According to a recent report by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, much of the Twin Cities Mississippi River watershed has poor water quality, leaving many lakes and streams showing signs of stress.
The report identifies density of industry, housing and roads as the cause of high levels of bacteria and nutrients in the water, as well as contributing factors to stream bank erosion and loss of sensitive aquatic species.
The watershed is home to more than 1.8 million people across 99 cities, and it encompasses a large portion of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The Mississippi River watershed also serves as the habitat for more than 500 species of wildlife, fish and numerous aquatic invertebrates.
Based on water clarity and algae level findings, more than half of the lakes assessed -- 87 of 171 -- no longer support aquatic recreation, such as swimming or boating. Furthermore, 51 of the lakes were found to contain fish with high levels of mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), resulting in consumption advisories.
Streams connected to the Mississippi River watershed saw an even bleaker picture. Of the 23 assessed, only two were found to support aquatic life. Additionally, only one stream supports aquatic recreation while 17 others do not due to high levels of bacteria.
While the report certainly emphasized the urgency for water protection measures, it also contained some positive news. Eight lakes that were previously listed as impaired have since been restored and are now considered healthy.
"State agencies, watershed management organizations, cities and local citizens have been working to address these problems and to improve and protect the beauty and recreational enjoyment of our lakes and streams," Glenn Skuta, MPCA water monitoring manager, said. "Dozens of targeted cleanup plans have been completed or are in development to reduce pollution."
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Citizens can help reduce water pollution by taking the following steps:
- Clean up pet waste
- Ensure septic systems are up to date
- Reduce use of deicing agents
- Minimize lawn fertilizer use
- Dispose of grass clippings and leaves on paved surfaces
- Plant rain gardens or use rain barrels
Some work to address water quality in the watershed is already under way. In 2010, the MPCA began intensive monitoring of the watershed's surface waters by sampling nearly 50 stream stations for fish and aquatic bugs. Last year, a holistic approach was used to assess the data taken from 180 lakes and 46 streams.
Money from the Clean Water Fund helps the MPCA conduct and oversee water monitoring activities.