The land of 1,000 impaired lakes


Minnesota lakes are in danger. Across the state, 1,200 lakes sit on the impaired water list, along with 436 rivers. These water bodies have been identified as environmentally at risk mostly due to phosphorus contamination from fertilizer use. Federal mandates require that lakes and rivers be clean enough to support swimming and fishing but with no guidelines as to what constitutes “clean,” making restoration murky too.

Don’t be alarmed. Minnesota has developed the Clean Water Initiative, designed to identify and restore at-risk watersheds.  In 2003, Tim Pawlenty created the Clean Water Cabinet as a committee of the Environmental Quality Board to protect the state’s waters from present and future threats; ensure safe water to sustain healthy communities; keep an accurate and realistic picture of the “state of our waters” so that we can respond effectively and appropriately to meet new threats; and work aggressively to restore those waters that have been casualties of society’s great progress.

As part of the clean water initiative, we’ll be undertaking aggressive demonstration projects in four key areas of the State: the Red River Valley, central Minnesota lakes, southeastern Minnesota and the Twin Cities Metropolitan area. Each of these areas has very unique water quality needs, and our goal is to work in concert with local officials and private partners to focus all of our efforts to actually get results. (Governor Pawlenty, June 23, 2003)

So what are these results?  None of the 1,636 impaired lakes or rivers have yet to be removed from the list.  In fact, only 28 projects are currently being conducted, on 1.7% of the impaired lakes or rivers. Our neighbors to the north are very unhappy about the management of the Red River, as Lake Winnipeg is suffering from algal blooms that are crippling their industries.  Lake Minnetonka and Eurasian milfoil is all I’m going to say concerning the “aggressive” response on Twin Cities Metropolitan lakes.

Instead of allowing those who manage three of Minnesota’s key resources – water managers, farmers and university researchers – to collaboratively solve a problem, conservative public policy has led to foot-dragging that’s resulted in further neglect of our lakes. Better investment in research could lead to smarter agricultural policy, allowing farmers to efficiently grow crops with less runoff.

As for household runoff, there are plenty of organic ways to get greener lawns while protecting our dark blue waters.

Protecting such a vital resource shouldn’t be left up to environmentalists alone.  Even those on the far right would agree, Minnesota’s “10,000 Lakes” are as much a commodity to the state as Target, Best Buy, or Medtronic. Nearly all of us use and enjoy this resource, many have a direct economic incentive to preserve our waters – whether it be personal property, tourism, boating or other aqua-related business.