History of the PRWD
For hundreds of years prior to the arrival of Europeans, various native tribes established scattered villages in the vicinity of the Pelican Chain of Lakes. In the 1700 and 1800ís population was still sparse, and there was very little disturbance of natural systems. With permanent European settlements arrived in 1870ís logging and agriculture began. By 1900 the area that would become the Pelican River Watershed District had experienced significant deforestation. Lakes had been dammed and rivers straightened for the Pelican River Navigation System which was responsible for stimulating a tourist industry based upon summer cottages and resorts. With the arrival of the automobile, the tourist business exploded, so that the areaís population reached 5000 by 1920. At about the same time major ditching to enhance agriculture caused further and quite profound changes to the lakes, streams and wetlands. Not so many years ago the lakes in the Pelican River chain were highly regarded for their crystal clear water and fine sandy beaches. People came from many places in Minnesota and North Dakota, joining visitors from other states and provinces, to enjoy our outstanding boating, fishing and swimming opportunities.
Little Detroit Lake, (left) taken in 1907 at the end of Lake Avenue
Same location, (right) taken in 2005
Many still come to our region to enjoy area lakes, which by most standards continue to be clear and clean. Yet long-time lake watchers know that our lakes have lost some of their pristine qualities, and that the conditions continue to deteriorate. Some lakes exhibit large amounts of weed growth and sediments which detract from boating and swimming; in others the once-clear waters have become so clouded with algae that fish are sometimes killed. The introduction to some of our lakes of harmful exotic weeds has begun to destroy native fish habitat.
Local residents began to report these and other unpleasant symptoms more than fifty years ago; long-time residents report that the condition of our lakes has been growing steadily worse since.
It was these circumstances that lead several community leaders in the early 1960ís to investigate options for dealing with such problems. Some of the causes were obvious, others were not. It was clear that some organization would have to identify all of the causes and plan a course of action.
Since no single township or city had jurisdiction over all the lakes, and since the problem was not perceived to be a county responsibility, it was decided to pursue the formation of a watershed district, a type of entity previously authorized by the state of Minnesota in 1955.
The watershed district approach also seemed preferable since the lakesí problems were known to involve physical, chemical and biological processes interacting among several lakes. Thus it made sense to focus on a physical region, rather than a political or administrative one. A region which includes all the affected lakes, plus those areas which contribute water to those lakes seemed to be the relevant physical region.
After some months of negotiations with local and state officials, on June 13, 1966, the Pelican River Watershed District of Becker and Ottertail Counties held its first meeting. According to the original petition calling for the Districtís establishment, and the State Order which created it, a principal goal of the District was to address water quality problems in District streams and lakes. Specific mention was made of the need to protect and improve the Districtís natural beauty and to implement sound soil conservation practices.
Acting on a nominating petition submitted on September 15, 1965, the Minnesota Water Resources Board (MWRB) established the Pelican River Watershed District (PRWD) on May 27,1966. In explaining its action, the Board found that the...
"principal bodies of water in the upper reaches of the watercourse of the Pelican River, Detroit Lake, Lake Sallie and Lake Melissa, have become at certain times during the summer recreational months, unhealthy and unsightly due to excessive weed and algae growths. Such undesirable growths along the shores of the above lakes have interfered with boating, fishing and swimming; and have denied lake home owners the enjoyment of water scenery. In addition, weeds and algae growths have affected lake property value." (MWRB, 1966)