How safe is East Side Lake?

Published 10:02 am Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Summer is in full gear at Austin’s East Side Lake, but a conservation Web site is cautioning people about swimming and fishing at the water spot., a project of Conservation Minnesota that uses Minnesota Pollution Control Agency data, reports that there are some concerns with swimming in East Side Lake and gives fish in the lake a “thumbs down” for eating. However, state officials say East Side Lake is pretty typical for small lakes in southeastern Minnesota.

East Side Lake typically does not support swimming, and a sign on the fishing pier says “NO SWIMMING.” However, there is no specific city ordinance restricting swimming in the lake — like there is for Mill Pond — but parks and recreation director Kim Underwood says the lake is not promoted as a swimming area.

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Though there was a city beach years ago, she said today the area is treated like any other park.

She said boats are allowed on the lake, as is fishing.

Mark Briggs, who manages fish contaminant testing with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said while the lake has high algae levels and wouldn’t be great for swimming, it’s not too unusual for smaller lakes in this part of the state.

High phosphorous levels tend to lead to lots of algae, Briggs said, but East Side Lake doesn’t really stand out as overly contaminated.

He said the DNR wants to improve quality at lakes like East Side throughout the state, but said it’s a very difficult process.

Patricia McCann, with the Minnesota Department of Health, said fish in the lake also resemble fish in other lakes.

While fish in East Side have tested for mercury and consumption restrictions are recommended, she said there’s mercury in almost all lake fish. McCann said the species and size of a fish is actually more important when it comes to consumption than which lake it came from.

“Focusing on this lake, that lake can be misleading,” she said.

Some lakes have “do not eat” recommendations, McCann said, but added that East Side is not one of them and is fairly typical for the region.

According to the DNR, pregnant women, women who may become pregnant and children under age 15 should limit consumption of carps and crappies from East Side Lake to one meal per week, while they should limit largemouth bass consumption to one meal per month.

For the general public, East Side carps and crappies have no restrictions, while largemouth bass consumption is recommended at once a week.

Robert Morgan went fishing Monday at East Side Lake with his girlfriend’s son, Alex Obadal.

Morgan, 48, said he grew up with the lake but hadn’t gone fishing in a while. He said he planned on throwing any catches back.

“I wouldn’t eat them,” Morgan said.

Craig Ferch, 53, also said he grew up with the lake, and used to swim and fish in East Side when he was younger.

He now fishes every so often but, like Morgan, said he tosses catches back.

“You could probably get by eating a few of them, but I wouldn’t recommend it,” Ferch said.

Bill Thompson, a water quality project manager with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said it’s important to remember that small lakes that have water flowing in — like East Side Lake with Dobbins Creek — can see their water quality fluctuate.

Often, Thompson said, the incoming waterway is key when studying a lake’s water quality.

He said Dobbins is impaired for turbidity, meaning there is a lot of sediment flowing through the stream.