Reports of child abuse in Otter Tail County dropped significantly in 2020, mirroring a nationwide trend that is thought to be connected to family isolation during the pandemic.

“Our families were more isolated than they have ever been,” Children and Family Services Supervisor Stephanie Olson told Otter Tail County Commissioners at their Tuesday, March 23, meeting. “The stress that our families and children have been living with in the past year will become known to us and we’ll have some work to do.”

Schools play a significant role in reporting cases of suspected abuse or neglect, but the pandemic closed or partially closed schools for a big part of 2020. Children were also isolated from other community groups and activities where concerns might have been noticed and reported.

Truancy was also a concern among students, as was chemical use and mental health concerns, she said.

In 2020, the department received 346 maltreatment reports and 83 child welfare reports. Human Services Director Deb Sjostrom said that’s about a 50% drop from the previous year.

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Of these, the county took further action on 290 maltreatment reports and 77 child welfare reports.

The commission declared April Child Abuse Prevention Month.

A LID for Lake Lida?

Saying their lake association is going broke fighting invasive plants on Lake Lida, some property owners are trying to create a district that would enable it to use property tax dollars.

Last May, the Lake Lida Property Owners Association started a petition drive to form a Lake Improvement District, generally referred to as a LID, and gathered more than 450 signatures, said Dave Hilber, association president.

Concerns about Lake Lida have been growing since a large algal bloom in 2018, Hilber said. They suspected the bloom was caused by invasive species on Lake Lida, which is north of Maplewood State Park, and divided into the north and south lakes.

“We’ve been treating curly leaf pondweed on south Lake Lida for three years and basically we’re going broke,” Hilber said. “It sort of pushed this whole idea of what we could use to keep the water quality in the lakes where it needs to be.”

Commission Chairman Lee Rogness said LIDs can benefit lakes, but that the commission has had positive and disappointing experiences with them.

“Property owners could petition a referendum vote (to prevent a LID) which could be the demise of a lot of work,” he said. “So we really encourage that to be well done and well established in the front so we won’t have it torpedoed if you will from behind.”

Hilber said organizers have been communicating with all those affected by the district.

By law, the county will schedule a public hearing and the county commission has the power to grant or deny the LID.

A dock is situated near a boat launch area on the south arm of Lake Lida in Maplewood State Park.Dave Wallis / The Forum
A dock is situated near a boat launch area on the south arm of Lake Lida in Maplewood State Park.Dave Wallis / The Forum

Most streams, lakes doing OK

Only 30 of the 1,300 lakes in the Otter Tail River Watershed are listed as impaired, commissioners learned while getting briefed on a lake quality report that will be released for public comment in early April.

“It’s not a lot of lakes. It’s a lot of smaller lakes, and that’s really good news,” said Ben Underhill, water planner and watershed coordinator of the East Otter Tail Water and Soil Conservation. “There’s a lot of water in the watershed and not much impairment.”

Also, he said, of 231 stream reaches, only 13 are impaired.

“The most common impairment for these is e. coli, there being a little too much bacteria in water, making it a little unsafe for swimming,” he said.

The Otter Tail River Watershed covers most of Otter Tail County, extends into Becker County and touches Clearwater and Clay counties. The Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy report will be available on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s website, www.pca.state.mn.us/water/watersheds/otter-tail-river.

Only nine lakes in the watershed have declining trends, meaning they are starting to get worse, Underhill said. Of those nine, four lakes are in Otter Tail County: Paul, Pickerel, Belmont, and Boedigheimer.

The report includes ways to protect the watershed, including lining creeks and rivers with native vegetation and discouraging overgrazing.

Action will be complicated by the warmer, wetter weather brought on by climate change, Underhill said.

“There are a couple of lakes that are supposed to be deep water, cold water refuges for fish such as cisco,” he said. “With increasing temperatures, that makes it more difficult and those lakes, just through climate change, can have issues meeting those requirements.”

He cited reports indicating that water quality is linked to property values, and said that improvement projects can bring grant money into Otter Tail County.

Other action and reports:

  • Saying he’s heard that some student drivers have had to travel to Minneapolis for their driving tests, Deputy County Administrator Nick Leonard said the county was planning to meet Wednesday, March 23, with schools, employers and contractors who want the state driver’s license office to re-open in Fergus Falls. Twenty of 100 driver’s centers across the state have reopened, and Otter Tail County wants to be next.

  • A public hearing on building Ditch 45 to drain Lake Nelson is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, April 5, at the Prairie Event Center located at 201 West Main St. in Parkers Prairie.

  • Public Health Director Jody Lien said 68.8% of those 65 and up in Otter Tail County have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. That’s still lower than the recommended 79-80%, but the number might grow as snowbirds return home, she said.

  • The commission declared April 5-11 Public Health Week in Otter Tail County and gave public health workers a round of hearty applause.