Scary below the surface

MARSHALL – Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes. The Minnesota River adds 50 percent to the volume of the mighty Mississippi at the confluence of the two rivers south of the Twin Cities. And, according to state environmental groups, people should be worried about the state of our waters.

On Thursday, representatives of Environment Minnesota, Clean Up the River Environment (CURE) and Clean Water Action-Minnesota (CWA-M) held a teleconference to draw attention to environmental threats to the state’s lakes and streams.

“Halloween is the season to be scared, but Minnesotans shouldn’t have to be afraid of swimming and fishing in our lakes and rivers or disturbed by the quality of their drinking water,” said Samantha Chadwick, advocate for Environment Minnesota. “Manure and other pollution from agriculture and big industry are making our rivers into a potion of pollution perfect for poisonous drinking water, E. coli and slimy algae blooms.”

Chadwick presented a list of 13 scary facts about pollution in state waters, including: high nitrate levels from fertilizer runoff, contamination by E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria, toxic algae blooms from phosphorus and nitrogen, industrial pollution, higher than natural rates of sediment in-filling of lakes, invasive species of Asian carp and zebra mussels and microplastic particles in the Great Lakes.

Darrell Gerber, project coordinator for CWA-M, cited loopholes in the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972 and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TOSCA) of 1976.

“Two Supreme Court decisions weakened the CWA,” Gerber said. “And Congress needs to reform TOSCA. The act allows many chemical ingredients in products to remain secret, about 20 percent of the 80,000 chemicals used.”

There’s good news though, according to Gerber. Because of public pressure, many retailers are reducing toxic chemicals in products.

John Anfinson from the National Park Service said the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers are coming back in many ways, but there are still significant problems with sediment and pollution, which favor invasive carp at the expense of native species of fish.

“Native predator species rely on vision,” Anfinson said. “Polluted rivers make it hard for them to succeed.”

Peg Furshong, director of operations for CURE, pointed out Asian carp thrive on algae blooms fed by fertilizer runoff but can’t thrive in clean water.

“We do see more farmers willing to sit own and have a conversation,” Furshong said. “We worked with Xcel Energy to get the (Granite Falls) Minnesota Falls Dam removed. Now native fish species are getting up river as far as the Granite Falls Dam.”

Proposed remedies ranged from environmental tech to legislation. Nitrate runoff can be reduced with biofilters, cover crops and better land management practices. Loopholes in existing laws can be addressed.

But Chadwick said she doesn’t believe there is one easy fix.

“Our goal is to use the Halloween holiday to raise awareness,” Chadwick said. “We have to step away from the Minnesota nice and address the issue.”