2018 Impaired waters list: Success stories surfacing for Minnesota lakes, streams

Contact: Cathy Rofshus, 507-383-5949

As Minnesota continues its statewide checkup of waters and lists those failing to meet standards, some good examples of protective and restorative work are starting to surface.

Water bodies that fail to meet standards are considered impaired. The impaired waters list represents an assessment of how well lakes and streams support fishing, swimming, and other beneficial uses. This assessment is mandated by federal law and requires a cleanup study for each impaired water body.

Success stories

For the first time, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is proposing to remove an impairment listing for PCBs. Fish sampled in the Red River of the North now have PCB levels low enough to meet the standard for consumption, though some impairments like mercury remain.

PCBs — polychlorinated biphenyls — were chemicals once used as insulators in electrical equipment and for other purposes. They were banned in 1979 because of their potential risks to human and environmental health. Though scientists cannot pinpoint the reasons for lower levels of PCBs in the Red River in northwest Minnesota, it’s likely because PCBs have declined in the environment over the past 38 years.

Additionally, the MPCA is proposing to remove nine water bodies from the list because of restorative actions to improve water quality:

  • First Fulda Lake (Murray County) now has nutrient levels low enough to meet recreation standards.
  • The Poplar River (Superior Hiking Trail Bridge to Lake Superior, in Cook County) is now clear enough to meet the standard for aquatic life such as fish.
  • Bryant Lake (Hennepin County), Crystal Lake (Dakota County), Gem Lake (Ramsey County), McMahon Lake (Scott County), and Mitchell Lake (Hennepin County) now have nutrient levels low enough to meet recreation standards.
  • Seven Mile Creek (Nicollet County) now has pesticide levels low enough to meet the standard for aquatic life such as fish.
  • The Clearwater River from Judicial Ditch 1 to the Lost River (Red Lake County), and from Ruffy Brook to Judicial Ditch 1 (Clearwater County), now has oxygen levels high enough to meet the standard for aquatic life such as fish.

Some common restoration actions include stabilizing streambanks, holding back water long enough to let sediment settle out, and better management of fertilizer.

New lakes, streams added to impaired waters list

There are, of course, new impairments proposed for the 2018 list. Highlights include:

  • 201 streams and 23 lakes that cannot fully support aquatic life. These bodies of water fail to support the number and quality of aquatic life — fish and bugs — that they should support according to research. Restoring these fish and bug communities often means improving habitat conditions along with decreasing pollutants such as nutrients that cause algae and sediment that clouds the water. Extensive tile drainage for cropland also changes the movement of water and can hurt aquatic life.
  • 100 streams with elevated bacteria levels, most of them in the Red River basin in northwest Minnesota. These waters have bacteria levels too high to meet the recreation standard because of the increased risk of illness from contact. The proposed impairments follow MPCA studies of watersheds, meaning impairments can be clustered by study locations. The agency recently finished monitoring and assessment of several water bodies in the Red River basin. Sources of bacteria can include manure runoff, livestock in streams, failing sewer systems, and in remote areas, wildlife.
  • 55 lakes and streams with high levels of nutrients. These waters fail to meet the nutrient standards designed to prevent algae detrimental to aquatic life and recreation like fishing and swimming. Sources of nutrients include wastewater, manure runoff, and fertilizer runoff and leaching.
  • 32 water bodies with mercury levels in fish tissue that are too high to meet standards. Mercury can be toxic to humans and that’s why the state of Minnesota issues consumption advisories for fish. The largest sources of mercury in Minnesota’s environment come from air emissions like coal burning and taconite. About 90% of the mercury deposited on Minnesota comes from other states and countries.
  • 3 streams that fail to meet the chloride standard designed to protect aquatic life. These proposed listings highlight Minnesota’s emerging problem of salty water posing a risk to its fresh water species. For more information, visit the Salty water a growing problem webpage.

