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Experts want to ebb the spread of Lake Riley's zebra mussels

CHANHASSEN — The biggest step people can take concerning zebra mussels in Lake Riley now is to make sure they don’t spread.

That was the message from experts during an information session held Dec. 12 at the Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District offices, 18681 Lake Drive E. in Chanhassen.

Ranging in size from the tip of a pen to the thickness of a Sharpie marker, 91 total zebra mussels from five locations were found. The mussels were reproducing and spread out, said District Administrator Claire Bleser.

“At that point, we can’t do rapid response, because it’s fairly well-established everywhere,” she said.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources documented presence of zebra mussels in Lake Riley this October.

The body of water is the first lake in the Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District to have zebra mussels.

Experts gave a call to action that boats and equipment be cleaned properly when moved, so other lakes aren’t incurred with the mussels.

Lake Riley has shores on both Eden Prairie and Chanhassen. Some 40 people attended the information session, the majority being homeowners fringing Lake Riley.

University of Minnesota Professor Michael McCartney, along with a panel, spoke to the spread of zebra mussels and their effect.

“Lake Riley now serves as a source for invading other lakes,” he said. “The only hope is to slow it down; we’re at a point now in the invasion of Minnesota where it’s really going fast.”

McCartney covered the backstory of the invasive species: That zebra mussels came from an environment similar to the Mississippi River in Southern Russia and Ukraine and have popped up through North America and Europe.

Subtly, he said, the rapidly spreading mussels affect fish populations. Severely, they alter nutrient flow, nutrient levels, food beds and overall water chemistry. A surprising benefit to having the species is an increase in water clarity.

Zebra mussels also promote algal blooms. White Bear Lake, which has had zebra mussels for four years, struggles with algae.

For a state with 25-30 lakes added annually to the list of those with zebra mussels, the metro region has remained remarkably uninfested, he said. It’s especially surprising considering Lake Minnetonka has had mussels since 2010 and is one of the more recreationally used lakes in the state.

He’s interested in controlling the populations so they have less of an impact, he said. There are limited options at the moment, though Christmas Lake is being tested for one of the options: enclosing areas with high levels of chemicals. He said the method is worrisome as it doesn’t just go after the invasive species. The more promising route for getting rid of zebra mussels is through gene-editing, which, as a controversial topic, is unlikely.

His research in how zebra mussels spread shows when zebra mussels come to a new region, they spread locally.

“I don’t think there’s a single lake we can point at and say, ‘That’s the superspreader,’” he said. “Most of the infestations in the state are not because they’ve come from far away, but because they’ve spread around the neighborhood.”

With Riley being the first in the district to have zebra mussels, there’s an added urgency, he said. Boats and equipment must be drained properly and all vegetation must be removed.

While water can carry larvae, the danger of spread is more in the vegetation clinging to equipment and passed on to the next water body.

Several attendees said they were concerned about decontamination stations, and said there should be more hours available. One attendee asked: What do zebra mussels mean for the lake, five, 10 years down the road?

DNR Aquatic Invasive Species Specialist Keegan Lund answered. Often, people are worried the mussels will ruin the lake, he said. Most people won’t notice the changes, and while the mussels won’t ruin the lake, they will drastically shift its nutrients. People should wear water shoes on rocky shorelines and handle equipment with gloves.

“Yes, it’s a nuisance. Yes, it has huge ecological effects,” he said. “It’s still the lake you know and love. It just has this pesky critter in it.”

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Eden Prairie School Board approves ballot language for Designing Pathways proposal
File Photo  

Central Middle School, 8025 School Road, Eden Prairie, presently educates seventh and eighth grade students. Designing Pathways recommends adding classrooms and moving sixth-graders to the school.

On a 5-1 vote Dec. 10, the Eden Prairie School Board approved the ballot language for a 2019 referendum on a $39.9 million bond issue to fund the Designing Pathways recommendations.

The difference in board member votes came from whether to have a single question on the ballot or to have two. If it had two, the second question would break out $1.2 million for safety and security. The single-question approach on the whole $39.9 million ball of wax won out.

Board Member Adam Seidel favored two questions. He said he continues to support safety and security upgrades — which are expected to happen whether the referendum is approved but would take more years to complete — and said he is excited about some elements of the Designing Pathways process, such as academics, but said he feels the voters deserve to have safety and security be a separate matter from Designing Pathways.

“With the way it is all packaged together, I cannot support putting that on the ballot,” he said.

Other board members heard his views but dissented.

Member Lauren Crandall said if the board pulls out that one piece, why not pull out all the various pieces being discussed?

“It’s a very small piece of a large pie,” she noted.

Member David Espe said he felt having two questions leads to voters weighing which one to favor.

Chair Elaine Larabee agreed, noting one question focuses the community on the proposal.

“We should allow the community to decide that without muddying the waters,” she said.

Member Holly Link added that she favors a single question because she trusts the board and the district will teach the public the full proposal.

An election date was not discussed, though administrators in sample timelines have tossed out May.

Here is the ballot language as approved:

“Shall the school board of Independent School District No. 272 (Eden Prairie Public Schools) be authorized to issue general obligation school building bonds in an amount not to exceed $39,900,000 to provide funds for the acquisition or betterment of school sites and facilities, including without limitation safety and security improvements at each school site, building additions or updates at the middle school and preschool levels, and districtwide building updates to support personalized learning early-childhood through 12th grade.”

Designing Pathways calls for transitioning 4-year-old preschoolers to the elementary schools, with the aim of bolstering the link between preschool and kindergarten.

Photo by Tim Engstrom  

A sign on School Road welcomes people to Central Middle School. Based on community feedback, Designing Pathways recommends building a new performing arts center at the school.

It calls for moving sixth-graders out of the elementary schools and into Central Middle School. This allows the district to offer a three-year program like in most districts across the Twin Cities metro area.

Designing Pathways aims to redesign classrooms across the district with the hopes of more flexible and personalized learning. The district says this aligns with the four C’s it teaches and says employers and colleges seek: collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking.

The bond issue, if approved, would allow the district to improve safety and security in all eight schools. This measure would add protective glass, lockdown equipment, internal communications systems and exterior entry security, in addition to existing security.

If approved by voters, the cost of the $39.9 million proposal would be $6.50 a month on a $350,000 home.

“I believe this is in the long-term best interest of students, the district and the community,” said Superintendent Josh Swanson. “We would also maintain our commitment to financial responsibility by keeping our taxes among the lowest in this area.”