Restoring Minnesota Impaired Waters

Under the federal Clean Water Act, the first step in cleaning up polluted lakes, streams and rivers is to list these waters as “impaired.” Once waters are listed as “impaired,” states have an obligation under the Clean Water Act to study the upstream pollutants and conditions that have resulted in the impairment and to create a Total Maximum Daily Load (“TMDL”) that is like a budget for pollutants from various sources.

Since 2012, on at least a biennial basis, WaterLegacy has advocated that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) list waters that are impaired due to sulfate pollution that harms wild rice so that the process of analyzing and cleaning up these waters can begin.

WaterLegacy has also advocated that the MPCA study and reduce the pollutants – including sulfate as well as mercury – that result in impairment of Minnesota waters due to mercury in fish tissue and mercury in the water column.

Political pressure from mining companies has been a significant obstacle to listing, analyzing and reducing pollution from Minnesota’s impaired waters. WaterLegacy has advocated to both the state MPCA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to list and protect Minnesota waters that are impaired due to sulfate pollution and toxic mercury.

Current Developments

Wild Rice Impaired Waters

On January 22, 2018, WaterLegacy repeated our request to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to list waters wild rice waters impaired due to excessive sulfate pollution. With these comments, we included as exhibits similar letters and comments since 2012 to both the MPCA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

READ WaterLegacy Comments to the MPCA on Minnesota’s 2018 draft Impaired Waters List requesting listing of wild rice impaired waters (Jan. 22, 2018)

READ WaterLegacy Letter to the EPA regarding Minnesota’s 2014 and 2016 draft Impaired Waters List and Attachments, requesting listing of wild rice impaired waters (Aug. 26, 2016)

READ WaterLegacy Comments to the MPCA on Minnesota’s 2016 draft Impaired Waters List and Exhibits, requesting listing of wild rice impaired waters (Aug. 26, 2016)

READ WaterLegacy Letter to the EPA regarding Minnesota’s 2014 draft Impaired Waters List and Exhibits, requesting listing of wild rice impaired waters (May 28, 2014)

READ WaterLegacy Comments to the MPCA on Minnesota’s 2014 draft Impaired Waters List and Exhibits, requesting listing of wild rice impaired waters (Feb. 2, 2014)

READ WaterLegacy Comments to the MPCA on Minnesota’s 2014 draft Impaired Waters List, requesting listing of wild rice impaired waters (Feb. 20, 2012)

Mercury Impaired Waters

WaterLegacy successfully advocated to include mercury impaired waters downstream of the proposed PolyMet NorthMet copper-nickel mine on Minnesota’s Impaired Waters list, including Wynne Lake, Sabin Lake, the Partridge River and the Embarrass River.

The MPCA added Wynne Lake and Sabin Lake to the Minnesota Impaired Waters List in 2014. The MPCA also added the Partridge River and the Embarrass River from each river’s headwaters to where the river joins the St. Louis River to the Impaired Waters List in 2016.

You can monitor the current list of Minnesota’s impaired waters and learn more at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Impaired Waters site.

Mercury Impaired Waters Background

Despite the passionate commitment of local citizens to reduce mercury contamination of fish in the St. Louis River, as well as the participation of both the Fond du Lac Band and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in funding and supporting the “TMDL” study of sources and ways to reduce mercury in fish in the St. Louis River, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency abruptly pulled out of the St. Louis River mercury pollution reduction study in the spring of 2013.

Although Minnesota environmentalists and health leaders asked the MPCA to resume the impaired waters study and begin plans to reduce mercury pollution, the MPCA has failed to take such action.

READ Minnesota drops out of St. Louis River mercury project, Star Tribune, Apr. 11, 2013

READ Activists put pressure on MPCA to deal with mercury pollution, Minn Post, Sept, 23, 2014