Water Quality


  • Stewards of the Cross Lake /Snake River of Pine County watershed. 
  • Coordinate weed surveying & spraying.
  • Facilitate water testing & monitoring.
  • Monitor for aquatic invasive species.
  • Champion projects related to water quality and shoreline management.
  • Secure and raise funds for initiatives requiring capital.


  • Semi-annual membership meetings with keynote speakers.
  • Crossings Newsletter containing informative articles related to water quality and lake shore management.
  • Host/partner workshops
  • Communications to members related to legislative, safety, situational and environmental awareness.


  • Advocate for our members and lake shore property owners.
  • Actively participate & support community events such as Freedom Fest,  Pine County Fair & Parade.
  • Host events for members and non-members to come together and fostering a sense of community.

History of Pine City


By Richard Olsenius, in his book MINNESOTA TRAVEL COMPANION, published by Bluestem Productions, Wayzata, Minnesota 1981.

As you drive north towards Pine City, the soil changes from a sandy loam to a sandy clay, and the oak, elm and maple trees become more interspersed with pine, spruce and tamarack.  Years before the whites settled in this area, the Ojibwe maintained a village here which they called “Chengwatana,” or Pine City.  When trading started  with the Indians, several posts were maintained here and at Pokegama Lake by the Snake River.  Even though the British had lost the Revolutionary War, The Northwest Fur Company, a British company, traded here with the Ojibwe in 1804.  Today a replica of the post is maintained by the Minnesota Historical Society.

When the military road was built through this region in 1854, a station for changing horses was constructed, giving added importance to this town.  Chengwatana became the county seat in 1856.  But when the Lake Superior and Mississippi Railroad passed on the west side of Cross Lake, a new town formed with an English translation of Chengwatana (Pine City) as its name.  It was only a short time before the county seat was moved from Chengwatana to Pine City.  By now the Ojibwe had been transferred to the White Earth Reservation and Chengwatana faded away.

By 1880 the lumber companies were cutting the huge white pine forests that stretched across the Snake River basin.  For years, the Snake carried the logs down the St. Croix and fed the mills of Stillwater, Winona and beyond.  Pine City became an outfitting center for the hundreds of men working in the forests.  In the fall, the city filled up with a rough crowd of lumberjacks waiting for the ground to freeze so they could begin their work.  The lumber industry believed these expansive forests were inexhaustible.  By the late 1890s, however, the logging industry was moving north, looking for the trees they thought would never disappear.  The problem now was what to do with the cut over, decimated land they left behind. 

The railroads, with their own interests in mind, began promoting this area as a farming region.  This promotion attracted a number of Bohemian immigrants who came here to farm.  Tourism started to affect Pine City and the nearby lakes.  By 1900 it became a fashionable weekend retreat for people from the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.  They came here to dance and dine at places like the “Tuxedo Inn”.  Steamboats even carried resorters around Lake Pokegama.  Pokegama is an Ojibwe word meaning, “water which justs out from another water.”  This is in reference to the closeness of Pokegama lake to the Snake River.


Up until the 1960s, almost everybody in this country used a bit of mussel every day:  They wore clothes with buttons made of mussel shells.  Beginning in the late 1800s, mussels were commercially harvested to make mother-of-pearl buttons.  It was a multimillion-dollar industry.  Thousands of people collected or sold mussels or worked in button factories.  Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River and the Snake River near Pine City were important button producers.  Overharvest and pollution reduced the mussel population.  Plastic eventually replaced shells for buttons.


Cross Lake/Snake River Information



–  Pine City, Pine County, Central Minnesota
–  938 acres – max depth 30 Ft
–  Public fishing pier located on Snake River across from public landing.

With Cross Lake to the east and Pokegama Lake to the west, the St. Croix River and the Upper and Lower Snake River nearby, this area is an all-season recreation haven.  Its over 50 miles of shoreline and 3,000 acres of navigable waterway make the area attractive to anglers, boaters and anyone looking to relax on the water.

Cross Lake anglers should expect moderate user pressure from both fishing and recreational boating.  Black and white crappie should provide anglers with ample opportunities to harvest fish near 8 inches.  Yellow perch and bluegill should also be available in good numbers, but their size may be unacceptable to some anglers.  Both northern pike and channel catfish offer anglers quality size angling with catfish being more abundant. Walleye, largemouth, and smallmouth bass abundance is presumably low.

Source: MN Department of natural Resources, 2000.



  •  In town off of Highway 61 (North side of Highway 61).  Two cement plank ramps, two docks, and parking for 20 vehicles.  Overflow parking is available.


  • East side of lake near outlet spillway.  Boat ramp is cement plank type and parking for 25 vehicles.  Established 1993.


  • Vehicle access off of 3rd Avenue in Pine City along SW end of lake.  Also, on the east side of the lake off of County Road 9.

What Color Is Cross Lake and the Snake River?

Brown . . . right?  Except when it’s green and foamy!  Sometimes the brown colored water seems quite clear and you can see into the water quite a few feet, while at other times the water looks murky brown or green.  And sometimes the lake smells . . . what’s going on here?

