Lake associations are considered front-line defenders of Minnesota waters.
On Lake Andrusia east of Bemidji, association members commit hundreds of volunteer hours monitoring water quality, fighting over-development and watching out for things like excessive weed growth and invasive species.
Association member David Quam says lake dwellers are passionate about keeping their lakes healthy.
"We're very cognizant of the fact that we're representing everybody in Minnesota when we're dealing with one lake out of, what do they say, 10,000," said Quam. "Our interest is here because we live here. And it's our responsibility, as a host living on this lake, to take care of it for everybody."
Quam says Lake Andrusia residents have neither the expertise nor the financial resources to take care of all of the lake's water quality needs.
Often they pay for their association programs themselves. Sometimes they get private grants. Sometimes they turn to the state for help, but Quam says that can be a slow process.
"If we were to put an application in to the DNR for something in particular, there's so many programs in the DNR, our application would probably just be lost," Quam said. "With the star lake program, it's engineered to look at what we need and nobody else.
The star lake proposal was authored by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji. She says the bill is designed to harness the power of lake associations.
“It's our responsibility, as a host living on this lake, to take care of it for everybody.”David Quam, Lake Andrusia Association member
"The idea that I had was to promote a public-private partnership to recognize and reward lake associations that are engaged in these good lake management efforts, and also to look at what we could be doing as a state to work more cooperatively with the lake associations and take advantage of the volunteer efforts that they're already making," said Olson.
Olson's bill sets up a list of criteria lake associations must meet before they're given star lake status. That includes developing a comprehensive lake management plan and participating in water quality monitoring.
They must also have a plan to address invasive species and maintain a healthy fishery.
Along with a roadway sign proclaiming star lake status, program participants could be given priority when applying for help from the DNR and other state environmental agencies.
Olson says the program would encourage more lake dwellers to be proactive in caring for their waters.
"They are kind of a list of things that we should be doing," Olson said. "They're not necessarily required by law, but they're things that are good for the health of the lake, and in the long run could really save taxpayer dollars from having to come back later and trying to spend resources cleaning up our lakes."
Olson says the star lake program would set up a fund using private donations from foundations, environmental groups or individuals, and possibly money from the state. Lake associations could eventually tap into that money to help fund water quality projects.
Managing the fund and awarding star lake status would be done by a volunteer board of private citizens.
Olson's bill has broad support from lake associations and some environmental groups.
Henry Van Offelen, a natural resource scientist with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, says he supports the measure, but it reminds him of Minnesota's star cities program from a few years ago.
That program was discontinued. The only evidence left are roadsigns identifying cities that got the star designation. Van Offelen says lawmakers need to make sure the star lake program actively promotes healthy lake stewardship.
"It's easy to do things that make everyone feel good," said Van Offelen. We don't want this to be some sort of placebo that says, yes, we did something for our lakes, we have a star lake program that's going to help our lakes forever. We don't want that. We want something that's meaningful."
Of all the lakes in Minnesota, only about 1,000 of them have organized lake associations. And observers say right now only about 100 of those groups have the sort of lake management plan in place that might qualify them as a star lake.