Stakeholders in the Snake River Watershed north of the Twin Cities have preserved several natural areas that provide built-in resiliency to climate change, allowing sensitive species of fish to thrive, according to a recent report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
Heavy rain events often mean bad news for lakes, rivers, and streams as storms can easily lead to flooding and erosion that negatively impact water quality and aquatic life. A body of water is considered “impaired” if it fails to meet one or more water quality standards. The MPCA determines how much of a pollutant, such as bacteria or nutrients, can be in water before it is no longer drinkable, swimmable, fishable, or useable in other, designated ways. But when a watershed's natural area remain intact, where land hasn't been developed for agriculture or urban purposes, it can better handle major rain events. The landscape can absorb water with little to no impact on water quality or aquatic life.
Scientists consider this “resiliency,” and what’s happening in the Snake River Watershed as a great example of how to protect Minnesota waters from climate change. Climate change has led to unprecedented rainfalls, hailstorms, tornadoes, and droughts causing billions of dollars of damage. As the climate continues to warm, spring rainfall and annual precipitation are expected to increase, and rainstorms are likely to intensify and occur more frequently. These factors further increase the risk of flooding in Minnesota.
In 2017 and 2018, the Snake River Watershed-St. Croix River Basin, which covers more than 1,000 square miles stretching across six counties, several intense rain events led to flooding in the area. But intact wetlands, access to floodplains, and intact riparian land all helped preserve this watershed from erosion and soil runoff. Despite changes in land use and increased urban development, many of this watershed’s natural areas remain untouched and stable, helping to prevent additional impairments.
The MPCA first studied the Snake River Watershed in 2006. Scientists conducted a second cycle of intensive water monitoring in 2017-2018, which found that generally lakes and streams in this watershed remain in good condition, though there is some room for improvement and these waters must be preserved and protected to prevent future impairments.
Good water quality allows fish species that are sensitive to contaminants to thrive. During the latest round of monitoring, MPCA’s crew captured a lake sturgeon, a sensitive species of concern in Minnesota — a good indication that the population is reproducing and well established in the river. Monitoring crews found a variety of other sensitive species in the watershed, including northern hogsuckers and southern brook lamprey.
Learn more about this watershed, the MPCA’s water quality findings, and the continued work to preserve these waters on the Snake River Watershed-St. Crox River Basin webpage and our latest water quality report.