Conservation Minnesota

State of Water

By Darby Nelson

Minnesota has over 12,000 lakes and over 100,000, miles of rivers and streams. Minnesotans rank protecting surface waters as their top priority. Yet, many of Minnesota/s lakes and streams fail to meet water quality standards as required under the federal Clean Water Act. A variety of factors prevent us from doing so.

Excess phosphorus in the water is the leadung factor in not meeting our basic water quality standards. Too much phosphorus over stimulates aquatic plants and algal growth turning what was once beautiful clean water into various stages of pea-soup green. Mercury contamination ranks second behind phosphorus as a significant pollutant preventing our waters from meeting standards. Turbidity, followed by fecal coliform bacteria, nasty chemicals, absent or reduced aquatic animal life, and low oxygen content round out the causes of the upwards of 40 percent of our waters not meeting standards.

The invasion of Minnesota’s waters by plant and animal species not native to the state also degrade the quality of the state’s waters. Important lakes like Minnetonka, Lake Pepin, most Minneapolis lakes, and many others across the state are currently encounterering a host of organisms from Eurasian milfoil, zebra mussles, spiny water fleas among others, reducing the enjoyment of lots of Minnesotans. Public pressure has been building for the state to develop and implement a plan to control these aquatic invasive species (AIS), and actions are being taken. Greater numbers of boaters are aware that watercraft must be thouroughly washed out and cleaned when boats are transferred from one lake to another if the state is to stem the spread of these invaders.

Minnesota also has over 4500 shallow lakes that are very important, though mostly overlooked, or even degraded. These lakes are less than 15 feet deep, and most are no deeper than six feet.While waterfowl hunters recognize the importance  of these bodies of water, many other people do not. Not only do these lakes provide waterfowl breeding sites, they also hold water back reducing flooding downstream and deliver other amenities such as providing habitat for wild rice.

Protecting Minnesota’s rivers lakes and streams cannot be merely left to the DNR or the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. All Minnesotans need to step up and learn how they can help protect and enhance Minnesota’s wondrous water resources.

Darby Nelson is a retired professor of Biology, former Minnesota state legislator, former member of the Lessard-Samms Outdoor Heritage Council, and a member of the board of Conservation Minnesota Voter Center.