Summary of numbers

In all, the number of impaired Minnesota waters on the draft 2018 impaired waters list totals 5,101 impairments, with 618 new listings, covering a total of 2,669 water bodies across the state (many water bodies are impaired by several pollutants). Minnesota is detecting more waters in trouble because of its 10-year plan to study all 80 major watersheds in the state, funded by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. The MPCA has started this study in all but a few watersheds.

While scientists find more impairments, the overall percentage of impaired waters in Minnesota remains at 40 percent. The other 60 percent are in good condition and need protective strategies to stay healthy.

Improving water quality 25% by 2025

Gov. Mark Dayton has announced a new “25 by ‘25” water quality goal, which would spur innovation and collaboration around strategies to improve Minnesota’s water quality 25 percent by 2025. Without additional action, the quality of Minnesota’s waters is expected to improve only 6 to 8 percent by 2034.

Dayton’s “25 by ‘25” water quality goal would not add additional regulations. It is instead a call to action to drive public engagement and partnerships to address the state’s growing water quality issues. The goal also would be flexible, allowing Minnesota’s local watersheds to decide which pollutants to address and strategies to employ.

Improving water quality by 25 percent by 2025 would not entirely eliminate the threats and challenges to Minnesota’s waters. But setting and achieving this goal would make a significant impact on the quality of the state’s waters and ensure they are more swimmable, fishable, and drinkable for future generations.

Public meetings

The MPCA will hold four public meetings in November on the draft 2018 impaired waters list, including the delistings and impairments proposed. You may attend in person or participate live online by following the WebEx links below. Email miranda.nichols@state.mn.us to request additional information for any of the meetings.

Northwest — RESCHEDULED: Tuesday, Nov. 21, 1 p.m.

Detroit Lakes MPCA, 714 Lake Ave., Suite 220, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501

Join the online meeting:

For the presentation, go to www.webex.com. Click "Join" and enter the information below. 

  • For the audio, call 1-844-302-0362
  • Meeting number (access code): 592 909 693
  • Meeting password: UraZmKh5

Northeast — Thursday, Nov. 9, 9:30 a.m.

Blandin Foundation, 100 North Pokegama Ave., Grand Rapids, MN 55744

Vermilion Community College – Fine Arts Building Room 105, 1900 E. Camp St. Ely, MN 55731

Oveson’s Pelican Lake Resort – Board Room, 4675 U.S. Hwy 53, Orr, MN 55771

Join the online meeting:

  • For the presentation go to www.webex.com. Click "Join" and enter the information below. 
  • For the audio, call 1-844-302-0362.
  • Meeting number (access code): 597 969 123
  • Meeting password: Peexuwj3

South/Southeast — Monday, Nov. 13, 9 a.m.

St. Paul MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd N, St. Paul, MN 55155

Mankato MPCA, 12 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 2165, Mankato, MN 56001

Rochester MPCA, 18 Wood Lake Drive SE, Rochester, MN 55904

Join the online meeting:

  • For the presentation go to www.webex.com. Click "Join" and enter the information below.
  • For the audio, call 1-844-302-0362.
  • Meeting number (access code): 593 727 584
  • Meeting password: tKPJGRX4

Southwest — Thursday, Nov. 16, 1 p.m.

Marshall MPCA, 504 Fairgrounds Rd, Suite 200 Marshall, MN 56258

Join the online meeting:

  • For the presentation go to www.webex.com.Click "Join" and enter the information below.
  • For the audio, call 1-844-302-0362.
  • Meeting number (access code): 598 821 807
  • Meeting password: 3tGPRbkH

Public comments invited

Interested parties may comment on Minnesota’s draft 2018 impaired waters list later this year. Sign up for updates on the MPCA’s impaired waters page.

All comments received during that period, and agency responses, will be forwarded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with the proposed list and accompanying documentation, for its review and approval.

For more information

Visit the MPCA's impaired waters page by going to www.pca.state.mn.us and search for “impaired waters list.”