Polluted trout streams tainting Mississippi River
RED WING, Minn. -- Bacteria-tainted water from Hay and Wells creeks entering the Mississippi River is polluting Lake Pepin, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reported Friday.
In addition to the two streams popular with local trout anglers, Bullard, Gilbert and Miller creeks also violate the state standard for bacteria levels.
Otherwise, Lake Pepin tributaries between Red Wing and Lake City are in good shape. That’s according to the Mississippi River/Lake Pepin Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy Project, or WRAPS, study.
The agency and its local government partners will hold an open house from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Frontenac Sportsman Club, 30301 Territorial Road, off Goodhue County 2 Boulevard west of Frontenac Station.
“The Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance is four squares behind it to encourage people to go,” said Mike McKay, the group’s executive director.
The Wacouta resident also chairs the governor’s Clean Water Council. He explained that this is one of three major state efforts that will improve Lake Pepin. The others are the Lake Pepin Phosphorus Project and South Metro Mississippi River Total Suspended Solids Project.
“People finally have woken up,” he said.
The study is open for public review and comment through Sept. 10. Access it on the MPCA’s Mississippi River–Lake Pepin Watershed Web page via www.pca.state.mn.us. For more information or to comment, contact project manager Justin Watkins at email@example.com or (507) 206-2621.
Minnesota’s side of the Lake Pepin covers Red Wing to Lake City. The watershed drains 205,747 acres ranging from forests to bluffs to cropland. Partners therefore included Goodhue and Wabasha counties, their soil and water conservation districts, the cities of Red Wing and Lake City, and the Wells Creek Watershed Partnership.
“For the most part, the streams are in good condition, supporting a healthy community of fish and macroinvertebrates. Macroinvertebrates — more commonly called ‘bugs’ — are creatures without backbones, such as insects, snails and clams,” the MPCA stated.
The study identified that the bacteria comes from manure applied to cropland, from rain and snowmelt runoff and from failing sewer systems draining into the five problem creeks.
Nitrogen levels also are high. While none of the trout streams violates the standard of 10 parts per million of nitrate, some concentrations reach 8 ppm. Manure and fertilizer coming from cropland are likely the main sources of nitrogen, the study found.
Those pollutants affect downstream waters, from Lake Pepin all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. The study therefore recommends several strategies to help protect waters by starting with southeastern Minnesota streams:
-- Manage fertilizer and manure applications to reduce impacts to waters.
-- Expand cover crops to help keep soil in place and enhance soil health.
-- Hold back runoff to prevent flooding and erosion while letting pollutants settle out.
-- Improve habitat.
-- Restore streams and their banks.
-- Upgrade or replace sewer systems.
-- Comply with the Goodhue County mining ordinance that prohibits the use of certain additives for processing silica sand and requires setbacks from streams and other resources.
-- Continue monitoring to detect changes in pollutant levels and watershed conditions.
The study also summarized work dating back several years, including intensive water monitoring, sampling fish and bugs at 21 sites and identifying conditions stressing the health of streams.
For people involved in those, this study is nothing new. McKay said he sympathizes with anyone frustrated with yet another study. State agencies should be called out for inaction, he acknowledged.
The latest study, however, also signals what he sees as a critical switch toward tackling problems with local partners and therefore improving one watershed at a time.
“Scientifically, this is a good approach,” McKay said.