of that is still being determined.

The other phase, is already underway.

The city was able to purchase 360 acres of land that will help clean the water going into the lake.

Tom Hanson: Describe what is going to happen down here.

Mayor Bob Everson: Okay, so we are at the Kelly property which is west of lake Mitchell about a mile mile and a half, what you are looking at is Firesteel creek as it starts coming in to lake Mitchell. We are going to create a wetland in this area, the low area in here.

Starting as soon as next summer, they will dam up the water and flood the land with about a foot of water, essentially creating a slew full of cattails and other plants that will soak up the phosphorous and other harmful chemicals. Every year or two they will drain the slew, cut and remove the cattails which are full of chemicals.

This means only water filtered by the wetlands will make its way into Lake Mitchell.

The plan has the support of conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited which is part of a group called The Fiends of the Firesteel.

“Wetlands are nature’s kidneys if you will, they have the vegetation, they slow down water that’s running down hill capture sediments any other impurities that are in the water and help process those through natural biological processes,” said Bruce Toay the manager of conservation program for Ducks Unlimited.

Restoring Lake Mitchell is not only good for wildlife, it makes financial sense as well.

“The more people that use the lake, the better our sales tax, we sell gas beer bate fishing tackle food snacks everything that people use to use to go out and enjoy a day on the lake, all equates back to sales tax that comes into the city,” said Everson.

The plan is in place, now the challenge will be finding the money to carry it out.

Mayor Everson says they are looking for state and federal grants to help fund the wetlands and the dredging, but it may take a private funds to complete the projects.

The plan for the future includes a sledding hill and biking trail built from the sediment taken for the lake and a marina for people who want to keep their boats on the water all summer.

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