Scandia’s Bone Lake removed from impaired-waters list

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When Dave Bakke and his wife moved to a house on the southeast end of Bone Lake in Scandia in 2012, the lake was so murky that Bakke couldn’t see his toes when wading up to his knees.

Now, after years of work to clean up the lake, the water quality is vastly improved. A Secchi disk — a white metal disk suspended on a line to measure water clarity — didn’t disappear last week until it was 13 feet down, Bakke said.

Dave Bakke and his dog on a walk around Bone Lake in Scandia on Friday. Bakke and his wife have been living on Bone Lake since 2012. (Devanie Andre / Pioneer Press)

Bone Lake, which had been on the state’s impaired water’s list since 2004, was recently removed from the list. The delisting means the water in Bone Lake is clean enough for fishing, swimming and water recreation for the first time in 20 years, said Angie Hong, coordinator of the East Metro Water Education Program, a local government partnership with 31 members in Chisago, Isanti and Washington Counties, including the Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District.

The effort to clean up the lake, which had elevated levels of phosphorus, was led by officials from Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District, in partnership with the Bone Lake Association. Phosphorus is a naturally occurring element that feeds plant and algal growth.

When stormwater runoff from surrounding homes and farms adds too much phosphorus to a lake or river, the water can quickly turn green and unhealthy, according to Hong.

Another reason for the improvement in water quality: the number of carp, an invasive species, has decreased dramatically, said Bakke, the former president of the Bone Lake Association who now serves on the watershed district board.

Officials in 2010 hired a commercial fishing operation to remove 23,000 pounds of carp from Bone Lake and 3,600 small bullheads from Moody Lake. They also installed a low-velocity fish barrier to prevent rough fish from migrating into wetlands to breed.

Community residents gather round to help with a carp harvest conducted on Bone Lake during the winter of 2010-11. (Courtesy of Comfort Lake-Forest Lake Watershed District)

“Controlling the rough-fish populations helped to stabilize in-lake conditions and allow native aquatic plants to root-in and begin cleaning the water naturally,” Hong said.

Turning the tide

There are 2,798 impaired water bodies in Minnesota, but 27 lakes and streams are so improved that they will be removed from the list this year, said Leya Charles, impaired waters coordinator at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. MPCA officials are required to track the state’s impaired waters and report their findings every two years to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The delisting process can take years, Charles said. “We have to be patient because it takes data in order to get something delisted,” she said. “We need to be confident that the lake has improved, and that the data shows it has stayed improved. Plus, it takes time for restoration activities to occur to improve waterbodies, and then time for that response to occur in the lake and be reflected in the data.”

The MPCA keeps a detailed map of all the impaired waters in the state on its website.

“It’s a fairly new thing that lakes and streams have started coming off of the impaired-waters list,” Hong said. “There were 52 delistings in 2022, which really marked the tide beginning to turn. Previously, only a handful of delistings had happened over a 20-year stretch of time.”

The other east metro lakes that are set to be delisted include: White Rock Lake in Scandia; Bald Eagle Lake in White Bear Township; Golden Lake in Circle Pines (Rice Creek Watershed District); La Lake in Woodbury (South Washington Watershed District); and Kohlman Lake in Maplewood (Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District).

“Bone Lake and Kohlman Lake are both the result of substantial watershed-restoration work over the course of more than a decade, resulting in a fairly dramatic turnaround from very bad water quality,” Hong said.

The public access boat launch at Bone Lake in Scandia on June 7, 2024. (Devanie Andre / Pioneer Press)

Scott Noethe, 69, of Eagan, was at the lake Friday. He said he’s been fishing on Bone Lake since the early 2000s and he’s excited to see the lake getting clearer — because now he might be able to get some friends to fish there with him.

“Absolutely the cleanest I’ve seen this lake,” Noethe said.

Bone Lake delisting pizza party

An event to celebrate Bone Lake’s delisting will be 5-7 p.m. Tuesday at the Scandia Community Center. There will be a short program, followed by pizza, refreshments and cake.

The event is free and open to the public, but reservations are requested. To RSVP, contact Adam Hjelm at or (651) 395-5850.

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