During the 1990’s, development in Forest Lake boomed as the former farm community grew into a modern day suburb with big box stores and residential neighborhoods. In 1999, the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District (CLFLWD) was officially established by citizen petition to respond to new challenges that came with this transition. CLFLWD established a permit program to minimize stormwater runoff and prevent construction sites from sending muddy water downstream. It also launched several diagnostic studies to monitor the health of area lakes and identify cost-effective strategies to restore water quality.
Now, twenty years later, CLFLWD continues its work to protect and improve local lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. The district has completed dozens of clean water projects and is currently updating its 10-year comprehensive watershed management plan, which will guide future work from 2022-2031.
According to Vice President Jackie Anderson, the longest serving member of the watershed district board, CLFLWD has been successful because it utilizes a watershed management approach that is both collaborative and science-based. “The watershed district takes a very calculated approach to restoring degraded lakes,” she explains. “Just one pound of phosphorus can create 500 pounds of algae in a lake, so it is really important to keep excess phosphorus out of our lakes and streams.”
In the City of Forest Lake, CLFLWD has completed phosphorus reduction projects at Bixby Park, Forest Hills Golf Club, and in neighborhoods surrounding Forest Lake. In Chisago Lake Township and Scandia, the watershed district executed a multi-year effort to restore Moody and Bone Lakes through fish management, wetlands restoration, projects with nearby farmers, and a recent alum treatment. As a result, there is 65% less phosphorus flowing to Moody Lake and the water quality grade in Bone Lake has improved from an “F” to a “B-” over the past ten years.
This year, the Comfort Lake–Forest Lake Watershed secured two Clean Water Fund grants totaling more than $1.2 million for projects to improve water quality in Forest Lake, Comfort Lake, and the Sunrise River. The first grant, worth $747,000, will treat 50% of the runoff flowing into the east basin of Forest Lake through Washington Judicial Ditch 6. A second $492,000 grant will help the district to restore an existing ditched wetland complex that discharges directly into the Sunrise River, just north of Forest Lake.
Altogether, CLFLWD covers 49 square miles of land in Forest Lake, Scandia, Wyoming and surrounding townships that contain 20 named lakes, 300 drainage ditches, 1000 wetlands, and the headwaters of the Sunrise River. Dividing the watershed into four lake management districts – Bone, Comfort, Forest and Little Comfort – has made it easier to focus on projects that really work.
The watershed district is a special-purpose, local unit of government, led by a five-member board of managers that are appointed by the Chisago and Washington County Board of Commissioners. This November, the district will be seeking a new representative from Washington County to replace outgoing board member Jim Dibble. Managers serve a 3-year term and must live within the watershed district that they serve. Interested residents in Forest Lake or Scandia can apply online.
Members of the public can also attend CLFLWD Board meetings to learn more about the watershed district and its programs. The meetings, which are currently being held online due to COVID, are held at 6:30 pm on the fourth Thursday of each month, except for November and December when the meetings will be held on Nov. 19 and Dec. 17 to avoid conflicts with the holidays.
To learn more about the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District, visit www.clflwd.org.