Tour shows nearshore water quality
Cook County News-Herald
By Richard Franta and Joan Farnam
Published July 1st, 2004
People from all over Cook County boarded the research
vessel the L. L. Smith, Jr., last week to learn more about
Lake Superior and how to protect it.
Called “A View from the Lake,” the program featured a
three-hour cruise on the ship giving residents a chance
to see what their community looked like from the water
as well the impacts they were having on it.
Educators from the Lake Superior Research Institute and
the University of Minnesota’s Sea Grant program used the
scene to discuss land use, development, natural resources
and water quality issues. Participants also had a chance
to do a few little scientific experiments as well as enjoy
a beautiful, but sometimes rough, day on the lake.
The program, which is sponsored by the University of
Wisconsin- Superior, Minnesota Sea Grant and NEMO (Nonpoint
Education for Municipal Officials), was being offered
in communities up and down the shore, including Grand
Marais, Silver Bay, Two Harbors and the Duluth -Superior
harbor as well as Bayfield and Washburn in Wisconsin.
Three separate trips were made in Grand Marais over a
two-day period, bringing in more than 70 participants,
including city officials.
“It was great,” said Mayor Mark Sandbo, who was one of
the city officials who went out on the boat Friday morning.
“I think what it did was affirmed the feelings I’ve had
about our environment and our use of Lake Superior.”
“A View from the Lake” focused on near-shore Lake Superior
water quality, the impact of silt and pollutants contained
in the water entering the lake from streams, rivers, and
general runoff, as well as the long term effects on the
aquatic life supported by the lake.
While out on the lake, those participating got to measure
water clarity measures, take water temperature readings,
measure dissolved oxygen levels, collect samples of suspended
materials in the water column, and examine samples of
silt from the bottom of the lake.
In spite of the size of Lake Superior, the near shore
areas provide most of the support for its aquatic life,
said Cindy Hagley, an educator with Minnesota Sea Grant.
This near shore area is also the area most impacted by
silt, pollution, and runoff from our towns and homes,
she said, so our responsibilities here are clear.
The cruise illustrated this well, as the L.L. Smith left
the harbor and steamed east toward where the Devil Track
River flows into the lake. Staff on board encouraged participants
to notice how development along the lakeshore could impact
Building too close to the shore and/or removing all vegetation
between buildings and the lake can result in significant
increases in silt and pollutants getting into the near
shore waters. By contrast, homes that are set back from
the lake with natural vegetation and trees left as a buffer
zone, can decrease the impact of development, she said.
She said the North Shore will continue to grow, but that
does not necessarily have to be a bad thing. “As you think
about your community, you might think about the changes
you have to deal with,” she said. “What natural resources
do you value? Are there some areas you chose not to develop
because they’re so important? To what degree will a development
impact resources? What can you do to mitigate that impact?”
If communities are be proactive in this regard, water
quality can be protected, she said. The key to it is education,
she added, which is one of the primary reasons that Minnesota
Sea Grant and the other organizations developed “A View
from the Lake.” The program will be held again next year,
Participants quickly discovered that near shore water
quality near Grand Marais is quite good.
During the water clarity test, for example, a small disc
was lowered into the lake until it was no longer visible.
The depth reading gave a measure of the water clarity.
The tests gave a visibility depth of more than 30 feet.
When compared to the less than five foot visibility in
the turbid Duluth harbor, it was clear that Grand Marais
has a resource to be protected.
Dissolved oxygen is also a good indicator of water quality.
Algae, which grow and proliferate because of nutrients
in the water, use up available oxygen, decreasing its
availability for fish and other aquatic life. Tests in
the East Bay gave readings off the scale for dissolved
oxygen. In the Grand Marais harbor itself, dissolved oxygen
was again off the scale near the surface of the water,
but declined slightly closer to the bottom, an indication
of increased algae growth.
Future development of the harbor has to take this into
account, Sandbo said. “If we don something with the harbor,
we have to make sure we do the right thing,” he said.
The water temperature was in the lake was only 39 degrees,
compared with 54 degrees last week near Bayfield, the
participants learned. The colder water along the North
Shore makes it much more difficult for all organisms to
grow and prosper in the lake, Hagley said. This also makes
the environment more fragile and increases the potential
impact of any runoff, she said.
The bottom samples fascinated the participants. Sediment
brought up revealed crustaceans, nymphs, worms, and other
creatures that amazed all those aboard. But this reaction
was small compared to the reactions express after microscopic
examination of the samples taken from the water column.
Participants observed algae, and at least two types of
small creatures, complete with egg sacks attached, that
are part of the lake’s diverse food chain not normally
seen by those watching the lake. Again, the number of
organisms found indicated a healthy lake environment.
To learn more about these issues and the project as well
as Minnesota Sea Grant, check the Web site at http://www.seagrant.umn.edu.
Also, Jack Kelly of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency's Mid-continent Ecology Division will be at the
North House Folk School July 14 to discuss research involving
Lake Superior and the other Great Lakes to develop techniques
to understand, assess, and report on the ecological condition
of their shallow-water coastal areas. The Grand Marais
talk will feature a tour of the research vessel, Lake
Explorer. The talk begins at 7 p.m. and is free.