Experts will tell you that pure water is tasteless, odorless, colorless, transparent and dissolves many things naturally occurring on earth including many minerals, organic matter and even gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.  Water is the universal solvent and the basis for life on earth.

So where does the color come from?  The brown, tea-color of the lake and river largely is from bogs in the northern part of the Snake River watershed, but even our very small streams entering Cross Lake on the west, north and east are tea-colored.  Tannic acid from incompletely decomposed vegetation creates the color.  The water, if you were to boil it would even taste like tea.  (Of course, it has a lot of other junk in it I wouldn’t care to drink!)  Did you know that tannin is often found in our well water around Cross Lake, and along with iron in the water, causes a rusty appearance of the well water?

The green color of the lake and river during summer is from algae . . . we all know that.  Did you know that there are literally thousands of varieties of algae that have been around for billions of years?  Those that we have in our local fresh water have distinct life cycles and do not appear all at once during the year.

The string-like filamentous green algae are over-abundant here during the warm summer months, fed by excessive amounts of soluble phosphorous and nitrogen which have been deposited in the lake and river by runoff from rural and urban land, and our own shoreland.

Algae, although fundamental as a food and oxygen source for aquatic organisms, has been excessive.  We have had an algae bloom for a number of years.  In the summer, we see the result of our water pollution floating on Cross Lake, perhaps hung up on vegetation near shore like a smelly green blanket . . . the smell of decaying vegetation.

Another organism, blue-green algae, also like green algae, produces chlorophyll and in turn produces oxygen.  Some blue-green algae don’t even need to have nitrate dissolved in the water; they are actually capable of making their own from pure nitrogen gas derived from aid dissolved in the water.  But, they have to have phosphorous and we have been generous in feeding them!  They are primitive but extremely well adapted to varying conditions on earth.  Some of you recognize the presence of blue-green algae because the surface of the water may have a kind of paint-like look.  In fact, did you notice the greenish “painted” rip rap along our shores last summer?  Blue-green algae can be toxic, causing skin irritation or even death in animals and waterfowl that ingest large amounts.

But, why is the lake sometimes foamy?  The thick foam, churned up by wave action or by water flowing over rocks, is a natural byproduct of tannic acid and incompletely decomposed vegetation from bogs and wetlands . . . it is not from pollution.  Sometime, as we saw this spring, the foam leaves a white coating on the rocks along the shore.

We have found that any disturbance to the watershed, especially to the steep slopes and highly erosion-prone soil surrounding the Snake River and Cross Lake, leads to much higher levels of nutrients (especially phosphorous and nitrogen) in the lake and river.

Any disturbance such as building a cabin or home means months of exposed rains to wash away sediments.  Cutting the natural vegetation or fertilizing on the bluff and shoreland areas is generally unnecessary and causes serious consequences to the lake ecosystem.

What color is the lake and river?  We can’t do anything about the tea-color, but the next time you wonder why the lake is green and smelly, ask yourself, what have we (all of us, right here) done to make it that way?

We need to learn from our mistakes.  Read additional articles in coming issues about what you can and can’t do; should and shouldn’t do to your shoreline, the land upslope, and the water near shore.

Jerry Trent,

Water Quality Committee

Historical Crests of the Snake River Near Pine City

Year  Feet                   Year    Feet                 Year    Feet                 Year  Feet


Year  Feet                   Year    Feet                 Year    Feet                 Year  Feet

1950    9.80                 1965    9.56                 1980    5.07                 1995   6.60

1951                               1966    7.43                 1981    5.17                 1996    7.57

1952    8.30                 1967    8.10                 1982    7.48                 1997

1953    7.09                 1968    5.95                 1983    6.84                 1998    5.08

1954    8.13                 1969                               1984    8.22                 1999   6.71

1955    6.65                 1970    6.60                 1985    7.64                 2000    4.99

1956    8.09                 1971    7.65                 1986    8.33                 2001    9.23

1957    7.72                 1972    10.38              1987                               2002    7.50

1958    4.80                 1973    7.20                 1988                               2003    7.06

1959    4.88                 1974    6.64                 1989                               2004    6.26

1960    5.10                 1975    8.56                 1990                               2005    6.97

1961    5.33                 1976    7.45                 1991                               2006

1962    8.11                 1977    4.83                 1992    6.09                 2007    6.11

1963    5.77                 1978    7.02                 1993    5.39                 2008    7.00

1964    7.86                 1979    8.02                 1994    6.17                 2009    7.88

2010    6.24

2011    7.42

2012    7.93

2013    6.34

2014    7.76

“Crests” refers to the maximum depth of the river for that year at this location.  Note that the crest varies greatly from year to year and the maximum depends upon clustering of runoff events.

The National Weather Service lists 8 feet as some flooding of low areas, 9 feet as moderate flood stage and 11 feet as major flood stage at this location.  Flooding generally occurs in April-May as winter snow melt is accompanied by spring rains. Flooding is one significant factor causing more rapid shoreline erosion and loading of the Snake River and Cross Lake with sediment.  A separate cause of sedimentation is the result of swift runoff during heavy rains, which may or may not coincide with flooding.