COLA is a private volunteer group aimed at promoting area lakes

By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

The Otter Tail County Coalition of Lake Associations (COLA) held its first gathering of the 2023 summer lakes season Thursday evening, May 18, at the Ottertail Community Center.

COLA is a private volunteer group, with a board of directors, working with lake associations and lake property owners throughout Otter Tail County for the common good of all area lakes.

“We who are active with COLA see ourselves as a valuable ally to lake property owners for stewardship of their lakes,” says COLA president Sylvia Soeth. “Our lake property owners in Otter Tail County are the major stakeholders in the preservation and protection of their lakes.”

COLA is involved with water quality analysis, fighting the spread of invasive species, providing assistance to new lake associations and bringing lake property owners together for the exchange of ideas and general fellowship.

Future COLA gatherings at the Ottertail Community Center, starting at 7 p.m., will take place Thursday, June 15; Thursday, July 20; and Thursday, Aug. 17 for the annual meeting. A bus tour of rain gardens and shoreland restoration will take place in September 2023, time to be determined.

At each gathering one lake association is featured and a second speaker will talk about a topic of interest to COLA members.

Jeff Vansteenburg, First Silver Lake Association

The featured lake association at the May 18 COLA gathering was presented by Jeff Vansteenburg of the First Silver Lake Association. This is the largest of three Silver Lakes that is a chain of three lakes northwest of Battle Lake.

The others in the chain of lakes are Second Silver Lake and Third Silver Lake. 

“We’ve been active as a lake association since 1989,” Vansteenburg said, “and we take pride in the many species of fish in our lake.”

The First Silver Lake Association and similar associations in Otter Tail County and across the state take pride in working to protect Minnesota’s lake heritage for current and future generations. 

Many lake association members assume advocacy and leadership roles pertaining to water quality analysis, the fight against Aquatic Invasive Species and keep abreast of changes in shoreline rules. They also have a voice in establishing county and statewide policies pertaining to area lakes.

“Best of all is the fellowship among property owners at First Silver Lake,” Vansteenburg emphasized.

Colby Palmersheim, manager of public drainage systems

Also speaking at the May 18 COLA gathering in Ottertail was Colby Palmersheim, Otter Tail County Manager of Public Drainage Systems.

He explained that the 61 ditches in Otter Tail County are regulated by the County Ditch Authority which is comprised of the five-person Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners.

Initially the purpose of county ditches, built between 1900 and 1923, was to drain lowlands so that more property could be made usable for farming practices.

An added benefit from the drainage systems, noted Palmersheim, is the fact that some of them are tied to lakes. “These systems function as the only outlet for these lakes, helping with flood protection for some of the lake homes.”

The five county commissioners manage the systems according to Minnesota state statute.

“The Ditch Authority is responsible for maintaining and repairing a drainage system as nearly comparable to the original design as possible,” Palmersheim said.

Repairs are determined to take place by requests from the benefitted property owners of that ditch or by the annual inspections performed by the County Ditch Inspector and his assistants.

Current ditch work in Otter Tail County includes, but is not limited to, removal of bog material, culvert replacement, general cleaning and building rock weir for flood prevention.

In some cases, ditch buffer strips are required. Counties such as Otter Tail County make use of LIDAR technology and GIS (geographic information systems) when working on ditch analysis.

Redetermination is a legal proceeding to analyze ditches based on use today rather than 100-plus years ago. Ditch viewers determine how much a property benefits from a particular ditch. That’s how individual properties share in ditch expenses.