After July 4th sickness outbreak, tighter rules for boat toilets on Lake Minnetonka

Almost 200 people fell sick after partying on the lake for Fourth of July.

The sickness outbreak that followed a gathering on Lake Minnetonka this past Fourth of July has led to tighter rules regarding marine toilets on the lake.

The Lake Minnetonka Conservation District (LCMD) announced Monday it has adopted an ordinance "to reinforce and clarify existing regulations banning sewage discharge in Lake Minnetonka."

It comes after a gathering on Big Island over the holiday weekend this past summer led to more than 170 people being sickened, and while the exact cause of the outbreak was undetermined, Hennepin County health officials did say that one of the possibilities was fecal matter having found its way into the water.

Under the rules adopted by LCMD, it seeks to eliminate the possibility of wastewater entering the lake from boats by expanding what it defines as "sewage" to include "mobile sources."

This will require marine toilet pumps to be removed from boats and discharge valves (also known as "Y valves") to be locked.

"While the discharge of sewage in the lake was already prohibited by LMCD and state and federal regulations, this new ordinance makes it clearer and takes an additional step to protect the lake and all those who enjoy it," said Lt. Shane Magnuson, of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Water Patrol unit.

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"We have been researching options to reduce the risk of outbreaks, and this was one suggestion brought to us for consideration,” said LMCD Board Chair Gregg Thomas in a press release. 

"Some boats have the capability of accidentally or intentionally pumping raw sewage into Lake Minnetonka and that is not in the best interest of public health."

The ordinance will be monitored and enforced by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Water Patrol unit, which will hand out petty misdemeanor citations to any lake user who launches into the lake with a marine toilet that doesn't follow the ordinance.

Meanwhile, businesses that rent boats with marine toilets, or offer sewage pumping and recovery services, will have to report to the conservation district if they become aware that a non-compliant boat is being used on the lake.

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