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MPCA Report Reveals Water Quality Concerns

MPCA A report released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) provides additional evidence that agricultural and urban runoff is contributing significantly to the impairment of the State’s lakes, rivers, and streams. The study, which monitored half of the state’s 81 major watersheds, takes an in-depth look at the lakes and streams in major drainage areas. According to the MPCA, it is unlikely that current or new clean water funding can significantly improve the deteriorating conditions of many of the State’s waters unless the State employs new strategies to prevent the pollution from happening in the first place.

The “Swimmable, Fishable, Fixable?” study found that poor water quality is concentrated in certain regions of the state, especially in southern Minnesota. MPCA researchers noted that in heavily farmed areas, surrounding lakes and streams had high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. These high levels make it difficult to support aquatic life, and in some cases prohibit people from swimming in lakes and streams. The report’s findings conclude that poor water quality in southern Minnesota waters is caused predominantly by agricultural runoff. Urban areas also suffer from elevated levels of water pollution caused by runoff.

Key findings of the study include:

  • Urban and Agricultural Impact: Areas of Minnesota with larger human and livestock populations are struggling the most with water quality. According to the MPCA study, runoff from land under intense urban or agricultural uses has left half or less of the lakes in those areas clean enough for healthy aquatic life and enjoyable swimming.
  • Bacteria Levels: Higher levels of bacteria were discovered in many Minnesota waters. Generally, higher levels of bacteria indicate feedlot runoff or human waste in a water body, suggesting it may be unsafe for swimming and other recreation.
  • Mercury-Tainted Fish: Despite Minnesota’s progress in preventing mercury from entering lakes, rivers and streams from the State’s power utilities and other sources, the MPCA study concluded that mercury remains widely present in fish. The vast majority of lakes and streams examined in the study — 97 percent of 490 stream sections and 95 percent of 1,214 lakes studied — contain fish tainted by mercury.
  • High Levels of Nitrogen and Phosphorus: The MPCA study also found that watersheds that are heavily farmed or developed tend to have high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and suspended solids in their waters. Nitrogen and phosphorus can cause algal blooms, while suspended solids make the water murky. These pollutants hurt aquatic life and recreational opportunities.
  • Regional Variations: While urban and agricultural runoff were the general source of problems across the State, the types of pollution causing problems in specific bodies of water varied regionally. Typical problems included issues such as low oxygen levels, excess nutrients, excess sediment, disruption of natural water flows, a lack of habitat, and a lack of connectivity between different bodies of water.

In addition to identifying stressors and healthy conditions in Minnesota’s lakes and streams, the MPCA and partner agencies have recommended various strategies to restore and protect our waters.

Recommendations of the study include:

  • Stream Buffers
  • Nutrient and Manure Management
  • Stormwater Controls
  • In-Lake Treatments

The MPCA says that while most strategies are tailored for specific watersheds, some strategies call for stronger and more targeted application of State and local laws on feedlots, shoreland, septic systems, stormwater controls, and wastewater discharges.

If you have any questions concerning the content of this newsletter,
please contact Heather Syverson at 701-364-9111 or Heather.Syverson@ae2s.com.
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