Water quality in Minnesota to be topic of event

by Fabiana Torreao

One of Minnesota’s most abundant resources is the topic of a two-day conference, bringing national and local speakers and organizations to the University.
Water resources, in the land of 11,842 lakes, face a number of problems, such as mercury and phosphor pollution.
The University’s Water Resources Center expects about 300 people to attend the conference, called “Minnesota Water 2000,” that starts today at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
The conference will focus heavily on the quality of drinking water and present a number of other issues, said Patrick Brezonik, co-director of the Water Resource Center.
“It is an opportunity for us to showcase the wide range of research that is done at the University and for our students and faculty to interact and network with the people from (the outside organizations).”
The conference will also focus on water resources management issues, such as waste water, storm-water runoff and agricultural drainage systems.
“The way that the resources are managed contributes to the quality of the water,” said Kent Johnson, manager of the environmental-monitoring and assessment section of the Metropolitan Council Environmental Services Division. He added that tremendous improvements have been made in the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers because of the ways the group has managed the water.
Storm-water runoff is the biggest water-related problem facing the Twin Cities, Johnson said.
Urban hard surfaces, such as driveways and sidewalks, are engineered to drain rainwater to lakes, streams and rivers. Similarly, agricultural practices also contribute to water pollution. Fertilizers, phosphor, nitrogen, soil and bacteria from animal feces flow with the drainage.
One of the ways to address this issue is within reach of the regular citizen, Johnson said. Phosphor is a general component of many lawn fertilizers and the primary pollutant of the state’s surface waters by humans, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Web site.
By reducing their use of phosphor-rich fertilizers or growing vegetation that requires less fertilization, people can reduce the amount of pollutants in the water system, Johnson said.
Increased amounts of phosphor in the water promote algae growth, which results in a low water flow.
However, the amount of water that runs off might harm the environment, Johnson said. An increased water flow erodes the smaller streams’ riverbanks, disturbing the environment and making it impossible for fish to survive.
Water-usage needs also create conflicts among the different regions statewide. During the 1988 drought, Twin Cities residents dependent upon the Mississippi River for their drinking water wanted more water released from lakes in Northern Minnesota.
However, residents around those lakes were economically dependent on recreational lake usage and did not want their water levels reduced.
The conference is a biennial event sponsored by the University’s Water Resources Center. Various state and national organizations will participate in the event, such as the Metropolitan Council, the MPCA, the U.S. Geological Survey and the state departments of agriculture and natural resources.
“It gives students a chance to see what goes on at the state agencies, and gives the state agencies a chance to see what goes on research,” said Barb Liukkonen, an event organizer and coordinator in the University’s extension services.

Fabiana Torreao covers the St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected]