County Board enacts temporary watercraft “no wake” ordinance

by April Scheinoha

The Pennington County Board has approved a temporary watercraft “no-wake” ordinance on the Thief River from Long’s bridge to the countyline. Watercraft are now only allowed to be operated at the “slowest possible speed necessary to maintain steerage, but in no case greater than 5 mph.”

The temporary ordinance is in effect immediately and until Thursday, Nov. 1 unless sooner modified. The temporary ordinance was approved to combat the spread of blue-green algae found in that area. At least two area dogs have died from exposure to blue-green algae.

The Thief River Falls Lions Club Fishing Tournament will be affected by the temporary ordinance. The tournament is set for Saturday, Aug. 18 on the Thief and Red Lake rivers. Over the past couple of weeks, the sheriff’s office has been in contact with the Lions Club regarding this change. The organization plans to educate participants on the temporary ordinance. More information on the fishing tournament can be found on the sports page in this week’s edition of the Northern Watch.

Corey Hanson, RLWD water quality coordinator, previously told the Northern Watch that it should be OK to eat fish from the river as long as fillets are cleaned properly. He reminded anglers and boaters to use caution. Hanson further noted the blue-green algae would get worse as the blooms die and release toxins.

Commissioners approved the temporary ordinance at their meeting Tuesday, Aug. 14. Earlier that morning, as required by state law, County Board held a public hearing to gain public input regarding the temporary ordinance. Sheriff Ray Kuznia, the Red Lake Watershed District and the city of Thief River Falls had requested the temporary ordinance. They indicated that a significant amount of boat traffic could stir up the blue-green algae and cause it to float downstream into the Red Lake River.

During the public hearing, RLWD Natural Resource Specialist Ashley Hitt reported that a water sample was taken a day earlier from the Thief River at the Thief River Golf Club bridge. She indicated algae was present in the water, but a low concentration of algae was detected. The concentration was too low to cause harm; however, Hitt cautioned commissioners and Kuznia to keep an eye out for blue-green algae blooms. She said the water temperature was 81 degrees Fahrenheit at the time that the sample was collected. Hitt noted that temperature was outrageous. If the area continues to experience hot temperatures with no rain or water flow, she said it is possible for blue-green algae blooms to appear virtually out of nowhere.

Flow from the Red Lake River is greater than that of the Thief River. Hitt noted that any blue-green algae flowing downstream would dissipate to a lower concentration than concentrations found in the Thief River. The city of Thief River Falls’ water intake system is located on the Red Lake River, south of First Street.

Elsewhere in the region, blue-green algae has been detected in Maple and Cameron lakes. Hitt said the Mud River looked normal near Grygla; however, two dogs drank water from the river and later died. Necropsies determined both dogs died from exposure to blue-green algae.
Thief River Falls Mayor Brian Holmer encouraged commissioners to approve the temporary ordinance here. Saying he wished the ordinance were permanent, Holmer referred to safety and erosion issues.

Blue-green algae was found Friday, July 14 in the Thief River. Blue-green algae can release toxins that are dangerous to humans and pets. People can become sick if they swallow, have skin contact with, or breathe in airborne water droplets of the harmful algae while engaged in recreational activities in the water. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, those symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, rash, eye irritation, cough, sore throat and headache. Symptoms may begin two hours to two days after exposure.

Pets may also be affected. They may experience vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, difficulty breathing and seizures. In some instances, pets have died from ingesting or coming into contact with blue-green algae.

After the discovery, the city of Thief River Falls closed the beach at Bill LaFave Park. It remains closed. The RLWD posted signs at boat access points on the Red Lake River in Thief River Falls and at parks near the river. Those signs were removed after the latest test results.

The MPCA noted that it is impossible to remove a blue-green algae bloom from a water body. Since the temperature of the river can’t be controlled, the MPCA suggests reducing the amount of nutrients flowing into the river, including the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen from such sources as lawn fertilizer and runoff.