Tuesday, July 29, 2014
   
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Cleaning Lake Helen returns to city agenda

Discovery of toxic algae more reason to take action.

Mud holes have been transformed into deeper, cleaner lakes with help from a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s program.

Which means there might be help for Lake Helen which city officials say is in dire need of rehabilitation.

In fact a couple of weeks ago, officials erected signs at the local lake warning residents of a toxic algae in the water that can cause sickness in humans and death to dogs and other animals that drink it.

At their July 19 meeting, the Gothenburg City Council decided to find out what could be done for Lake Helen through the commission’s Aquatic Habitat Program.

Jeff Sittle of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality talked about the program which has helped improve fishing at 43 lakes across the state.

Sittle has monitored the recent algae blooms that have caused toxicity in the smaller of two bodies of water at Lake Helen.

The program rehabilitates water systems, he said, noting that state officials would be interested in helping Gothenburg if the city provided a plan and indicated an interest in helping to fund it.

Lake Helen is on the NDEQ’s impaired water list and on the eligibility list for the Aquatic Habitat Program.

City administrator Bruce Clymer shared an article from Outdoor Nebraska with the council that explains the aquatic program.

Clymer noted that Cottonmill Lake, in northwest Kearney, was one of the first lakes restored under the program which had similarities to Lake Helen.

Built in 1886 to provide power for a cotton mill factory (Lake Helen was constructed about the same time to generate electricity), he said the lake was so silted in that winter kills of fish were common.

“Its maximum depth was four feet and its average depth was between two and three feet,” Clymer read from the article. “It was about as poor as you can get.”

The lake was drained and about 150,000 cubic yards of muck removed from its bottom—enough to cover a football field 23 feet deep.

More was done and in 1999, it was restocked with the kind of fish that have attracted many anglers to the lake.

Money for approved projects comes from the Aquatic Habitat Stamp that anglers must buy plus funds from entities like the Nebraska Environmental Trust and Environmental Protection Agency.

“This would be a dream for Gothenburg,” Clymer said.

City council president Jeff Kennedy said he’s fielded several complaints from residents about the deterioration of Lake Helen.

“It stinks and I don’t see the problem getting any better,” Kennedy said. “It’s more shallow and there’s bank erosion and geese.”

Draining and dredging the lake is needed, he said, adding that council members have discussed the issue in the past.

However dialogue stalled when the cost to do the work reached an estimated $1.6 million.

On Monday, Clymer said funding would be a limitation if anything is done.

“Which would mean perhaps a partial dredging of the lake, etc.,” he said, noting that a ballpark figure hasn’t been discussed.

Kennedy said good fishing in the lake could attract people to town and be an economic benefit for motels, restaurants and other businesses.

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