$100 million in investments account for healthier Sauk River Chain of Lakes; further protection still needed

Stephen Mikkelson 218-316-3887

Recognizing two decades of locally driven partnerships aimed at improving water quality in the Sauk River Chain of Lakes, a new Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) report calls for continued work in this complex system of reservoirs and flowages, to address too-high phosphorus levels.

The MPCA report, known as a total maximum daily load (TMDL), establishes the amount of a given pollutant that a water body can accept and still meet water quality standards. This report covers 14 lakes and tributaries that make up the Sauk River chain, including four lakes connected from the south by Eden Valley Creek. Area landowners, lake associations, and soil and water conservation districts have worked diligently to reduce phosphorus loading by nearly 70 percent in this chain of lakes. However, additional reductions are required to meet more recently approved and site-specific water quality standards. This report calls for phosphorus reductions of 30 to 50 percent more in the Sauk River lakes, and about 80 percent in the Eden Valley Creek lakes.

The Stearns County watershed is an example of the complexities related to managing Minnesota’s waterways — and how collaboration among diverse partners and best management practices can lead to success. Local, state, and federal partners have sponsored nutrient and sediment reduction programs over the past 25 years that have collectively reduced phosphorus by about 68 percent at the Richmond inlet to the Sauk River Chain of Lakes.

The Sauk River was one of the first basins in Minnesota to evaluate and assign basin-wide phosphorus effluent limits. That action spurred local governments to make significant wastewater treatment facility upgrades and the agricultural community to put in place substantial water-protection practices such as conservation tillage, buffer strips, and shoreline restorations, and septic system upgrades. These projects have totaled nearly $100 million.

This report is a revised version initially opened for public notice in 2014. It includes an additional wasteload allocation for a wastewater treatment facility in the watershed. After public notices, receiving U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approval of the TMDL will ensure that water quality progress can continue in the watershed.

The TMDL report is part of the MPCA’s approach to gauging the health of Minnesota’s 80 major watersheds, each of which will have an approved comprehensive watershed management plan by 2025. After intensive water monitoring, the agency and partners evaluate biological conditions in lakes and streams. The MPCA places waters that fail to meet standards on the Impaired Waters List, and develops information and strategies to restore impaired waters and protect healthy ones. The Sauk River Watershed is in its second cycle of the watershed approach and has recently completed its One Watershed, One Plan.

The draft report is available on the MPCA’s Public Notices webpage. Submit comments to or request information from Scott Lucas (218-833-9843, 800-657-3864), MPCA, 7678 College Road, Baxter, MN, 56425 by 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 30.

Written comments must include a statement of the respondent’s interest in the report, and the action requested of the MPCA, including specific changes to sections of the draft report and the reasons for making those changes.