Powers Lake Watershed Progress

Powers Lake Watershed Project Improvement Continues

Phase II of the Powers Lake improvement project has begun.  With Phase I completed, which involved improving the outlying watershed area and reducing inflows of nutrients to the lake, the Powers Lake Watershed Project committee is looking to begin work on improving the water quality within Powers Lake itself.

In July 2011, the Powers Lake Watershed Project received a 319 Grant (Federal Funds) for $282,350, which combined with non-Federal funds gave the project a total grant of $470,583.  These grant funds will help to continue this grassroots project of returning Powers Lake to a vibrant fishing and recreational area of Northwest North Dakota.

Phase II of the lake improvement project will involve preparation for selective dredging of Powers Lake to remove nutrient laden sediment.  The funding will help to acquire and construct a disposal site and to start some dredging.  The more sediment that is removed the greater the potential of restoring Powers Lake water quality.  The current plan is to dredge and pump the sediment to a disposal site where it would dry.  The dried sediment could then be returned to agricultural land within the area.


Powers Lake is a 1,638 acre lake that is located on the edge of the City of Powers Lake.  This lake is of great recreational value and a natural resource to the community.

In 1998, local citizens were becoming more aware of the degraded water quality and the decreasing recreational value of Powers Lake.  There was a major decline in summer recreation due to large amounts of blue-green algae.  The algae had become a health hazard.    Due to these concerns, the Powers Lake Watershed Committee was formed to look into ways of improving the water quality and in turn the recreational value of Powers Lake.

In 1999, with the assistance from the North Dakota Department of Health (NDDoH), Water Quality Division, a Water Quality Assessment of Powers Lake was undertaken.  A person was hired to collect water samples throughout the year.  Samples were collected from runoff in the tributaries and in the lake itself through 2001.  A land inventory within the watershed was also completed during this time.  This sampling project was assisted by numerous Powers Lake High School teachers, students, and volunteers.

After the sampling was completed a report was compiled from the water samples and land inventory.  The primary impairments to recreation and fishery uses of the lake were caused by excessive nutrient loadings.  Due to these impairments the lake was put on a list of impaired waterbodies, referred to as the Section 303(d) list or list of waters needing Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).  It is the obligation of the NDDoH to write a Total Maximum Daily Load for every waterbody on this list.  The TMDL, required by the US EPA, determines the maximum amount of a pollutant that can enter a waterbody and still meet State Water Quality Standards.  It was determined that the impairments to Powers Lake were high levels of nutrients (especially phosphorous) and low dissolved oxygen levels.  The assessment report and draft TMDL determined that for Powers Lake to meet State Water Quality Standards, it needed a 75% reduction of the nutrient load entering the lake, and a 50% reduction in the internal nutrient load within the lake.  A list of tasks was developed to reduce the amount of phosphorous loading entering the lake.  

A public meeting was held where committee members and the NDDoH presented a report on the project progress.  After much discussion, it was decided by the community that the Committee should pursue a Section 319 Nonpoint Source Pollution grant from the State to improve the water quality of Powers Lake.  The grant provides 60% cost share match for all nonfederal dollars.  The Mountrail County Soil Conservation District (SCD) agreed to provide administrative services for the grant.  This was the first Section 319 grant in the state that was driven by the local community.  This made the project special and exciting for the North Dakota Task Force to approve it.

Beginning in 2002, the citizens of the community were becoming more aware of the situation and looking at ways to improve Powers Lake.  Local farmers started changing their farming operations and began looking into no-till or minimum till systems.  There were also a couple of dams and grass seedings completed during this time which decreased the amount of sediment entering the lake.  At this time the Powers Lake Watershed Project started with the assistance from the Burke and Mountrail County NRCS, Burke and Mountrail County Soil Conservation District, US Fish and Wildlife Service, North Dakota Natural Resource Trust, and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.  Partnering with the different agencies helped get more conservation practices on the ground.

The Section 319 grant was awarded in May 2003.  A Watershed Coordinator was selected in January 2004.  This began the ground work for the project.  

The past 5 years of the project have seen a great change in the landscape.  More farmers have continued to switch to no-till and fewer acres have been fallowed across the watershed, which has significantly reduced the amount of sediment entering Powers Lake.  With the increased costs for fertilizer, producers have become more cognizant of balancing crop nutritional needs with the rate of fertilizer applied.  This in turn, has reduced the amount of excessive nutrients entering Powers Lake.  Cattle producers within the watershed have improved their operations with the installation of wells, pipelines, tanks, fencing, grass seedings, and grazing rotations.  A partial waste management system has also been completed where a clean water diversion was installed to divert the water around a feedlot.  This has provided a benefit by keeping the clean water clean and the manure water within the feedlot to settle out before being spread across fields as fertilizer.

Some of the accomplishments that we have seen from the project and area producers.

Improved Cropland mngt  16,007 acres
Grass seedings870 acres
Grazing systems  ~ 4100 acres
Fences installed    44,344 ft
Pipeline installed  21,300 ft
Wetland development and/or sediment dams 9 created totaling 103 ac. of water development
Shoreline protection  5,400 ft
Waste management system 1 completed with 1 in the works
Riparian protection 23,000 ft
Currently ongoing, an engineering firm has been hired to look at potential solutions to reduce the in-lake recycling of the nutrients.  A Feasibility Study is being conducted to determine the most beneficial and cost effective ways to install practices in the lake itself to improve water quality.  The proposed methods are selective dredging, peninsulas, islands, berms, and alum treatment.  These methods would help to greatly reduce the recycling of the nutrients within the lake.

During the final year of this project, the objectives are to have options available to reduce the amount of internal nutrient cycling in the lake and develop funding avenues to complete this project.  The project will also be continuing to implement conservation practices on the ground which will reduce the amount of nutrients entering the lake.  Funding will be the limiting factor to fully implement the current and final stage of the Powers Lake Watershed Project.  

The continue improvement of the lake would be of great economic value to the community and surrounding area.  Powers Lake has in the past been a great recreational and fisheries lake and with everyone’s support it can be once again.  This project will help improve the fishery as well as make it more inviting for other recreational activities.  “A lake is a reflection of your community within its watershed.”   

Projects’ like these not only depend on farmer and ranchers’ cooperation but everyone that participates in some type of activity in a particular watershed.  This includes the people that live within the area to outdoor recreationists.  “We can’t all live upstream.”

If there are any questions you can give Kenny a call at the Powers Lake Watershed Project office at 464-5055.

This project has been assisted by the City of Powers Lake, Mountrail Soil Conservation District (SCD), NRCS in Mountrail and Burke counties, Burke SCD, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Burke County Extension Service, North Dakota Natural Resource Trust, Upper Dakota RC&D, and all the volunteers that have assisted and donated their time into this project.