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State’s list of impaired waters grows

WORTHINGTON -- Earlier this week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released its 2016 draft impaired waters list, adding 318 additional lakes, rivers and streams to a list that now exceeds 4,600 impaired waters in the state.

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Heavy rains in the Jackson area have kept the river flowing over the dam on the Des Moines River in Jackson all summer, much to the delight of the Canada Geese. The Des Moines River, from the Windom dam to the Jackson dam, was added this week to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's list of impaired waters. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)
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WORTHINGTON -- Earlier this week, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency released its 2016 draft impaired waters list, adding 318 additional lakes, rivers and streams to a list that now exceeds 4,600 impaired waters in the state.

The water bodies are deemed impaired when they fail to meet water quality standards. Many of the newly added water bodies are located in Cottonwood County -- something that comes as no surprise to Cottonwood County Soil and Water Conservation District Technician Dave Bucklin.

“I don’t know too many waters in southwest Minnesota that aren’t going to be listed,” he said, noting that the MPCA is systematically going through all major watersheds in the state.

The Watonwan River was one of the latest to be analyzed by the MPCA, which is why so many of the lakes and streams in Cottonwood County were added to this year’s list. Bingham, Mountain and Fish lakes are located within the Watonwan River Watershed, which covers approximately 25 percent of Cottonwood County. All three of the lakes are listed as impaired after bioassessments were conducted on fish populations in the lakes.

The bioassessment is an evaluation of biological health impacts as a result of pollution and other water quality stressors.

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Bucklin said excess sediment in the water is one of the most common causes in southern Minnesota waters. He anticipates that one day, all of southern Minnesota waters will be impaired for one reason or another.

“You’d have to change the farming practices or the land use practices to get a change,” he said.

“How we’re using the land, about 90 percent of our watershed is tilled annually, sprayed with chemicals and then, with these extreme rain events -- so much more of what’s on our land is going to end up in our water.

“It’s pretty hard to have unimpaired water if we’re going to have the farming situation we have now,” he added. “That’s why we have the buffer initiative by the state -- to try and put some stable ground near the water so it doesn’t all run in.”

Bucklin said there are a lot of things farmers can do to protect the waters.

“We have to change farming practices, but certainly not stop producing food on our land,” he said. “Our water is a reflection of our watershed and until we change what we’re doing to the watershed, obviously the water’s never going to clean up.”

Approximately 40 percent of all waters tested by the MPCA in the last decade are now considered impaired, which is comparable to impairment rates in other states, the MPCA noted.

Heron Lake Watershed District Administrator Jan Voit, whose work includes the Des Moines River Watershed, said that while the new listing included the addition of the Des Moines River, from the Windom dam to the Jackson dam, the river has been impaired for some time.

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The watershed district has been addressing several projects along the Des Moines River, from stream restorations and sediment reduction projects to promoting conservation tillage and encouraging cover crop plantings.

“The overall condition of the new impairment is that it isn’t always suitable for swimming and wading due to high bacteria levels caused by human or animal waste,” Voit said. “(In addition) excessive turbidity, unionized ammonia and insufficient dissolved oxygen do not support thriving fish or macroinvertebrate communities.”

The new designation on the Des Moines River from Windom to Jackson includes a fish consumption advisory.

Voit said it’s possible that the impaired waters designation will make it possible for the watershed district to apply for grant funding. She noted that the district will continue to apply for Clean Water Fund dollars to help improve water quality.

Additional water bodies in the six counties of far southwest Minnesota added to the impaired waters list this year are:

  • Des Moines River: Windom dam to Jackson dam, Jackson dam to Judicial Ditch 66 and JD 66 to the Iowa line. Impairments: excess nutrients and eutrophication biological indicators, mercury in fish tissue.

  • Watonwan River: aquatic macroinvertebrate bioassessment.

  • North Fork of the Watonwan River: turbidity, e. Coli, fishes bioassessment and aquatic macroinvertebrate bioassessment.

  • South Fork of the Watonwan River: fishes bioassessment.

  • Split Rock Creek in Rock County: nutrients and eutrophication biological indicators.

  • Judicial Ditch 1, Cottonwood County: fishes bioassessment and aquatic macroinvertebrate bioassessment; and

  • Seven unnamed creeks in Cottonwood County for fishes bioassessment and aquatic macroinvertebrate bioassessment.

Once a water body is identified as impaired, the federal Clean Water Act requires the MPCA to set pollutant-reduction goals needed to restore impaired waters through a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study.
A public meeting on the newly listed impaired waters will be at 9 a.m. July 25 at the MPCA office in Marshall, 504 Fairgrounds Road, Suite 200.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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