To answer this question, the MPCA is starting its second cycle of watershed monitoring throughout Minnesota this year, circling back to watersheds first monitored this way in 2008. Funded in a large part by the Legacy Amendment, this monitoring examines fish and other aquatic life in addition to levels of pollutants like nutrients and bacteria. Under this approach, the agency will examine all 80 major watersheds in the state every 10 years.
Ten years ago, the MPCA did water monitoring in the Root, Le Sueur, Mississippi River-Lake Pepin, Little Fork and Sauk river watersheds. The agency will return this year to see if conditions are improving or declining. This second round of monitoring will focus on detecting changes and filling in data gaps to further inform on-the-ground practices.
Initially, staff will contact landowners in these watersheds to let them know about the monitoring and gain permission to sample stations on their property. From mid-June through September, the MPCA will sample rivers, streams, and ditches for fish, aquatic insects, habitat, and water chemistry. Staff biologists will sample about 85 stations across the watersheds in the north and 128 in the south.
In addition to MPCA monitoring, local partners like watershed districts, Soil and Water Conservation Districts, watershed non-profit groups, and citizen volunteers will study lakes and streams across Minnesota. The agency will use all this data to determine if waters meet standards designed to make sure they are swimmable and fishable.
Because of extreme weather last year, the MPCA will do follow-up monitoring at about 50 stations in the north and 40 in the south, including Pomme de Terre, Snake, Redwood, Cottonwood, Blue Earth, Rapid, Lower Rainy, and North Fork Crow rivers. Heavy rains and high flows in the south and severe drought conditions in the north last summer prevented completion of monitoring efforts.
MPCA scientists will also continue to monitor about 30 long-term biological monitoring network stations, which are intended to track conditions and/or changes over time across the state.
Related media coverage: Minnesota's big water ambitions yield benefits, no simple answers in the StarTribune.