MPCA releases 2020 draft of impaired water bodies list; New entries added, but not a surprise

Published 7:05 am Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has released a draft of waterbodies in Minnesota that have been listed as being impaired, and several area bodies are on that list.

However, those listed on the Impaired Waters List, including the Cedar River, Turtle Creek and Dobbins Creek, aren’t that much of a surprise.

Over the years the Cedar River Watershed District and Mower County have taken several big steps in order to improve water quality.

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The only question is why the sudden addition of several “unnamed ditches” on this year’s list.

As it turns out, it’s not such a sudden addition as it simply comes from an increase in monitoring and a change in how the state rates a body of water.

“What happened was Minnesota has been heading into this direction of biological criteria — pollution affecting the biology,” said MPCA Project Manager for the Cedar River Bill Thompson. “We took the water quality standards — one size fits all — and we realized we have some problems with that.”

The problem was rivers and streams were being lumped together with drainage ditches, and while having a biological footprint with fish and macroinvertebrates, they were much different from rivers and creeks.

Between 2015-2017, the state broke those water quality standards into a three-tier system — exceptional, general and modified, with exceptional being the top tier and modified being the lowest.

Ultimately, it is better adapted to the standards set up through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

The reason that many of these previously unlisted bodies of water weren’t already on the list is that it took time to get all of the watersheds in the state under one umbrella.

“Because of this process and this redoing our tiers, yes it took a while because this is happening on all these 80 watersheds in Minnesota,” Thompson said. “This year marks the first time the state has gathered all the watersheds together.”

Thompson said that despite these new additions, they weren’t surprising.

“It’s not super big news,” he said. “It’s adding to the whole picture by using more of the monitoring data.”

This list of impaired waters is compiled once every two years and includes water bodies in 14 watersheds as well as water bodies. The list has 368 streams and 56 lakes that fail to adequately support fish and other aquatic life.

A large amount of the state’s impairments, 85 percent, are due to non-point pollution including nitrogen, bacteria, chloride and phosphorus.

The effort of cleaning up water bodies got a push in 2008 when the first cycle of statewide monitoring began. The second cycle was completed this year, though those numbers were not included in this tally.

However, our area waters being included on this list, Cedar River Watershed District officials stress it doesn’t mean that they are any more impaired than they were before.

“I think the main thing we would like people to take out of this, is this isn’t a sign that our water quality isn’t getting worse,” said CRWD Watershed Technician James Fett. “It’s older data that the MPCA is finally getting to do.

The MPCA is a good roadmap for helping decide where the work needs to be done.

“It’s a nice tool for us,” Fett said. “As planners and implementers, it gives us target areas to address. It’s good for us to know where the problem areas are.”

But it’s the hard data that people like Fett are really looking for and while he believes that bodies of water like the Cedar River are getting cleaner, it’s hard to say definitively without the data.

“Personally, I think that our water is getting cleaner,” Fett said. “More people are using the river, but we don’t have statistically significant data that our water is getting better.”

“We’ve been doing a lot of good things in the CRWD and we’ll continue doing that,” he added.

A series of public meetings throughout the state will be held in December and a finalized list will be released next year.

Taking part in the future

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will hold a series of meetings in December to answer questions on the draft of the 2020 impaired waters list.

•Dec. 11: Brainerd MPCA at 10 a.m. (7678 College Rd, Suite 105, Baxter)

•Dec. 12: Marshall MPCA at 9 a.m. (504 Fairgrounds Rd. Suite 200); Detroit Lakes MPCA at 9 a.m. (714 Lake Ave., Suite 220); Mankato MPCA at 9 a.m. (12 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 2165)

•Dec. 17: International Falls Airport, Conference Room at 1 p.m. (3214 2nd Ave. E); Duluth MPCA at 1 p.m. (525 Lake Ave., Suite 400)

•Dec. 19: St. Paul MPCA at 1 p.m. (520 Lafayette Rd. N); Rochester MPCA at 1 p.m. (18 Wood Lake Drive SE).