What we're doing and what you can do

What the MPCA is doing

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency monitors environmental quality, offers technical and financial assistance, and enforces environmental regulations. The agency finds and cleans up spills or leaks that can affect our health and environment. Staff develop statewide policy, and support environmental education.

As a regulatory agency, the MPCA's job is to limit pollution caused by businesses, organizations, and individuals in order to protect human health and the environment. However, our activities are increasingly focused on preventing pollution, rather than just controlling it.

Man kneels on dock putting together water monitoring equipment.

Watershed management

The MPCA is more than halfway through a 10-year monitoring cycle for the state’s 80 watersheds. The agency’s watershed approach involves intensively monitoring stream and lake water conditions in each watershed on a rotating basis, with the help of local partners. Approximately eight watersheds are monitored each year over a 10 year period, until all have been evaluated, and then the process begins again. Monitoring:

  • determines the overall health of the watershed’s water resources
  • identifies impaired waters and those that need protection to prevent impairments

Follow-up monitoring determines the cause(s) of any impairments, and then a restoration plan and/or protection strategy is created for the watershed. At that point, partnering agencies and watershed stakeholders — such as counties, watershed organizations, soil and water conservation districts, and citizens — can begin making improvements to reach water quality goals.

The MPCA has reached the midpoint of its first comprehensive look at water quality – and what is needed to protect and restore it –  throughout the state. Find out more about the Minnesota's waters in MPCA's Swimmable, fishable, fixable? report.

To see the results of the MPCA’s monitoring in your region, go the agency’s watershed pages.

Minnesota's Clean Water Roadmap

In conjunction with six other state agencies, the MPCA is working to identify the outcomes we expect to achieve over the 25-year life of the Clean Water Fund. The fund was established by the 2008 Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment and is enabling many projects to improve water quality. The PDF icon Clean Water Fund Roadmap will help ensure the maximum environmental benefits are achieved with those dollars.

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Education and outreach

MPCA staff work to educate the public, local governments, businesses, and other organizations on a variety of pollution prevention issues, such as:


Permits are another tool the MPCA uses to protect the environment. Permits limit the pollution emitted by some businesses and industries. A permit is a regulatory tool that sets specific goals for specific activities — they set goals for the prevention, control, or cleanup of pollution; limit releases of pollutants; direct construction or operation of a facility; and control storage, collecting, transporting, and processing of waste.

What you can do

There are a variety of ways Minnesotans can help to improve water quality.

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Agricultural best practices

Agricultural practices have a major impact on water quality in Minnesota, and there are a number of strategies farmers and landowners can use to help keep contaminants out of lakes, rivers, and streams. These include things like:

  • Buffer strips — planting vegetation along bodies of water, to filter sediment and nutrients from runoff
  • Nutrient management — using crop nutrients as efficiently as possible to improve productivity while protecting the environment
  • Cover crops — plantings that provide seasonal soil cover on cropland when the soil would otherwise be bare—i.e., before the crop emerges in spring or after fall harvest. Cover crops prevent soil erosion and prevent nitrogen from leaching into groundwater

Some agricultural practices should be avoided to protect water quality, particularly drainage and irrigation. Crop irrigation is a major threat to groundwater supply and could limit its availability in the future. Tile drainage quickens the movement of water across the land and speeds sediment and pollutants into bodies of water.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture, University of Minnesota Extension service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service all have more information on the ways farmers can take action to protect water quality.

Green business

The MPCA offers a variety of programs and resources designed to help businesses comply with environmental regulations. Resources are also available to help them go above and beyond compliance, and to become outstanding environmental performers.

Citizen water monitoring

Become a citizen water monitoring volunteer and help gather vital information about the health of our water resources. Volunteers measure the clarity of lakes and streams, collecting valuable data the MPCA uses to make decisions on watershed protection and restoration. For some lakes and streams, data collected by volunteers are the only data available, making this work indispensable.

In the home

Everybody can take steps to protect water quality — here are just a few suggestions:

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Grow a healthy, water-friendly lawn and garden — minimize water use, keep leaves and grass clippings out of streets and storm drains, and avoid pesticides.

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Properly dispose of medicines — medicines flushed down the drain can pollute our water and unintentionally expose us to harmful chemicals.

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Use sidewalk salt sparingly in the winter — chloride from road and sidewalk salt is a growing problem in state waters.

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Maintain your septic system properly — a poorly functioning septic system can allow pathogens, nutrients, and other chemicals to enter groundwater or lakes and streams.

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Reduce your use of toxic products — find alternatives for laundry soaps, cleaning sprays, insecticides, and other products that may be harmful to human health or the environment. And avoid products with triclosan.

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Don't litter, and pick up trash when you see it — debris gets washed into storm drains and flows directly into local bodies of water. And that includes pet waste, which can contribute harmful ammonia.