Types of water monitoring

Middle Cullen Lake, Nisswa, MN, MPCA staff photo

The MPCA conducts three basic types of water monitoring: condition monitoring, problem investigation monitoring, and effectiveness monitoring. This webpage focuses on MPCA's condition monitoring efforts. For more information about the various types of monitoring at the MPCA, please see the MPCA’s PDF icon Minnesota's Water Quality Monitoring Strategy - 2011 to 2021.

Condition monitoring

Condition monitoring is done to identify environmental status and trends by examining the condition of a water body to see if it meets established standards or reference conditions. The MPCA has a strategy to assess the condition of Minnesota’s waters via a 10-year cycle relying on a combination of MPCA monitoring; monitoring by other local, state and federal agencies; citizen monitoring; and remote sensing. An outcome of this monitoring is the identification of waters that are impaired (i.e., do not meet standards and need restoration; see Minnesota’s Impaired Waters List, and waters in need of further protection to prevent impairment. Over time, condition monitoring can also identify trends in water quality. This helps determine whether water quality conditions are improving or worsening, and identifies how management actions are improving the State’s waters overall.

Monitoring Report Cover

Condition monitoring design

The primary organizing approach to MPCA’s condition monitoring is the “major” watershed. There are 81 major watersheds in Minnesota. The MPCA has established a schedule for intensively monitoring each major watershed once every ten years, and the watershed outlets every year. For more information on our watershed approach to condition monitoring, see the following:

In addition to the watershed approach, the MPCA relies on probabilistic (random) surveys of Minnesota lakes, streams and wetlands to determine water quality condition and trends over time on a statewide, ecoregion or basin scale. Probabilistic studies allow the MPCA and others to gather in-depth information on sites that are representative of the state, ecoregion or basin as a whole. Click on the chart below to see the Probabilistic (Random) Monitoring Sampling Schedule. Targeted monitoring is also employed to collect information about specific water resources, such as reference lakes or wetlands, or milestone river sampling sites.

Problem investigation monitoring

Problem investigation monitoring involves investigating problems or threats to determine specific causes of impairments and to quantify inputs of pollution from various sources. It is also used to help determine the actions needed to protect or improve a water body so water quality standards are met.

Effectiveness monitoring

Effectiveness monitoring is done to determine the effectiveness of voluntary or regulatory management actions taken to remediate environmental problems or threats. Effectiveness monitoring can be done at a range of geographic scales, from evaluating individual best management practices to tracking water quality changes on a watershed scale.

For more information

For assistance or information about water quality condition monitoring efforts at the MPCA, contact:

Dana Vanderbosch
Water Monitoring Section Manager