Volunteers get to work on South Dakota's Lake Mitchell


MITCHELL, S.D. - Twenty volunteers gathered at the lake Saturday morning and planted approximately 500 cattails along the water's shorelines. The cattails, placed at 10 different locations, act as a "natural filtration device," according to Parks and Forestry Supervisor Steve Roth, by removing excess nutrients in the water, such as phosphorus and fertilizer.

The buckets of cattails were divided among two groups. One stayed around Lake Mitchell, and the other traveled by boat to the Firesteel Creek area. Roth said most of the locations were in bays, and shallow areas that tend to accumulate a lot of algae.

"It's going to help hopefully clean up the nutrients in some of the bays," Roth said. "We're trying to do whatever we can to help improve Lake Mitchell."

Roth said that, while there are several different methods that can be used to filter nutrients in the water, the cattails is the easiest and most cost-effective. As part of the Dakota Wesleyan University Great Wesleyan Giveback on May 3, a group of the college students dug up the cattails from near Cadwell Park, where all of Saturday's cattails came from, Roth said.

Mitchell Mayor Jerry Toomey helped plant the cattails and said they will act as a natural, long-term fix, whereas past attempts to clean the lake were short-term, "band-aid" fixes.

But Toomey said the cattails won't completely solve the lake woes.

"There's some multi-faceted problems, so it's going to take a multi-faceted solution," Toomey said. "We're starting, just like we discussed the ordinance last week at the City Council meeting to not allow the dumping of grass, leaves or debris of any kind into the lake. We're just trying anything and everything we can to clean up our lake."

The ordinance received its first reading at the May 2 Mitchell City Council meeting, and a second reading is expected at today's council meeting.

At the last City Council meeting, Lake Committee Member Dave Allen asked the board to recommend establishing serious fines for those contributing to nutrient loading and other issues at Lake Mitchell. He recommended those found littering into public bodies of water be fined $250 upon first offense and $500 upon second offense, which received unanimous support from the board.

Other routes city officials have considered to filter nutrients in the water include implementing buffer zones along the shorelines near where Firesteel Creek feeds into Lake Mitchell or creating holding ponds—built to store polluted runoff, Toomey said.

Ultimately, he said, the solution lies in doing the little things the right way and being proactive in finding a solution.

"I think it's got to be a project you have to do on the lake—clean up the debris on the shorelines around the lake and look at the shorelines near Firesteel Creek all the way up to Wessington Springs," Toomey said.

While the main reason for the cattails is filtration, an added benefit is that they provide natural fish habit, Roth said.

In the past, old Christmas trees were collected on the ice near the Sportsman's Club, which fell through when the ice melted, with the intent of providing habitat for the lake's fish.

Roth said he doesn't imagine that method will make a comeback.

"That is kind of contradictory to what we're doing here—cleaning and removing debris," Roth said. "(The cattails) are much better in the sense that they provide nature's twigs and branches for the fish. Natural is always better, if possible."

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