No Dye Job in the Boundary Waters

     One thing the Boundary Waters in Minnesota doesn’t need is a dye job. Our lakes in the BWCA are a brilliant blue and they couldn’t be more beautiful.  Unfortunately the folks around Lake Delton in Wisconsin weren’t happy with the appearance of their lake and they spent almost $30,000 to make the lake more blue in color.

     I’ve never heard of giving a lake a dye job to make it look more appealing to visitors. That’s just what happened when 500 gallons of dye was injected into Lake Delton on July 12th. I guess you better read it to believe it.

LAKE DELTON — One of Wisconsin’s most famous lakes got a tint job two weeks ago.

The village of Lake Delton dyed the artificial body of water from green to blue — a cosmetic alteration that consumed 500 gallons of dye and $29,108 in taxpayer dollars.

The 267-acre lake, famous as the home of a water-ski show and for its dramatic draining during a flood in 2008, was “injected” with dye July 12 by Aquatic Engineering of La Crosse.

“The village requested we color the lake a pleasing blue, so that it replaces a scummy green,” said Josh Britton, of Aquatic Engineering.

The liquid dye, “AquaBlue,” is not harmful and there are no restrictions on its use, unlike pesticides, he said.

Britton, whose company has managed the lake for the village for 15 years, said this was the first time the lake has been dyed.

“Depending on rainfall and flow conditions, it is estimated it will stay a pleasing blue for 13 to 30 days,” he said.

The treatment brought criticism from the River Alliance of Wisconsin, which ridiculed the process in a blog (The River Rat) as “Delton’s Dubious Dye Dump,” noting that “this expensive, temporary, and downright foolish ‘fix’ won’t clean up Lake Delton in the long term.”

“From what we know about the dye, it is for use in confined bodies of water, ponds, not for a large lake,” said Matt Krueger of the alliance.

Village officials referred questions about the job to Britton.

“They (the village) wanted to turn the water a more appealing color so that it looks better for tourism and the public’s perception,” Britton said. “It will dissipate over time, the sun breaks it down, and it also flows over the dam.”

Britton said it was possible the lake will be dyed again once the blue flows away, adding that some dye could flow into the Wisconsin River from the lake. The Alliance said it already has.

The relatively shallow lake — it is 16 feet at its deepest, with a mean depth of 8 feet — has a problem with algae. Britton’s company does not use pesticides to treat algae on this lake, which he said would be “just treating the symptom, not the problem.”

When the dye first is added to the lake, the water becomes is a dark blue, he said, before getting lighter. It does not stain and does not harm people or lake life, he said.

Bill Cosh, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, said Aquatic Engineering’s general permit covers any runoff of the dye into the Wisconsin River.

“The question remains as to whether a permit was required to treat Lake Delton in the first place,” Cosh said, adding that the DNR had received six complaints as of last week. He said the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection was looking into whether this particular use of the dye in Lake Delton was an “acceptable use” of the product.

Tom Diehl, general manager of the Tommy Bartlett Show, a water-ski-based entertainment that has been a staple at Lake Delton for 60 years, also is a member of the Lake Delton village Board. He was one of four trustees who approved the dye job as an emergency measure July 9, said village clerk-treasurer Kay Mackesey.

Diehl said there is “no conflict whatsoever” in his participating in the vote, as “we’ve had lots of complaints from resort owners and people who use the lake about the pea-green color of the water this summer.”

“I certainly would always recuse myself at the village on anything that had to do with my business interests,” he said.

The village has long battled lake-related results of runoff, especially algae and weeds, he said. It is still “trying to get our hands around the effects of the lake drain in 2008.”

Major flooding that year caused the lake to overflow and break through a portion of the earthen barrier between it and the Wisconsin River. Several homes slid into the lake, which emptied, leaving a muddy expanse and costly rebuilding project.

At this point, Diehl said, the village probably has no interest in another full application of the dye this summer.

“It accomplished what we hoped, and we have had zero complaints from property owners,” Diehl said, adding that the blue dye hasn’t affected the bright white costumes worn by performers in the water-ski show.