Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and groundwater are valuable public resources. In addition to being powerful symbols of our state, they provide drinking water, recreational and tourism opportunities, wildlife habitat, water for agriculture and industrial uses, and more. Protecting our water resources will also protect human health, our ecosystems, and Minnesota’s economy.
Potential or existing impacts of poor water quality in Minnesota
Human and animal health
Minnesotans get their drinking water from both surface waters and groundwater. Though it is treated before we consume it, some types of contamination are still a challenge. Some communities in southern and central Minnesota are finding excess nitrates in their water from polluted runoff. Such water is unhealthy to drink, particularly for babies. Elsewhere, chemicals spilled or dumped at old industrial sites have seeped into groundwater at sites around the state.
Harmful algae blooms are also a common issue in Minnesota lakes during calm, sunny summer weather. People can become sick from contact with toxic blue-green algae, by swallowing or having skin contact with water or by breathing in tiny droplets of water in the air. Dogs are at particular risk because they’re more willing to wade into lakes with algal scum; several have died from blue-green algae exposure. Harmful algae is the result of excess nutrient pollution in the water.
Poor water quality has its most direct impact on aquatic wildlife, particularly fish, bugs, and plants. Excess nutrients, sediment, road salt, and other contaminants can reduce the variety and hardiness of organisms living in the state’s waters.
Many industries in Minnesota are dependent of clean and abundant water, including agriculture, tourism, food processing facilities, power plants, and pulp and paper mills. Poor water quality can even affect real estate values for those who own waterfront properties.
Costs to taxpayers
Municipalities, counties, and other local units of government often bear the cost of trying to improve water quality. City wastewater and drinking water plants must ensure clean drinking water is reaching residents, and that wastewater is thoroughly treated before being discharged into lakes or streams. Soil and water conservation districts and other local partners implement conservation and water quality-improvement practices. If water quality declines, even more resources will be needed to restore it to acceptable conditions.
Transferring the burden
Minnesota is a headwaters state. We send water south in the Mississippi River, north in the Red and Rainy rivers, and east from the St. Louis River and Lake Superior. If our waters are contaminated, we are contributing to the water quality problems of our neighbors, too. In addition, we are leaving a pollution legacy that our children and grandchildren will have to address. It takes years and years to improve water quality once it has degraded.