Saving lakes from wastewater pollution continues as high priority for Pelican Lake chain officials

By Louis Hoglund

A view of Pelican Lake from the DNR boat landing, on the southwest shore of the lake. Boat traffic was light on this windy, overcast day; but this Pelican Lake access is typically one of the busiest in the region.

“Urbanization” of lakeshore areas brings a flood of environmental issues, from stormwater runoff into the lakes—to increased boat activity to road traffic. 

Wastewater—what to do with it and how to treat it on densely developed shorelines—is perhaps the top urban issue. 

Pelican Lake, with more than 1,200 developed parcels, is among the most “urban” of the Otter Tail-Becker lakes area. 

Sewage treatment in densely developed neighborhoods is prompting an engineering report and feasibility study. Concerned about limited on-site treatment capacity and soil conditions, the Pelican Group of Lakes Improvement District is on the verge of pulling the trigger for a Pelican Lake-wide study. Grants and financing are being considered. 

“We’re in very initial discussions…” said PGOLID board member Bob Leonard. This could include the possibility of an extensive collection and treatment system. “It’s a very long-term project. It won’t happen today or tomorrow.”

Small and oddly configured lots, unable to meet septic system setback and percolation standards, are a problem around nearly all lakes. And Pelican is no exception. 

“Cluster” drain field systems are an alternative—collecting wastewater from multiple property owners. 

But rapid backlot development is further limiting off-lake parcels that could support large, multi-property drain fields. 

Pelican Lake meetings in 2022

Saturday, August 13
9:00 a.m., the Pelican Group of Lakes Improvement District Annual Meeting – Dunn Township Hall

Saturday, July 30
8:30 a.m., Pelican Lakes Property Owners Association Board Meeting

9:30 a.m. annual PLPOA Member Breakfast

10:00 a.m. Annual Membership Meeting

“A lot of potential places for drain fields won’t be there in the future,” said PGOLID lake coordinator Steve Henry.

Soil limitations also restrict on-site systems. Based on a 2004 study, nearly 55 percent of the acreage around the Pelican chain has “severe soil limitations” based on the distance to groundwater. Further, many areas are identified for pool filtration. 

Enclosed holding tanks, which collect all wastewater and gray water, are increasingly expensive to pump—as high as $500 per single tank, several times per year, said Henry. About 31 percent of lake home treatment systems are holding tanks. 

About 62 percent of Pelican Lake’s on-site systems are 20 years old. And the lifespans are generally not much more than 30 years. 

“No matter what you do, septic drainfields have a finite life span—and you eventually have to replace them,” said Leonard.  

Wastewater collection around Pelican Lake, and pumping to municipal treatment facilities in Pelican Rapids or Detroit Lakes, have been discussed over the years. This would be a costly long-range solution—but there are no inexpensive solutions remaining. 

The feasibility study would likely take a multi-faceted approach. “Cluster” systems and neighborhood collection of wastewater would be the most likely, said Henry.

“It’s a huge project, but we want the lake to be pristine for the next generation,” said Leonard.