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Lakes and Rivers

Lakes: Too many nutrients & Rivers and streams: Fish and bugs are struggling

Way of life MPCA assessments through 2018
Lakes are central to Minnesota’s economy and our way of life, and we need to continue to protect and restore our waters. Many lakes and streams are polluted by nutrients, particularly chloride from road and water softener salt and phosphorus. Fish and bugs in streams can be harmed by poor habitat, excess flow from modified drainage, and sediment. Runoff from agricultural land and
lakeshore development increases phosphorus in lakes, which in turn causes algae growth. Algae-covered lakes are less attractive for fishing and swimming — highly valued pastimes in Minnesota and uses that are protected under the federal Clean Water Act.

Improving water quality
With the investment of the Clean Water Fund from the Legacy Amendment, the state has been assessing each watershed to understand where pollution is a concern. The One Watershed One Plan program supports local governments using this data to develop strategies and a plan to protect and restore their waters. Without additional action, water quality is expected to improve only 6% to 8% by 2034.

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Nitrate in water

Why is nitrate a concern?
A growing body of literature suggests associations between nitrate exposure and health effects such as increased heart rate, nausea, headaches, and abdominal cramps. Some studies suggest an increased risk of cancer, especially gastric cancer, from consuming nitrate/nitrite in drinking water, but there’s not scientific consensus. High levels of nitrate can also cause a fatal condition called methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome) in infants.

How is drinking water being protected in Minnesota?
The Minnesota Nitrogen Fertilizer Management Plan is the state’s blueprint to prevent, evaluate, and mitigate nonpoint source pollution from nitrogen fertilizer in groundwater. Its primary goal is to involve the agricultural community in problem-solving at the local level to respond to and address localized concerns about unsafe levels of nitrate. Proper well construction, sealing, and education are tools the Minnesota Dept. of Health (MDH) uses to protect people’s health. MDH also tests public water for nitrate and advises systems on ways to protect surface and groundwater from nitrate contamination.

Nitrate Concentrations in Minnesota

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Sustainable water use

Protecting our water supply
Water is our most precious resource, but it’s often taken for granted in the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”. Minnesota appears to have a good supply of water, but increasing demand from domestic, agricultural, and industrial users can strain water resources. Average water use per person has been stable for decades, however as population has grown so has overall water use. In some areas groundwater use has caused aquifer water levels to decline. If this overuse continues, groundwater may not be available as needed in the future.

The Department of Natural Resources is assessing the impacts of groundwater use in areas with historical concerns. They are collaborating with large water users and conducting long-term planning to ensure the sustainability of aquifer resources.

The future of sustainable water use
Moving forward, the focus must be on building resilient and flexible water supply systems and determining how much water use is sustainable for Minnesota communities. Improving water efficiency and reducing waste are critical to achieving resilience.

Well water levels 1997-2016

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