New water quality reports: Phosphorus and bacteria are top challenges in Mississippi River-Sartell Area Watershed

Contact: Stephen Mikkelson 218-316-3887

According to new draft reports released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), surface waters in the Mississippi River – Sartell Watershed are in fair condition, but phosphorus and E. coli pollution are threatening aquatic life and recreation in several streams and lakes. In addition, a stretch of the Platte River was classified as an exceptional use stream and is a focus for protection.

The first report, known as a total maximum daily load (TMDL), establishes the amount of each pollutant that a water body can accept and still meet water quality standards, and the amount of reductions needed in current levels of pollution. Monitoring results indicate that 16 stretches of streams are not meeting water quality standards for aquatic life due to excess phosphorus and nitrates, and low dissolved oxygen, and 24 stream sections are not meeting aquatic recreation standards due to E. coli or fecal coliform bacteria.

The second report, a watershed restoration and protection strategy (WRAPS), is required by the state Clean Water Legacy Act and uses the TMDL, monitoring results, and other information to develop strategies for addressing all pollution sources in the watershed. The Mississippi River-Sartell WRAPS report recommended ways to reduce excess bacteria in streams, including:

  • Feedlot management practices
  • Septic system maintenance and upgrades
  • Pasture management
  • Stormwater control measures in cities and towns

Strategies for reducing phosphorus in lakes include internal lake and shoreline management, cover crops and living cover, low-till or no-till practices on farm fields, nutrient and fertilizer management, buffers, and septic system maintenance and upgrades.

The reports are 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 watershed monitoring, the agency and partners evaluate biological conditions in lakes and streams. Waters that fail to meet standards are placed on the Impaired Waters List, and the agency develops information and strategies that are used to restore impaired waters and protect healthy ones.

The Mississippi River – Sartell Watershed has 880 miles of rivers and streams, 232 lakes, and includes parts of Benton, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Stearns, and Todd counties.

While several bodies of water in the watershed do not meet water quality standards, a number of streams and lakes are demonstrating improving trends in water clarity. The watershed’s waterbodies provide important recreational and economic benefits to citizens and visitors. Watershed conditions are also critical to downstream waters, where both St. Cloud and the Twin Cities draw on the Mississippi River for drinking water.

The draft reports are available on the MPCA’s Mississippi River - Sartell Watershed webpage. Submit comments to or request information from Phil Votruba (218-316-3901, 800-657-3864), MPCA, 7678 College Road, Baxter, MN, 56425 by 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 14.

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