Statewide Feedback on Water Issues Echoes Local Concerns in East Metro and St. Croix Valley

Last year, Governor Dayton set a goal of improving statewide water quality by 25% by the year 2025. To kick-off this initiative, his office held Town Hall meetings in ten Minnesota communities – Bemidji, Burnsville, Crookston, Ely, Mankato, Marshall, Minneapolis, Rochester, St. Cloud, and Stillwater – to ask Minnesotans about their local water issues and suggestions for improvement. More than 2000 people attended the Town Hall meetings and an additional 500 people provided input through locally-led community meetings and an online portal.

On February 21, the Governor’s Office released an official report summarizing input collected during the 25by25 public outreach process. Not surprisingly, statewide feedback echoed many of the water quality concerns seen here in the East Metro and St. Croix Valley.

Sunset over Forest Lake

Water Quality Problems

Minnesotans across the state voiced concerns about pollutants in lakes, rivers, streams and drinking water. In fact, data shows that 40% of Minnesota lakes, rivers and streams are classified as impaired, and the East Metro and St. Croix Valley are no exception. Mercury and excess phosphorus are the most common pollutants in our local lakes, while a wide variety of problems affect area streams.

Statewide, mercury is the most common water quality impairment and this toxin is often found at unsafe levels in fish. As a result, the Minnesota Department of Health has issued fish consumption advisories for these lakes, especially for pregnant women and children under 15:

  • Mercury – Big Marine, Big and Little Carnelian, Carver, Clear (Forest Lake), Comfort, Elmo, Forest, Jane, Lily, and Square Lakes, and the St. Croix River
  • PCB – Forest Lake and the St. Croix River
  • PFOS – Lake Elmo

In other lakes, too much phosphorus causes excess algae growth and poor water clarity. Common sources include runoff from farms and residential areas, leaves and grass clippings, and eroding soil.

  • Nutrients/excess phosphorus – Comfort and Little Comfort (Wyoming), Shields (Forest Lake); Lily, Long and South Twin (Stillwater); Sunfish (Lake Elmo); La, Markgrafs, and Wilmes (Woodbury); the St. Croix River, and a dozen smaller lakes around Washington County

A wider array of problems impacts our local streams, including:

  • Too much salt  – Battle Creek and Judicial Ditch 2 (headwaters to the Sunrise River) ;
  • E. coli – Brown’s Creek; Kelle’s Creek and Trout Brook (Afton); Perro Creek (Bayport); Sunrise River from Chisago County border to Comfort Lake; and four small, unnamed creeks in Scandia and May Twp.
  • Too little dissolved oxygen – Brown’s and Hardwood Creeks
  • Unable to support fish – unnamed creek flowing through Cottage Grove Ravine Park to the Mississippi River 

Finding Solutions

Last year’s 25by25 Town Hall participants called for more water education for both children and adults, more urban and agricultural projects to reduce runoff and hold water on the land, more collaboration across levels of government and with the public, and more locally led watershed work.

Communities in the East Metro and St. Croix Valley are lucky to have strong support from local watershed management organizations, counties, and conservation districts. Local Watershed Management Plans contain detailed information about area wetlands, lakes and streams, and Washington County is one of the only in the state with a Groundwater Management Plan.

In addition, state grants through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment have helped to enable many projects that wouldn’t have been possible with local funding alone. Recent examples include stormwater harvest and reuse systems at Forest Lake High School, as well as Forest Hills, Oneka Ridge, and Eagle Valley Golf Courses; raingardens and other stormwater retrofits in Marine on St. Croix, Stillwater, and Woodbury; several large-scale projects near Brown’s Creek; funding to Washington Conservation District to help farms and other rural properties keep phosphorus out of the St. Croix River; and grants to Washington County and Valley Branch Watershed District to address contamination from failing septic systems.

Looking toward the future, 16 partners in the lower St. Croix Basin will be working together to develop a regional watershed plan that will combine these local plans and fill in gaps further north where there is less local capacity.

To read the full report from last year’s 25by25 meetings, go to:

A father and son explore Long Lake in Stillwater.