MPCA completes assessment of all Minnesota watersheds, finds many lacking

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By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership – (@mattjdoll)

This week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) announced that for the first time, it had completed an assessment of all the watersheds in Minnesota, and released a draft list of lakes, streams, and rivers considered impaired, which increased in number by 581. This includes about half of all Minnesota streams, and slightly less than one-third of all lakes. The MPCA identifies these waters as those that fail to meet one or more water quality standards for various uses, including aquatic habitat, swimming, or drinking. These waters are concentrated in southern Minnesota, but no area of the state is immune.

This report comes Minnesota’s waters are facing rising threats like pipeline spills, sulfide mining, and climate change.

These results are not surprising. We’ve known for some time that the way we take our water for granted is unsustainable. Nutrient contamination from fertilizer-intensive agriculture, heavy metals from industry, road salt, and aging infrastructure are contributing to a water problems in Minnesota. We need solutions that tackle these problems head on, while simultaneously benefiting the communities and promoting environmental justice. 

We need to promote conservation crops that keep the rain on the land and reduce the runoff of soil, phosphorus and nitrates while building soil health. We need to invest to replace and upgrade aging wastewater and stormwater infrastructure to prevent pollutants from entering our river. And we need to implement smart programs to improve and reduce road salt overuse – a major contributor to lake impairment, especially in the Twin Cities metro. Crucially, we need to make sure our policies and agencies are committed to fixing these water challenges, not greenlighting dangerous projects that will make it worse.

Early this year, MEP shared a set of policy proposals that can help us reduce – and eventually eliminate – the list of impaired waters around the state. While it’s frustrating, this expanded list of polluted waters doesn’t change our community’s resolve to tackle this problem. We’ll be back at the legislature in February with these and other ideas to ensure that all Minnesotans can enjoy safe drinking water, healthy ecosystems, and outdoor recreation, no matter where they live.

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