I recently found myself plucking an interesting juxtaposition out of the waters of another famous Iowa lake. My family returned to roost in Clear Lake this past Fourth of July. From tourist traffic, to fireworks to zebra mussels, Clear Lake is very similar to the Lakes Area in this corner of the state. So, with all that in mind, it’s possible I should have predicted said juxtaposition waiting for me in the waters of my former hometown.
The family set out to have a morning at the beach, and I began combing the shallows for a handful of ideal skipping rocks. I soon noticed scraps and shards of plastic bobbing under the surface and snatched them up as best I could. After I had stuffed the first few pieces of trash in my pocket, I realized they were from the shell casings of the previous night’s fireworks display – or at least from an amateur display, which I’m sure had all the proper permits as required by state and local law. A short distance down the shore, between a piece of cardboard tubing and a Capri Sun pouch, I saw another piece of unwanted jetsam bobbing in the waves – curlyleaf pondweed in this case.
Like I mentioned, Clear Lake is not so different from Spirit Lake or either Lake Okoboji. I don’t know exactly how long curlyleaf has been in Clear Lake but, being as it’s an invasive species, it’s a safe bet that it got there the same way – that is to say, us.
That image stuck in my mind as I watched that broken curlyleaf stem swish back and forth in the water. They were both there because we put them there. Neither plastic nor curlyleaf belong in Iowa’s lakes yet, one way or another, they got there because of our relationship with the lakes. I realize the plastic wrap from the fireworks may not immediately have a huge environmental impact, but I think it begs a larger question.
Obviously, we want people to come and spend money at our local eateries, hotels and shops. So to bring them in, we put on exciting events, cool concerts and fantastic fireworks. Yet, if we don’t get the trash out of the lake or if we don’t clean, drain and dry our boats, hoists and anything else like the DNR recommends, we’re actually diminishing the very attraction that’s sustaining our community. It’s something of a trade-off, unfortunately – a balance the DNR and local chambers of commerce do their best to achieve. I’m not saying we should pull the plug on boat traffic, fishing tournaments or fireworks. I’m saying we should be as concerned about the health of Iowa’s lakes as we are concerned about economic growth.
Personally, I believe lake-side communities will have to make some pretty hefty decisions in the near future as to which of those is more important. So let me say this. If the effort we put into maintaining the lakes is at least equal to the economic boost they give us, then this is symbiosis – a mutually beneficial existence. If we take more from the lakes than we give back, we are parasites. That way lies a dangerous path, because if the lakes should die, so shall our community.