If you are an angler, paddler, farmer, or otherwise interested in water quality, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) would like to hear from you on its statewide work plan for water quality standards.
These standards protect waters for uses such as drinking, fishing and swimming. The federal government requires all states to conduct a regular review of their water quality standards to decide which standards to revise or develop. This is called the triennial standards review, as it is completed every three years. The MPCA is holding its review right now, with the proposed work plan open for public comment through April 9.
“The public plays an important role in this process by helping the MPCA set priorities for changing and adding water quality standards. This is an opportunity to direct the agency’s work,” said Catherine Neuschler, water assessments section manager for the MPCA.
“What is your concern as far as water quality? Is a standard the best way to address it? What should the agency’s priorities be? Your comment can be as simple as whether you agree or disagree with the necessary changes we have identified, or that you would like to see a higher priority on a standard for a particular pollutant or concern,” Neuschler explains.
The work plan sets the MPCA’s priorities for changing or adopting water quality standards. These standards are designed to protect the beneficial uses of many classifications of water, including water used for drinking, to sustain aquatic life and recreation like fish and swimming, and for irrigation. There are many needed changes and additions to Minnesota’s water quality standards, so the work plan provides a clear picture of what the MPCA is actively working on based on the agency’s priorities, resources, and available scientific information.
Each standards project begins with scientists from the MPCA (and sometimes other agencies) reviewing and conducting research and evaluating data about the impacts of pollutants. When the research is completed, the MPCA begins the process of designing the water quality standards and implementation procedures. Adopting the revisions or new standards requires rulemaking, which is a separate process that also includes multiple opportunities for public comment.
The work plan includes all the water quality standards in development, including those already in the rulemaking process. Some are nearer the end of the process than the beginning. Those already far along in the process are likely to continue, so comments are most helpful in relation to what work should move forward into a more active phase of development.
Proposed work plan for 2021-2023, greatly simplified
Group 1 projects: These were selected as priorities in previous reviews and are in the early stages of rulemaking:
- Class 2A (cold) waters and Class 2B (cool and warm) waters: Update and align these designations with the improved tools now used by MPCA to assess whether Minnesota waters meet standards.
- Class 1 drinking water: Better define and protect waters used for drinking and food processing, and address inconsistencies and gaps in state rules.
Group 2A projects, selected as priorities in previous reviews and have technical information or knowledge already developed:
- Revisions to lake eutrophication standards: The agency is considering several changes to update these standards designed to protect lakes against excessive nutrient and algae levels that are detrimental to aquatic life and recreation.
- Nitrate standard to protect aquatic life: With federal studies complete, the MPCA can now work toward adopting a new standard for this nutrient that can be toxic to fish and other aquatic life.
- Ammonia standard to protect aquatic life: The MPCA intends to revise this standard in conjunction with a proposed nitrate standard.
- PFOS in fish tissue to protect human health: This new standard would address the large number of Minnesota waters that are impaired for PFOS, a group of several chemical compounds, in fish tissue.
- Aluminum, copper and cadmium to protect aquatic life: Revisions would address updated information from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on these metals.
The following standards are Group 2B projects, but need further evaluation of technical information and approaches before moving into Group 2A:
- Chloride to protect aquatic life
- Sulfate to protect aquatic life
Group 3 projects:
- Revisions to the Total Suspended Solids (TSS) standard for rivers: Total suspended solids make water cloudy, making it difficult for fish to find food, avoid predators and perform other life functions.
Learn more and share your opinion
- Visit this webpage: https://www.pca.state.mn.us/water/2020-triennial-standards-review.
- Attend a virtual public information meeting March 9, from 3:30 - 6 p.m., to hear details, ask questions, and provide comments in a live format:
- Go to https://minnesota.webex.com
- Enter the meeting number (access code): 146 409 0600; and password: dgPRGYPb274
- You may also join by phone: 1-415-655-0003; access code: 146 409 0600
- Submit comments to: email@example.com or Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; Attn: Catherine O’Dell; 520 Lafayette Road North; St. Paul, MN 55155-4194.
“The public meeting is great way to learn how Minnesota develops and adopts water quality standards. It’s a great primer for members of advocacy groups who plan to comment on future rules to adopt or revise standards,” Neuschler said. “Even if you don’t plan to comment on the work plan, I would encourage anyone interested in water quality standards to attend the meeting.”
After the public comment period ends, the MPCA will review all comments received, respond to them, and report out the final work plan for standards through 2023.