Minnesota is proposing to add more than 300 streams and lakes to its impaired waters list, including waterways that have so-called "forever chemicals."
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) on Monday released its proposed list for 2022. Every two years, the state is required under the federal Clean Water Act to compile a list of waterways that don't meet water quality standards. The list has to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and then the state is required to develop plans to clean up the waterways so they meet water quality standards.
“Minnesota’s water is its most valuable resource and everyone expects our lakes and streams to be suitable for swimming and fishing,” MPCA Commissioner Katrina Kessler said in a news release. “While Minnesota has made progress in cleaning up waters, too many of our lakes and streams are in still trouble, from high levels of phosphorus that grow algae to PFAS contamination in our waters in Greater Minnesota. We still have more work to do.”
For the first time, the MPCA listed waters in greater Minnesota as contaminated with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) or "forever chemicals," including Wild Rice Lake and Fish Lake Flowage (main and west bays) in St. Louis County, and Winona Lake in Alexandria.
PFAS are a group of long-lasting chemicals found in many consumer, commercial, and industrial products that break down very slowly over time, hence their nickname "forever chemicals." PFAS contamination has been found in water, sediment, soil, and fish across Minnesota since it was first discovered in drinking water in the early 2000s.
PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), which is a PFAS chemical that's no longer produced in the U.S., can accumulate to levels of concern in fish and be transferred to humans when they eat the fish, potentially affecting a person's health.
The MPCA is proposing adding 15 additional water bodies that are impaired due to PFOS in fish tissue to the state's impaired waters list, including the aforementioned lakes in greater Minnesota; the St. Croix River from Taylors Falls Dam through Lake St. Croix; and Lake Phalen in Ramsey County.
These additions would bring the total to 26 water bodies in Minnesota with PFOS impairment. The list also includes the Mississippi River and Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis.
In total, the MPCA is proposing to add 305 bodies of water with 417 new impairments to the list, bringing the total to 2,904 bodies of water with 6,168 impairments. You can see a map of the draft 2022 list here.
Here's the breakdown of what else the MPCA wants to add to the impaired waters list:
— 39 lakes and 104 streams with unhealthy conditions for fish and bugs (the most common impairment), which result from poor habitat and other conditions that stress aquatic life.
— 30 streams with high levels of bacteria that can make it unsafe to swim.
— 25 streams with sediment that clouds the water.
— 18 lakes with high levels of nutrients, such as phosphorus, that can lead to algae growth.
— Three water bodies with too much sulfate, which may hinder the production of wild rice. New additions could include Goodners Lake in Stearns County, Lake Stella in Meeker County, and the Long Prairie River from Spruce Creek to Eagle Creek in Todd and Douglas counties. The MPCA says 32 water bodies capable of producing wild rice were included in the 2020 impaired waters list after the MPCA got feedback from tribal nations and the (EPA).
While hundreds of water bodies are headed for the impaired waters list, the MPCA is proposing 31 waters be removed from the list in 2022 after water quality improved, often thanks to local efforts.
They include Sunfish and LeMay lakes in Dakota County, where the MPCA says local partners and residents used special lake treatments and additional stormwater controls to lower phosphorus in the lakes, and Lake George in St. Cloud, where the city took action to add additional filtering of stormwater to decrease phosphorus levels.
The public can comment on the MPCA's draft impaired waters list through Jan. 7, 2022. The MPCA is seeking comments on whether additional waters should be added to the list or removed.
The draft 2022 list is due to the EPA on April 1, 2022. The federal agency will then make a final decision on approving the list.