Mystery game invites kids to uncover real-life lake polluters

The game from the Washington Conservation District game raises awareness of everyday pollutants.
Author:
Publish date:
Algae blooms in a Minnesota lake

Algae blooms in a Minnesota lake

When you think of water pollution in Washington County, you can't help but picture 3M, which was found to have polluted groundwater with PFCs in the southern part of the county.

But culprits of much of the lake pollution in Washington County, and everywhere, are everyday people, says Angie Hong, an education specialist with the Washington Conservation District.

This is the message she and her team spread on a regular basis: "The reality is that most of the water pollution we see county-wide is coming from runoff from streets and neighborhoods. With the exception of this groundwater contamination … there’s not usually a company you can blame,” she said.

When the pandemic disrupted the district’s programming, Hong started brainstorming ways to keep informing the public of the dangers of using too much phosphorus fertilizer or leaving dog poop unchecked. The result: the Water Pollution Mystery Game, a recurring outdoor event throughout the east metro county. Its next event is Friday in Oakdale at Tanners Lake Park.

“I think people are getting ‘Zoomed’ out and when the weather’s nice, there’s only so many webinars and stuff you can host when people would really rather be outside,” she said.

Socially distanced attendees can visit the lake between 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. to search for clues about the (theoretical) source of the lake’s pollution. Could it be Joe, who let paint slip into the storm drain? Was it Jannette, who raked her yard and tossed the leaves into a ravine (seriously, this is the No. 1 complaint Hong says she hears), where they decompose and send phosphorus into the water? Or maybe it was Veronica, who fed the geese — which is already discouraged for the animals’ health — causing them to congregate, leaving masses of phosphorus-rich poop near the water?

A family investigates pollution in Bayport

A family investigates pollution in Bayport

Plants need phosphorus, but when lakes or rivers absorb too much of it, it speeds up eutrophication — the process in which bodies of water receive nutrients and sediment, ultimately causing them to become more shallow.

The excess of nutrients prompts algae to grow, which can block sunlight from submerged plants. When the submerged plants and algae itself eventually die and decompose, they consume oxygen from the lake. Without enough dissolved oxygen, fish and other organisms will die.

Plus, algae tends to smell. An algae bloom, covering large amounts of surface, can make a lake unswimmable. In warmer conditions, a harmful blue-green algae can develop

“It’s intended to highlight everyday actions people can take,” Hong said. “Our storm drains collect from miles and miles around the lake, bringing all this stuff into the lake that wouldn’t have normally gotten there if we hadn’t had this altered landscape.”

Sign up for our BREAKING NEWS newsletters

The game also promotes the Twin Cities metro-wide “Adopt A Drain” program, where people can sign up to regularly sweep leaves and other debris out of their neighborhood drains.

Because of the general state of the world, Hong said, the events aren’t being planned long-term in advance. Instead, those interested in attending can watch the Washington Conservation District social media pages for games in the near future. 

“I think it’s a fun way for kids to get outside — so many summer activities have been canceled,” she said.

Next Up

Screen Shot 2021-03-06 at 4.12.00 PM

Police seeking tips in search for road rage shooting suspect

The incident took place in Maplewood last week.

Paige Bueckers

Paige Bueckers lands on Wooden Award list for women's college basketball

The Hopkins grad is the only freshman on the 15-player ballot.

Jamal Mashburn Jr.

Gophers fall under .500 after OT loss to Rutgers

The Gophers are under .500 for the first time this season.

police tape, crime scene

Man arrested for killing of his father in Wabasha County

The 73-year-old man was found dead at a home in rural Zumbro Falls.

Jake Odorizzi

Report: Jake Odorizzi to sign with Astros

The former Twins pitcher is headed to Houston on a two-year deal.

covid-19, coronavirus

South African COVID-19 variant detected in Wisconsin

There have been no cases of the South African strain found in Minnesota.

Brian Dutcher

Could Brian Dutcher be Gophers target to replace Richard Pitino?

Dutcher's contract has a buyout clause that could lead him to Minnesota.

state patrol

Driver, 82, killed in Kandiyohi County crash involving semi

The elderly woman is a resident of Belgrade, Minnesota.

Related

Lake Elmo accepts $2.7M, land from 3M in pollution settlement

The city will get 180 acres of land as part of the deal.

27494412766_189b234f2d_o

Warning in Edina over toxic algae levels in Lake Cornelia

High amounts of algae have been detected, which could include toxic blue-green algae.

Lawsuit: MPCA allows pollution of lakes

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for more than a decade has allowed a sewage treatment plant to pollute recreational lakes in Alexandria, an environmental law firm alleges in a new lawsuit. It's the latest in a string of complaints by advocacy groups who say the state's top environmental regulator is not tough enough in protecting Minnesota's lakes and rivers.

lake (public domain)

17 metro-area lakes receive failing grades for water quality

Lakes like Nokomis and Bde Maka Ska weren't included in the findings.

lake

Harmful algae blooms at 3 Minneapolis lakes are improving

Test results aren't in yet, but the park board says people can use the lakes again.