The water is fine now, but Lone Star Lake someday could become contaminated if aging septic systems on lakefront properties fail, Douglas County health and government officials fear.
One solution would be construction of a public sewage system in the near future to serve those properties and head off a contamination problem. But it would be an expensive solution for those property owners, who would have to help pay.
"Doing a public system would cost lots and lots of money," County Administrator Craig Weinaug said.
Leaders of the Lone Star Property Owners Assn., however, say there are other, cheaper options for dealing with septic problems.
"There are a lot of different ways to dispose of waste," association president Claire Kuszmaul said. "I don't think there is that much to worry about."
Lone Star Lake, which is about 10 miles southwest of Lawrence, was built in the early 1930s as a Works Progress Administration project. Construction of cabins by fishermen and boating enthusiasts followed, and with them came outhouses and septic systems. They are still the primary human waste systems in use at the lake, officials said.
Kuszmaul said he was aware of about a dozen septic tank systems at the lake plus another six possible "ancient" septics that probably aren't being used anymore.
"There really aren't that many out there," Kuszmaul said.
But there are concerns. And some people want to build or expand their lakefront homes and cabins with modern amenities to live near the lake year-round, said Richard Ziesenis, director of environmental health with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.
Most lots at the lake are not big enough to accommodate the space requirements for new septic systems, he said.
"A lot of the homeowners, they don't want outhouses anymore," Ziesenis said. "They want modern conveniences, and having modern conveniences means using drastic amounts of more water than what they have been using in the past. You have to figure out a way to dispose of it."
About two years ago the county started testing the lake's water. So far the tests have shown the water is fine and there is no contamination, at least on the days of the tests, Ziesenis and Weinaug said. Several months ago, however, the county sent lake property owners a letter about the testing and making them aware that eventually there could be a problem and that it might be necessary to build a sewer system.
"We just wanted to give them the heads up that when something happens it is probably going to be very costly," Weinaug said.
The reaction of the property owners association was to search for alternatives for handling waste. The association already had started sponsoring periodic trash cleanup operations at the lake, Kuszmaul said. Last year Kuszmaul, property owner Bob Marsh and a few others brought their list of possible alternatives for handing sewage to the county's attention.
The consensus was an incinerator toilet, which reduces waste to a small pile of white ashes. Several lakefront homeowners reportedly have such devices already.
Another option is holding tanks, which are similar to septic tanks but which must be pumped out and hauled away by truck. There also are other filtering systems that could be considered, Kuszmaul and Marsh said.
"There are package systems that are sold by companies," said Marsh, a retired architect who lives in Ottawa but has a cabin at Lone Star. "They do a lot of pumping through filters."
The effort by the lake property owners has convinced the county to hold off on planning for a public sewage system.
"The homeowners association has actually taken a proactive stance to put off the day when they need to do something else," Weinaug said.
"We're just trying to be proactive and stay on top of it," Kuszmaul said.