More than 580 waters added to the state's impaired waters list

Contact: Stephen Mikkelson, 218-316-3887

In a new report released today, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) added 581 new water bodies with 728 new impairments to the state’s impaired waters list, bodies of water that do not meet water quality standards. More than a dozen watersheds were assessed in this report, including the Kettle, Otter Tail and Cottonwood Rivers. The list totals 5,774 impairments in 3,416 different bodies of water.

State and federal water quality standards are designed to protect lakes and streams for recreation, to support healthy fish and other aquatic life, and for other beneficial uses.

The 2020 impaired waters list includes water bodies in 14 watersheds:

  • 368 streams and 56 lakes that fail to adequately support fish and other aquatic life 
  • 69 streams and one Lake Superior beach that have bacteria levels high enough to potentially sicken recreational users
  • 51 lakes and three streams with high levels of nutrients (i.e. phosphorus and nitrogen)
  • 32 water bodies with excess levels of mercury in fish tissue

Eighty-five percent of Minnesota’s impairments are due to non-point pollution, including nitrogen, bacteria, chloride and phosphorus.

The 2020 impaired water list is the first to reflect the MPCA’s assessment of all 80 of the state’s major watersheds. The agency has completed its first cycle of statewide monitoring that began in 2008, as a result of funds from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

The 2020 impaired water list reflects the success of these efforts. The MPCA is proposing to remove four bodies of water from the list where restoration work has improved water quality. Sleepy Eye Lake (Brown County), Faille Lake (Todd County), and Waverly Lake (Wright County) now have nutrient levels low enough to meet recreational standards. Bacteria levels in a segment of Plum Creek (Stearns County) are now low enough to meet recreational goals.

Addressing impaired waters

Each of Minnesota's 80 watersheds must have a Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy developed by 2023. The WRAPS sums up years of research on water impairments, their causes, and proposed solutions to meet water quality goals, as well as set protection strategies for waters that are in good condition. Watershed districts then develop comprehensive watershed management plans focused on priority issues like flooding, habitat, water quality, and recreation. Those plans must be completed by 2025. Soil and Water Conservation Districts, watershed districts, water management organizations, cities, counties, and townships play significant roles in implementing each plan.

The agency comprehensively evaluated water quality in eight watersheds each year for 10 years. As it begins the next 10-year cycle of watershed monitoring, the MPCA will use the baseline data from the first cycle to begin tracking water-quality trends.

Public comment

Interested parties are invited to comment on Minnesota’s draft 2020 impaired waters list by January 14, 2020. The MPCA will respond to all comments it receives during the public notice period. The proposed list, accompanying documentation, and all comments and MPCA responses will be submitted to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its review and approval.

The MPCA will hold a series of public meetings in December to answer questions on the draft 2020 impaired waters list. Meeting details are posted on the Impaired waters list webpage.