The challenge of urban shallow lakes such as East Goose Lake is maintaining or achieving high water quality in areas dominated by pavement, buildings, and often a legacy of pollution. The natural ability of a lake to buffer polluted water can be exceeded by the input of stormwater from the surroundings. This input builds up over time, and pollution accumulates. A history of pollution into East Goose Lake has resulted in an unhealthy lake that is dominated by algae. Dense algae in the water blocks sunlight and depletes oxygen in the lake, which outcompetes aquatic vegetation. Native aquatic vegetation is critical for fish and other wildlife.
Balancing clean water and aquatic vegetation in shallow lakes is a challenge because people often associate clean lakes with sandy bottoms. However, this is not natural for shallow lakes in our region of Minnesota, where these lakes depend upon a healthy native plant community.
Organizations including VLAWMO and the City of White Bear Lake are required to take steps to improve East Goose Lake. Improving the health of East Goose Lake is a long-term challenge requiring several components:
Adaptive Lake Management is flexible and allows adjustments over time. A suite of management strategies is selected and implemented based on best available science and then modified depending upon results. On East Goose Lake, there are four main strategies: Fish management, aquatic vegetation management, internal pollution management, and subwatershed best management practices.
Aquatic vegetation provides essential food and habitat for fish and other wildlife.
Past sewage discharge and continuing stormwater runoff are sources of internal pollution degrading East Goose Lake’s water quality. Managing East Goose Lake’s internal pollution is necessary because of the legacy of nutrient pollution.
Lakes are dynamic. Over the past decade, the lake has ranged from 2.5 - 5 times higher than the State standard for nutrients. In 2020, the lake’s nutrient level was 3 times higher than the State standard. Because much of the nutrients (phosphorus) is contained in the lake bottom, the lake does not have potential to demonstrate consistent improvement without intervention.
See the links below for more information, including examples from Como Lake, another shallow lake in the metro area working on issues similar to East Goose Lake. Graphs of East Goose Lake monitoring data are included at the bottom of this page.
Goose Lake was historically a large wetland with open water areas. This changed when development occurred over time, and roads were routed through the area. In past decades, stormwater requirements differed from what they are today. Runoff from the growing city supplemented natural water levels in East Goose Lake and turned what was primarily a wetland area into a shallow lake.
Sketch of Goose Lake from circa 1885, courtesy of White Bear Lake Historical Society
As development continued, an increasing human population needed improved wastewater treatment. East Goose Lake was selected as the place to put that wastewater. From the 1930s to the late 1960s, the City of White Bear Lake’s wastewaster was discharged into East Goose Lake. This is important because the nutrient additions that occurred over this time period have resulted in a lake that is extremely high in nutrients. Those nutrients are concentrated in the lake sediment and continue to cycle into the water today, stimulating algae blooms that outcompete plants. With high amounts of algae and no plants, only tolerant fish that can survive in a low-oxygen environment, such as bullhead and some small sunfish, remain. Note: Currently, the City of White Bear Lake’s wastewater is pumped to the Metropolitan Wastewater Treatment Plant in Saint Paul.
This aerial photo shows Goose Lake in 1940. East and West Goose are one large wetland complex with some areas of open water, from the VLAWMO GIS Resource.
This aerial photo shows Goose Lake in 1953. Highway 61 now bisects East and West Goose Lake, and a wetland complex has been converted into a shallow lake, from the VLAWMO GIS Resource.
By 1953, Highway 61 was re-routed from the western edge of Goose Lake into a new road that ran through the center, dividing Goose Lake into East and West Goose Lakes. East Goose Lake was assigned the designation of shallow lake at this time, while West Goose Lake remained classified as a wetland. Since the 1960s, the East Goose Lake subwatershed transitioned from mostly rural, agricultural land to suburban development.
Internal load refers to nutrients that are present in the lake, circulating from the bottom sediments into the water column. Nutrients are released from the sediment when oxygen levels at the bottom of the lake are low because of chemical reactions that occur. Low oxygen levels happen late in the summer, during the winter, and as a response to decomposing organic matter. Released nutrients stimulate algae and plant growth. If algae populations are high, they outcompete plants, and the lake becomes dominated by algae. It is difficult to switch a lake from algae-dominated to plant-dominated.
In lakes with internal load problems, nutrients have usually built up over time from direct pollution inputs (point sources), historical stormwater runoff (nonpoint sources), or, in the case of East Goose Lake, both.
External load refers to nutrients and sediment that drain into the lake from the surrounding landscape. When development occurred around East Goose Lake, stormwater treatment standards were much different than they are today. That means that a lot of stormwater is untreated in this area when it flows into East Goose Lake, instead of flowing first through a stormwater pond, filter, or other structure that would remove pollutants. VLAWMO and the City of White Bear Lake have been working to build and renovate raingardens, add additional stormwater treatment structures, and reduce the external load that is contributed to East Goose Lake with every rainfall and snowmelt event.
