Minnesota agencies collaborate to send cleaner water downstream

For years, Minnesotans have been working together through business, citizen and government organizations to reduce water pollution resulting from excessive amounts of nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen. Now, the need is for a more effective statewide strategy to reduce nutrient levels.

A statewide plan now in development aims to get various agencies and groups working together to be more efficient and effective. The strategy goals are a 35 percent reduction in phosphorus and 20 percent reduction in nitrogen by 2025.

A draft strategy is open for public review and comment through Dec. 18. Comments and ideas from all corners are needed to help make it the best plan possible and put it to work.

As a headwater state, Minnesota sends water in three major directions. And it’s only neighborly to do what we can to ensure that water doesn’t carry too much pollution. Surface water leaving Minnesota flows north to Lake Winnipeg, east to Lake Superior, and south to the Gulf of Mexico, where the ultimate goal is to reduce the level of nutrients coming from the Mississippi River by 45 percent.

Phosphorus and nitrogen are the primary nutrients that in excessive amounts can pollute lakes, streams, wetlands and groundwater. Excessive nutrient levels cause algae blooms and low dissolved oxygen levels as bacteria consume algae. This is a substantial threat to Minnesota’s waters and aquatic life, as well as downstream waters. Excess nutrients make up 18 percent of Minnesota’s water impairments, and the number is expected to grow in the coming decade.

“Minnesota farmers have long been leaders in adopting conservation practices and new production techniques to enhance water quality. We all recognize that nutrients are critical to producing the food we need and that losing these nutrients is money down the drain,” Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said. “Farmers are employing new strategies within their production systems to reduce nutrient losses, which means more money for their bottom line and a better future for our state’s water quality.”

The Minnesota Nutrient Reduction Strategy will help guide state-level programs toward nitrogen and phosphorus reductions within Minnesota water bodies to enhance the health of aquatic life, improve public safety, and increase the recreational potential of Minnesota’s many lakes. In addition, nutrient reductions will also benefit the depleted oxygen “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico and other waters downstream of Minnesota, including Lake Winnipeg and Lake Superior.

“With funding from the Clean Water Land and Legacy Constitutional Amendment, we have been able to study and quantify the sources of nutrient pollution entering our own waters, and also going downstream,” Rebecca Flood, Pollution Control Agency assistant commissioner and chair of the project team, said. “The path to progress with nutrient reductions is a long one. While we have already made substantial progress in reducing phosphorus, we still have a long ways to go for nitrogen and phosphorus to achieve our in-state and downstream goals.”

Agencies and organizations can use the strategy to focus and adjust state-level and regional programs. In addition, watershed managers and local water planners can translate strategy ideas and priorities into the best practices on the ground to meet the goals.

“Applied research and experience has honed the projects and practices that can reduce the nutrient inputs to our water,” John Jaschke, Board of Water and Soil Resources Executive Director, said. “Getting the right practices in the right place at the best price is what comes next.”

Agencies involved in developing the strategy include Board of Water and Soil Resources, Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources, Metropolitan Council, Pollution Control Agency, Public Facilities Authority, Department of Health, University of Minnesota-Extension, Natural Resources Conservation Service, and U.S. Geological Survey.

Minnesota’s state-level strategy will be completed by the end of 2013. Involvement of interested citizens and organizations is vital. Success depends on actions from many people around the state. For more information on the strategy development process and opportunities to provide feedback, visit the website, or email nutrientreduction.pca@state.mn.us.

Author: Laura B.

I'm the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center's Sustainability Information Curator, which is a fancy way of saying embedded librarian. I'm also Executive Director of the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable. When not writing for Environmental News Bits, I'm an avid reader. Visit Laura's Reads to see what I'm currently reading.

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