Nutrient reduction strategy

Working to reduce nutrients in Minnesota's waters

Cannon RiverExcessive nutrients pose a significant problem for Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, as well as downstream waters including the Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg, Mississippi River, and Gulf of Mexico. Nutrients are important for human and aquatic life. However, when levels exceed normal conditions, problems can include excessive algae growth, low levels of oxygen, toxicity to aquatic life and unhealthy drinking water.

Nutrients come into lakes and rivers primarily from agricultural and urban lands, and in discharges of wastewater from treatment systems.

The Minnesota Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS) outlines how Minnesota will reduce nutrient pollution in its lakes and streams, and reduce the impact downstream. 

The strategy specifies goals and provides a framework for reducing phosphorus and nitrogen levels. The NRS, adopted by 11 organizations in 2014, calls for reducing nutrient levels in major rivers by 10-20% by 2025, with much higher long-term reductions by 2040.

Nutrient reduction strategy

The Minnesota NRS has guided the state in reducing excess nutrients in waters so that in-state and downstream water quality goals are ultimately met. Fundamental elements of the NRS include: Clear goals, building on current efforts, prioritizing problems and solutions, supporting local planning and implementation, and improving tracking and accountability. Successful implementation of the NRS will require broad support, coordination, and collaboration among agencies, academia, local government, private industry, and citizens.

Why is nutrient reduction important?

Swimmers in Lake PepinIn Minnesota. Water is one of Minnesota's most abundant and precious resources. In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota's tourism and economy depend on healthy waters that provide recreational opportunities, safe drinking water, productive agriculture, healthy fish and wildlife habitat.

The goal is for lakes and streams to be fishable and swimmable for Minnesotans and visitors. However, fishable and swimmable isn't always possible due to excessive levels of nutrients entering our waters from a variety of activities on the land.

Hypoxia mapDownstream. Minnesota is a headwaters state, meaning major river systems start here and flow downstream to other states and Canada. Nutrient pollution that starts in Minnesota doesn’t stay here. It flows downstream to other people who need clean water, too.

Minnesota is home to headwaters for three major drainage basins: the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes, and Lake Winnipeg. All are facing significant water quality issues, the most prominent being the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is suffering from extreme low dissolved oxygen leading to a condition known as hypoxia.

Each of the 12 states contributing to the hypoxic conditions in the Gulf of Mexico, and participating on the Hypoxia Task Force, have completed and are implementing their own Nutrient Reduction Strategies.

For more information

David Wall, MPCA research scientist: or 651-757-2806