Located just minutes from downtown, Lake Mitchell is a man-made
reservoir that was built in 1928 to serve as a drinking water supply and
recreation center for the City of Mitchell and surrounding area. While
used and enjoyed by generations of families over the years, a steady decline
in water quality has also occurred over time. A water quality assessment
study was completed in 1997, and has since resulted in an implementation
project designed to reduce the sediment and nutrient loading that enters
the lake. While no longer Mitchell’s sole source for drinking water,
Lake Mitchell continues to provide area residents and visitors with a variety
of outdoor recreational opportunities.
Cottages At Lake Mitchell, 1932
Lake Mitchell Looking West, 1929
Municipal Bathing Lake Mitchell,
Lakeshore Drive, Mitchell, South
What is a Watershed?
watershed can be described as a geographic area of land that drains
water to a common or shared point such as a lake, river, or stream.
Wherever you live, you are in a watershed, and the activities that occur
within a watershed can have direct consequences on downstream
conditions. While lakes naturally age over a long period of time, the
process can be accelerated significantly as a result of human activities
(called cultural eutrophication). Eutrophic lakes are rich in nutrients
and usually become highly productive for plant growth. Eutrophic lakes
can become green with algae or choked with other aquatic plants. The
main nutrient that drives eutrophication in most surface waters is
Firesteel/Lake Mitchell Watershed Project
The Firesteel/Lake Mitchell Watershed Project is designed to reduce the
nutrient load entering Lake Mitchell from Firesteel Creek by installing Best Management Practices (BMPs)
throughout the watershed. The goal is to reduce the
phosphorus concentration by 50% by 2015 from its pre-assessment
study levels in order to decrease lake productivity and ease the
intensity and duration of the lake's annual algae blooms. Information dissemination and educational outreach has
also played an important role in the continuing effort to reach this
Best Management Practices (BMPs)
BMPs are methods that have been determined to be the most effective and
practical means of preventing or reducing the movement of sediment,
nutrients, or other pollutants from the land to surface or ground water.
While most BMPs are targeted towards rural resource concerns, urban
residents also share a responsibility to do their part towards improving
and protecting the water quality of Lake Mitchell. Some of the BMPs
that have been applied within the Firesteel Creek Watershed Project
1) Riparian Areas
Riparian areas can be
thought of as land situated along the bank of a stream or other body of
water where vegetation is strongly influenced by the presence of water.
These zones are typically the most environmentally sensitive areas of a
watershed and are an essential part of a healthy stream. Loss of
riparian vegetation by either crop production or overgrazing can cause
streambank erosion, decrease water infiltration, and increase the amount
of runoff and nutrients entering the water. By buffering these riparian
zones, we can improve water quality by trapping sediment, filtering
nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus before they reach the surface
water, and provide valuable habitat and corridors for fish and wildlife.
The City of Mitchell,
along with its project partners, is currently sponsoring the
Firesteel Creek Riparian Area Management (RAM) Program to install
buffer strips along the main stems of Firesteel Creek. The program is
designed to work with other existing state and federal buffer programs
to lease riparian areas along Firesteel Creek for 15 or more years in
order to protect Lake Mitchell further downstream.
Improvements & Nutrient Management Planning
Runoff from animal
feeding operations can contain extremely large loads of nutrients; and
if not properly collected, can degrade surface water quality. A
Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP)
is an overall
conservation system that addresses all aspects of an animal feeding
operation; from manure and wastewater handling and storage to proper
land application and record keeping.
Hereford Feeder Cattle
Open Lot Feeding Area with 100%
Vegetative Treatment Area (VTA)
3) Urban Lawns & Landscapes
An often overlooked
but equally important source of phosphorus can come from modern-day
urban landscapes. Storm water runoff will pick up nutrients from lawn
fertilizers, grass clippings, and pet waste just as easily as it can
from pastures and fields. Here are a few tips for urban residents to
help protect your lake:
Lawn Soil Sampling
your lawn every 3 - 5 years. If soils are high in
phosphorus, use a low or phosphate-free fertilizer.
Soil testing information and fertilizer recommendations are
available at your local extension office. The majority
of soils in our region already contain all the phosphorus an
established lawn will need, so adding more is rarely ever
making fertilizer applications, check the weather forecast.
Make applications when a heavy rain isn't likely to wash the
fertilizer directly into a lake or storm sewer.
fertilizers on the lawn and off paved surfaces. Use a
broom to sweep up excess fertilizer on paved surfaces and
reapply to lawn.
soil erosion around homes. Bare soil is easily washed
away with rain, carrying phosphorus with it. Keep soil
covered with vegetation or mulch.
clippings and leaves out of the lake. Leaves and grass
can be major sources of phosphorus to lakes as they break
leaving a "buffer zone" - a strip of unmanaged grasses or
natural vegetation - to grow along the shoreline. This
unfertilized vegetation will remove and retain some of the
nutrients that would otherwise enter the lake.
pet waste properly. Pet waste contains harmful
bacteria as well as nutrients.