Cleaning Minnesota’s waters, one acronym at a time

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What do you like about Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes and 70,000 miles of streams? Swimming? Fishing?

You should know about Beneficial Use Impairments, or BUI’s.

Cleaning up Minnesota’s lakes and streams is a critical state policy goal. Unfortunately, the water clean-up process has turned into a bureaucratic process that seems to stretch on forever, and has created an insider language of acronyms and code words that the public can barely understand.

Heck, I just want to go swimming. And my buddies just want to catch some fish. Turns out, swimming and fishing are “beneficial uses” of Minnesota’s waters. Cool clean water is beneficial to me on a hot day, for sure.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (that acronym would be “PCA”) is systematically researching the water quality of streams, lakes and wetlands around the state.

They are looking for places where water quality issues have made it hard either to drink the water, swim in the water, or fish in the water. Drinking, swimming and fishing are considered “beneficial uses” of the water, and when stinky, dirty water is bad for swimming, for example, that’s an “impairment” of that beneficial use. A Beneficial Use Impairment! Acronym-wise, that’s a “BUI.”

Based on this year’s research, there are over 500 potential new BUI’s. If you like to fish or swim or even drink water, there’s probably a proposed new BUI close to you. Up here in northeastern Minnesota, dozens of new BUI’s have been identified on the St. Louis River. This year’s list spreads from the Tamarac River in far northwest to the Root River in far southeast.

The list is important, because when a lake or stream is on the BUI list, it’s eligible for clean-up planning and implementation.

Here’s where you can get into the process. The PCA is hosting public meetings across the state between January 11 and January 25. For a complete list of meetings, visit the PCA’s site. Agency staff will explain the whole process and the draft list of new impaired waters.

Maybe you have a favorite fishing hole where the fish have died off due to run off. Maybe your favorite stream has gotten stinky. There’s a chance the PCA didn’t catch it. You can go to this meeting and find out.

Coming next week: TMDL.

Andrew Slade is Northeast Programs Coordinator for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.