Skip to main content
Publish date:

Mystery game invites kids to uncover real-life lake polluters

The game from the Washington Conservation District game raises awareness of everyday pollutants.
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


'Minneapolis, we're coming!!!': Foo Fighters announce rescheduled concert

The previously announced Huntington Bank Stadium was cancelled.

brave new workshop

Brave New Workshop gets new owners in Hennepin Theatre Trust

It is the longest-running satirical comedy theater in the nation.

Screen Shot 2021-12-06 at 8.05.11 AM

Minnesota firefighters mourn sudden death of colleague

Aaron Bidle of the Loretto Fire Department passed away suddenly Wednesday.

flickr - thin ice warning - USFWS Midwest

Snowmobiler goes through the ice on lake near Duluth

Ice thickness varies greatly throughout Minnesota right now.

snow, measuring snow, snow totals

Here's how much snow fell during the weekend winter winter storm

The Highway 2 corridor in north-central Minnesota was the bullseye.

Minneapolis Fire Department

Roof collapses on 3 firefighters in south Minneapolis

The fire happened at a residence east of Lake Nokomis on Sunday.

Joleigha Johnson

42-year-old Minnesota woman missing since December 1

She drives a white 2009 Chevrolet Impala.

icy roads, bad roads

20-year-old killed in crash on icy highway during Sunday snowstorm

More than a foot of snow had fallen in the area where the crash occurred.

Mike Zimmer

Vikings fans clamor for change after latest bad loss under Mike Zimmer

The "fire Mike Zimmer" tweets are raging on Twitter again.

Tony Oliva

Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat are finally heading to Cooperstown

The Twins legends were elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame on Sunday night.

Tanner Morgan

Report: Gophers to play in Guaranteed Rate Bowl

The Gophers will reportedly head to Phoenix to take on West Virginia.


blue-green algae mpca

Heat wave leads to early reports of blue-green algae on some Minnesota lakes

The August-like weather could mean a green summer on local lakes.

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

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

blue-green algae mpca

Warm fall weather leads to algae blooms on Minneapolis lakes

Conditions are right for more lakes to develop harmful blue-green algae blooms.


Warning in Edina over toxic algae levels in Lake Cornelia

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

Flickr - toxic algae bloom - MPCA Photos

Climate change is warming lakes, leading to more toxic algae blooms

The MPCA says blue-green algae blooms are occurring all across the state.


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.

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.