The land of 10,000 polluted lakes

Declining lake and river quality should be a top concern for Minnesotans.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency recently announced that it is adding 287 lakes and streams to its list of “impaired waters.” The MPCA designates waters as impaired if they fall short of water quality standards and pose a potential risk to “people, aquatic life and recreation.” With the new additions, the list of impaired bodies of water now stands at 1,469. For the Land of 10,000 Lakes, this number should be staggering enough. The truth, however, is that the MPCA has only tested a small fraction of the state’s waters, and it estimates that up to 40 percent of Minnesota’s lakes and streams could be impaired.

During the 2006 legislative session, the state Legislature passed a sweeping piece of legislation titled the Clean Water Legacy Act. The act was focused on testing Minnesota’s lakes and rivers and restoring bodies of water that were impaired. This was a powerful step toward renewing our state’s water, but, like many other well-meaning policies, it can only deliver on its promises if properly funded.

The Clean Water Legacy Act received $25 million for 2007 despite the MPCA and environmental community pleading for significantly more (some say $100 million is needed annually). This year only brought more disappointment. Gov. Pawlenty’s budget proposal only recommended $20 million per year for 2008-2009. Although some legislators fought bitterly for more, there was a general lack of enthusiasm for clean-water funding, and the Act was granted $54 million for the biennium. It was certainly a disappointing show of support for one of Minnesota’s most valuable resources.

Besides resulting in our state’s cute nickname, our waters are an important part of our culture. They provide countless opportunities for recreation, fishing and vital habitats for animals. Our state has more surface water than any other of the 48 contiguous states, and it is the focal-point of a $10 billion tourism industry. Lakes are a crucial part of our state’s identity, economy and history; to let our bodies of water become unusable cesspools would truly be an unforgivable crime.