67 stream segments and 24 lakes in the Des Moines River Basin impaired for swimming and aquatic life

Contact: Forrest Peterson, 320-979-1776

According to three new reports released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and local partners, water quality in the rivers and lakes in the Des Moines River Basin generally suffer from too much sediment, bacteria, and nutrients that fuel algae growth. Sixty-seven stream reaches and 24 lakes failed to meet water quality standards for aquatic life and aquatic recreation, and could require multiple studies.

The MPCA issued a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) report for the entire river basin, and a second TMDL report on river phosphorus standards for two stream reaches. Both reports identified bodies of water that fail to meet water quality standards (known as “impaired” waters), the sources of pollution, and how much pollution reduction is needed to restore the waters’ ability to support swimming, fishing, and healthy fish and bug populations.

The TMDL reports list numerous impairments in the basin, including: two stream and 23 lake eutrophication (phosphorus), 10 Escherichia coli (E. coli) and 15 fecal coliform bacteria, 17 total suspended solids, one pH and one chloride. A TMDL is the total amount of a pollutant that a water body can accept and still meet water quality standards.

A third report, a Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) report, recommended ways to protect waters that are in good condition, and improve impaired waters.

The MPCA worked with the Heron Lake Watershed District (HLWD), soil and water conservation districts, counties, consultants, and other state agencies to promote civic engagement and collaboration. Involving landowners, providing information, and seeking public support have increased knowledge about the issues and promoted “best management practices” for protecting and improving water quality.

Since the Des Moines River Basin land use and pollutant sources are generally dominated by agriculture, reducing pollutant/stressor contributions from agricultural sources is a high priority. Some identified agriculture strategies and practices to reduce runoff and improve soil health include:

  • Plant cover crops
  • Use conservation tillage, no-till, strip till or ridge till
  • Decrease fertilizer use: reduce application rates, target application, use appropriate nutrient management
  • Diversify crops
  • Manure applied to cropland with improved application practices

The draft reports are available on the MPCA’s Des Moines River webpage. A public notice is posted on the MPCA’s Public Notices webpage. To submit comments or request information about the draft reports, contact Katherine Pekarek-Scott at 320-444-7186, katherine.pekarek-scott@state.mn.us, or Bryan Spindler at 507-344-5267, bryan.spindler@state.mn.us.

Written comments must be received by 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Comments must include a statement of the respondent’s interest in the report, and the action requested of the MPCA, including specific references to sections of the draft document(s) that should be changed, and the reasons for making those changes.

The Minnesota portion of the Des Moines River Basin covers 983,719 acres (1,537 square miles) and includes all of the Des Moines River Headwaters and parts of Lower Des Moines River and East Fork Des Moines River watersheds. The basin encompasses parts of Cottonwood, Jackson, Lyon, Martin, Murray, Nobles, and Pipestone counties.