How's the water? MPCA, local partners finding out

Contact: Steve Mikkelson, 218-316-3887

Monitoring crews from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and its local partners are beginning the final phase of a 10-year effort to assess the condition of rivers, streams, and lakes in Minnesota. In addition, crews will begin tracking progress in a few watersheds that were among the first to be studied intensely. This work is funded by the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2008.

The most intensive monitoring activities will focus on six of Minnesota’s 80 major watersheds. Each watershed is comprised of a network of interconnected streams, lakes, ditches, and wetlands. The intent is to develop a complete picture of conditions of various water bodies within each watershed.

This effort includes studying the biology in the watershed. Biological monitoring is designed to measure and evaluate the condition of rivers and streams by studying the fish and aquatic invertebrates, as well as habitat, flow, and water chemistry. Examples of aquatic invertebrates include insect larvae, crayfish, snails, small clams, worms, and leeches.

Two teams will do the biological monitoring, one out of Brainerd and one out of St. Paul. This summer, the north team will work in Lower Rainy River, Rapid, and Rainy Lake watersheds in far northern Minnesota. The south team will work in the Blue Earth, Cottonwood, and Redwood River watersheds. The south team will also monitor the St. Croix River along the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin. Monitoring to track progress from the first 10- year period will occur in the North Fork Crow, Pomme de Terre, and Snake River watersheds. 

To see biological monitoring teams in action, you can watch short videos on fish sampling and invertebrate sampling on the MPCA’s biological monitoring webpage.

In addition, other MPCA crews will conduct monitoring to determine the quality of lakes and wetlands and determine watershed pollutant loads. The MPCA Water Quality Monitoring Unit will collect water chemistry data on lakes and streams in each watershed and at numerous locations along the Rainy River and St. Croix rivers. The MPCA is committed to monitoring all lakes greater than 500 acres in size, and as many lakes over 100 acres as possible. The lake monitoring teams will focus on water clarity, nutrient concentrations and other water chemistry parameters to assess lakes for their ability to support recreational uses. MPCA will also partner with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to gather fish and plant data to help determine the health of lake aquatic communities.

Other MPCA monitoring staff, working with the DNR and local water resource managers, will continue to track flow, pollutant loads, and water quality trends on all the state’s largest rivers, on a majority of tributary rivers, and at 125 additional river and stream stations.

Wetland monitoring crews will sample plants and invertebrates in 100 randomly picked wetlands statewide to determine wetland condition across Minnesota. They will be doing this work as part of a national survey of wetlands across the United States. This will be the second survey of this type, which was last done in 2012.

The MPCA also relies on a large contingent of volunteers and local partners to collect water quality data on lakes and streams. Several groups have received funds through Surface Water Assessment Grants to do this work.

The MPCA has standards for what the biology and water chemistry should look like at a given sampling location. If samples do not meet those expectations, the sampling location could be considered impaired, and restoration activities will be explored. For lakes and streams that are meeting standards, protection strategies may be warranted.

For more information about these monitoring program activities, visit the MPCA’s water quality condition monitoring webpage.