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It's not just SW Minnesota: Water pollution is a serious problem in many regions


The condition of Minnesota's waters has come under scrutiny after a report showed the majority of lakes and streams in the southwest area of the state are significantly polluted.

Southwest Minnesota is not the exception, however.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently highlighted the impact of intensive farming on the very waters the state is famed for.

BringMeTheNews is taking a closer look at other parts of Minnesota that are suffering similar pollution of its lakes, rivers and streams.

Mississippi/Twin Cities

In an area that covers parts of Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, Washington, Dakota and Carver county, the MPCA found that 84 lakes are swimmable, but 87 of them are not.

Streams are in worse condition, with only two out of 21 able to support aquatic life, while only 1 out of 18 is suitable for recreation. Worryingly, officials found fish had traces of mercury, PCBs and other chemicals in 51 of these lakes.

The MPCA says waters have deteriorated as a result of decades of industrialization, urbanization and the use of de-icers; and that people can help improve water quality by cleaning up pet waste, ensuring their septic tanks are up-to-date, planting rain gardens and minimizing their use of lawn fertilizers.

Bois de Sioux

In this area of western Minnesota, bordering both North and South Dakota, the MPCA found that the three lakes assessed did not meet aquatic life standards, as they had high levels of nutrients (which causes algae to build up), particularly phosphorus, and high bacteria levels.

Only one stream in the area was suitable for swimming or fishing, with the causes of the pollution found to be runoff from fertilizers, and contamination from wastewater treatment facilities and septic systems.

Thief River Watershed

In this area to the northeast of Thief River Falls, the MPCA assessed seven streams in the area, and all of them failed its standards for aquatic life, which was down to low levels of oxygen.

But there was slightly better news for fans of watersports, with five of the seven streams found to be suitable for recreation. As was Thief Lake, the only lake in the area big enough to provide assessable data.

Le Sueur Watershed

West of Owatonna in southern Minnesota, much of the land in the Le Sueur Watershed is used for agriculture. Farmers also tile the land for drainage purposes which moves excess water from fields into streams and ditches.

This, combined with runoff from farmland fertilizers, is having an impact on water quality, with 25 streams assessed being unsuitable for aquatic life, with only two found to be in good condition.

Only one stream out of seven was found to be swimmable as well, while only two out of seven lakes were suitable for recreational use.

Mustinka River Watershed

This area of west-central Minnesota, covering an area to the south and west of Fergus Falls, is a popular big and small game hunting and fishing area, though agriculture accounts for 84 percent of the land use, with corn, soybeans and sugar beet the primary crops.

A study in 2012 found that all of the sections of streams assessed by the MPCA in 2012 failed to meet standards for aquatic life, while only one stream was deemed supportive enough.

It also found that most of the lakes in the area had low levels of transparency and high levels of harmful levels of nutrients.

Studies continue

The MPCA is currently about halfway through its 10-year cycle where it studies water quality across the state, and is expected to release a midterm report summing up the findings so far.

Water quality is generally better in the northeast of the state, where farming is less common, and surface water monitoring manager Glenn Skuta says that three new reports due to be released in the coming weeks will show that water quality in the northeast is "very good overall."

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