Living next to a ‘swamp’: algae and weeds plaguing Fulda lakes

Living next to a ‘swamp’: algae and weeds plaguing Fulda lakes
Published: Sep. 10, 2023 at 9:48 PM CDT
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FULDA, M.N. (Dakota News Now) - On a beautiful day like it was on Sunday, you might expect people to be out on the lake. In Fulda, that’s simply not the case. Fulda First and Second lakes are connected by a small channel in the middle. Despite plenty of seaweed and visible algae near the shore of Second Lake, believe it or not, it’s the better of the two lakes in terms of its condition. The community of Fulda is left searching for answers to what options they even have to clean the lakes.

The lakes mean a lot to their community and not just those who live by them. Generations spent time on the lakes. Many have their family members memorialized as part of the Veterans Memorial Park and even more have memories of fishing, swimming, boating, water-skiing or kayaking on the lake growing up.

“The high school kids would come down here and learn how to kayak, the nursing home would bring around the pontoon and let residents go out for the day,” explained one resident, Jodie Vortherms. “When we’d have fireworks, this is where it was. When they had their memorial celebration, this is where it was. They’d have a boat go by and drop flowers in the lake.”

Jordan Vortherms and his friend Cullen VanderBeek are two of the kids in the community that this situation has impacted. For two summers, the boys haven’t attempted to do their favorite outdoor activities. They acted as tour guides and showed all the places where they would bike to and the places where they’ve caught the most fish and where they used to do karate in the waters. For the boys, disappointment is an understatement. To be by not one, but two lakes and not be able to fish or swim means they have to get creative.

Another resident living by the lake, Debra Horne, has similar memories of her kids enjoying what the lake had to offer. She has lived on First Lake for 28 years.

“When we first moved here, my boys learned how to waterski,” Horne said. “They learned how to kneeboard. We had a boat. We could recreate. It was very usable. There were no weeds or anything in there and many boats were out there. Right now, you can’t even get a fishing boat in there. The lake is just not usable anymore.”

Many residents said that boats get stuck in the weeds and burn through fuel trudging through them. Even if a fishing boat gets out onto the lakes, most of the fish have already died. Things were obviously not always like this.

The lakes made their way onto the impaired waters list due to high phosphorus, chlorophyll and Secchi disk levels. The Environmental Protection Agency attributed this to agricultural and urban runoff. Residents said that another issue was the high number of carp in the waters. Over the course of nine years, restoration efforts were implemented including partially draining the lakes. Work was done by multiple government agencies including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Some have said that they were not even told about the projects ahead of time and were disappointed to not have a chance to bring the projects to a vote. Since the projects, residents said conditions have gotten worse than before. Drone photos of the algae are very telling, but the weeds under the surface are even worse. At times, the weeds wash up on the shore and dry out in the sun along with dead fish. Jordan Vortherms and Cullen VanderBeek described the smell the lakes give off as nasty.

“I don’t think we were really told that this would happen,” stated Horne. “The clarity is good and everything, but now look at this. The weeds grew and took over.”

Residents said that the Minnesota DNR has been difficult to reach, often getting a voicemail and no calls or emails in return. They also say that the DNR claims that there is nothing that they can do about the lakes, even suggesting that the current conditions are normal. Vortherms has had more interactions with the DNR than most in the community due to her persistence. She explained that when she finally got an answered call instead of a voicemail, she believed it was picked up by accident because the man answered cheerfully until he realized it was one of the residents he had been receiving voicemails from. She said the man told her he had been meaning to go out and visit and that he would do so that week. He made his visit later than that and Vortherms made sure to speak her mind when he arrived. She was told that she was the only one complaining about the situation, but on Sunday dozens showed up to the lake to voice their concerns.

“I’m not the only one upset about how they killed our lake and turned it into a swamp,” said Vortherms. “We all love this lake and we didn’t buy and bargain for a swamp. I just pray and hope that with this going on, the DNR will be held accountable when they make a mistake. Just admit it and clean up your mess.”

Dakota News Now reached out to a contact with the DNR and as of Sunday has not received a response. Right now, the only fishing residents in Fulda are doing is fishing for answers and they have not caught anything.