In the 1970’s, Lake Minnewawa in Minnesota was so choked with weeds that residents could no longer enjoy the lake. Boating was impossible and water clarity and phosphorous levels were awful. A group of concerned residents decided they needed to do something to save the lake and on December 15, 1977 as association was formed calling itself Save Minnewawa Association.
In 1982 the association purchased their first weed harvester and trailer, which was replaced in 1994 by a larger, but used 1987 Aquarius Systems 620 harvester, that is still in use today. The association does not receive state funds to run the harvester; it is financed by membership, business, and other local group donations along with fund raisers. The work required to run the machine is immense and there are a lot of donated hours by board members and volunteers to keep the equipment running.
Three months out of the year the harvester runs five days a week about 8 hours a day (weather permitting) to maintain the 4,500 acre lake. Not all of the lake gets cut either, there are designated no cut areas established by the DNR and certain native plants aren’t cut like lily pads, wild rice, and bulrush. Since the harvester has been in use not only has the amount of weeds decreased, but water clarity has significantly increased as well.
A big reason for this is because there are fewer weeds dying in the lake and decomposing to the bottom. If the vegetation is left to rot, the nutrients in it that have been absorbed from the water are released back to the water column and become nutrients for the next weed growth or algae bloom. But something far worse occurs; as the vegetation decays, it uses up the oxygen at the bottom which affects fish as well as native plants. The weeds contain a huge amount of phosphorous which is being removed along with the weeds, the more phosphorous in a lake, the more algae growth, therefore the lower water clarity.
Some people in the area don’t believe in the weed harvester and feel that cutting the weeds leads to more growth, but Steve Olson, LMA board member disagrees. “If that were the case, then they would have never needed to harvest here in the first place.” Other people have suggested controlling the weeds with chemicals instead of the harvester, but the cost is very prohibitive with a price tag of half a million dollars compared to the $25,000 a year it takes to run and maintain the weed harvester.