East Goose Lake has high internal and external load. However, the direct input of nutrients from City wastewater from the 1930s to the 1960s is by far the largest contributor to the legacy of pollution and high internal load. Studies have shown that the pollution in East Goose Lake is 88% internal load. While a comprehensive approach is important, addressing the internal load is the priority. Only by addressing the internal load can we expect to see measurable improvement in the lake.
The community engagement process for East Goose Lake adaptive management is continuing forward from previous efforts by the City of White Bear Lake and VLAWMO to communicate about projects and priorities regarding East Goose Lake. The current effort reflects a more inclusive effort than in the past. It includes ongoing conversations with community members, local organizations and committees, businesses, and a community-wide survey.
A focused outreach meeting was held in December, 2020, with residents who live and own property on the lake (East Goose Lake Neighborhood Conversation). A follow-up mailing was sent to these residents with questions from the meeting to ensure, to the best of our ability, that residents living on the lake had a chance to provide their thoughts and comments. Regular postcard mailings are also included in the community-engagement process about progress in planning for East Goose Lake projects, to make sure that the people most directly affected by changes to the lake have the opportunity to be heard.
A community-wide survey was created and publicized to gather broader feedback because East Goose Lake is a public waterbody and the gateway to White Bear Lake from Highway 61. The survey closed on March 31st, 2021. Feedback from the neighborhood meeting and community survey will be presented to the White Bear Lake City Counsel and VLAWMO Board to assist in guiding an implementation plan for East Goose Lake.
The community-engagement process also includes this comprehensive web hub to provide timely updates, press releases and updates to local newspapers, continued meetings and community events, and more.
What trends can we observe?
Lakes are dynamic systems with considerable variability from year to year. Water monitoring data have been conducted in East Goose Lake for many years. In the early years of monitoring, standardized monitoring was not conducted. Some seasons may have been only represented by a single or a few data points. These are not reliable, but they gave VLAWMO a start. Standardized monitoring, following MPCA protocols, was initiated after a few years. Standardized monitoring includes taking the same measurements every two weeks for the entire growing season in Minnesota (from May through September). When looking at data, the MPCA recommends looking at the past 10 years to understand trends and status in the lake.
Over the past 10 years, East Goose Lake has consistently exceeded State standards for:
It gets complicated for people to keep track of many different variables, so phosphorus levels are often used when talking about water quality. In shallow lakes, the State standard is 60 µg/L. The 10-year average for phosphorus on East Goose Lake is 218 µg/L, which is more than 3.5 times the State standard. East Goose Lake has the poorest water quality of any of the lakes in the Vadnais Lake Area Watershed.
Long-term trends on East Goose Lake indicate a waterbody in a high-nutrient (hyper-eutrophic) state.
Plant surveys conducted periodically over the years by Ramsey County Soil and Water Conservation Division support this poor water quality assessment. While a few years ago, there were a few plants remaining in East Goose Lake, it is now dominated by algae. No plants were detected as part of the most recent survey in 2019.
Graphs are useful tools for visualizing trends in water quality. The graph below shows trends in phosphorus and chlorophyll a over the past 10 years. Phosphorus levels have oscillated some, but show an average of 218 µg/L, more than 3.5 times the State standard. Chlorophyll a has been consistently above the shallow lake standard of 20 µg/L.
How does East Goose Lake compare to other lakes in the watershed?
East Goose Lake is one of 5 impaired shallow lakes in the Vadnais Lake Area Watershed. East Goose Lake has the most negative values for impairment out of these 5 lakes. Six other lakes in VLAWMO are in good health, indicated by their water-quality data that shows that they meet State standards for phosphorus, chlorophyll a, and Secchi depth.
Why is East Goose Lake a priority?
East Goose Lake is a priority for the City of White Bear Lake and VLAWMO for several reasons:
See the “projects” section in this web hub page for more specific information.
An adaptive lake management process is a flexible process of communication, project implementation, and assessment. Assessment and evaluation guide next steps in lake management. With this framework, frequent evaluation is critical, and a defined interval (e.g., 3 years) is defined for possible modifications to management actions. This allows management actions to be increased or decreased over time to respond to changes as they occur in the system using the best-available science.
Residents who live and work in the area have important observations, values, and opinions about how management regarding East Goose Lake should proceed in the future. Wide representation and diverse input is important in understanding and guiding management of the lake.
At this time, funding is in early discussion stages. As specifics are available, they will be communicated early in the discussion process so interested parties are able to respond and participate. Funding and other updates will be communicated via this web hub, through VLAWMO and the City’s websites, and through social media.
The boat landing is limited use/management access only and will not be open to the public. A possible fishing pier on County property has been considered for many years. There is no specific plan to build a fishing pier at this time. It could be part of future efforts is there is sufficient interest demonstrated by the community.
Updates regarding the community-engagement process will be provided to the City Council and VLAWMO Board. This web hub, the City and VLAWMO websites, and social media will include updates as they become available. Updates will also be shared through the White Bear Press, as was done for the community survey completed during spring 2021.