Report shows few streams, lakes swimmable in southwest Minnesota

ST. PAUL -- Few streams or lakes in the far southwest corner of Minnesota are fishable or swimmable, according to the latest study of water bodies in that area by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

ST. PAUL - Few streams or lakes in the far southwest corner of Minnesota are fishable or swimmable, according to the latest study of water bodies in that area by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The study released Wednesday said of 93 streams studied, only three could fully support aquatic life and only one should be used for recreation or is swimmable. In all, there are 181 stream sections in the five-county area.
Of the lakes, of which there are few in that far corner of the state, the five studied failed to meet the swimming standard.
The water problems are caused by high levels of bacteria, nitrates and sediment, largely from livestock and crop farming in the heavily intensive agriculture area.
Forrest Peterson of the MPCA said in a story on the report, “Improving water quality will require changes on the land draining to the basin, especially reducing pollutants from farming practices.”
The streams and lakes are all in watersheds separated from the rest of the state by the Buffalo Ridge geological formation that crosses that corner of Minnesota. Watersheds in the area spill across the border into South Dakota and Iowa.
Almost all of Pipestone and Rock counties are in that area, along with parts of Lincoln, Murray, Nobles and Jackson counties.
The agency recommended that to improve the situation, farming practices need to be addressed. One suggestion to help with stream protection was to limit access by cattle.
Also suggested were increased soil conservation efforts and restoring natural vegetation along the streams and lakes.
Any funds used the area, said the agency, should be targeted at sensitive landscapes known to affect surface water quality to ensure the funds are spent “where they will do the most good.”
Meanwhile, farmers sometimes find all of the reports on water quality hard to believe, said Tom Pyffereon, a board member of the Minnesota Cattlemen’s Association from southeast Minnesota. He said “ a happy medium” has to be found somehow, and there are 100 pieces to the puzzle.
There are some areas of the state where streams have been fenced off from cattle and it really hasn’t changed the water quality, he said.
Pyffereon, who is the legislative chairman for the group, also said there are other sources of pollution. As an example, he said for cattle operations there is zero tolerance for phosphorus discharge, while some water treatment plants from cities are allowed up to a 15 percent level.
“We can’t be silent about this, though,” the former Pine Island cattle rancher said. “Otherwise, they think we’re guilty.”
He said each farming operation has to find what works for them. “We all want good water quality.”

The MPCA study in southwestern Minnesota, done in the summer of 2011 and the spring of 2012, analyzed fish tissue samples from the main river in the area, the Rock River, and six lakes to determine fishability.
In the streams, to determine the swimability, the agency measured the concentration of E. coli bacteria. In the lakes, the researchers looked at phosphorus and chlorophyll as indicators of if recreation is recommended.
In Minnesota, the more involved watershed study approach is used in a 10-year rotation, although monitoring of key pollutants is done on an annual basis statewide. Citizen and monitoring by local groups is important to the watershed approach.

Related Topics: WATER QUALITY
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