Correction: BALMM to meet June 17 via Skype

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June 2020

BALMM to meet June 17 on Skype

The Basin Alliance for the Lower Mississippi in Minnesota (BALMM) will meet virtually Wednesday, June 17, from 9 - 11 a.m. over Skype. Contact Emily Zanon or Caitlin Brady for the Skype meeting link.

Agenda as follows:

  • 9:00 – 9:30 a.m.: Updates on Karst educational tools – Kevin Kuehner, MDA and Britt Gangeness, MPCA
  • 9:30 – 10:15 a.m.: Next wise steps for engaging people in southeast Minnesota – Nancy North, NewGround Inc.
  • 10:15 – 10:45 a.m.: Draft memo on nitrogen – Caitlin Brady, BALMM chair
  • 10:45 – 11:00 a.m.: Regional updates
  • 11:00 a.m.: Adjourn

Updates on karst educational tools

The MPCA is working with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to create various karst educational tools for use by regional partners and state agencies. At the June 17 BALMM meeting, Kevin Kuehner will present draft educational video programs, animations and infographics that bring to life the geology and groundwater movement unique to southeast Minnesota. MPCA’s Britt Gangeness will also provide an update on the availability of karst classroom curriculum and lesson plan tools.

Karst traveling exhibit

Next wise steps for engaging people in SE MN

Improving water quality requires a strong connection between sectors in the region and a climate in which sharing diverse experiences, knowledge, and work is natural and normal. At the June 17 BALMM meeting, Nancy North, of NewGround Inc., will share the “Next Wise Steps” report which documents what was learned from civic engagement research and recommends next steps to a new, more robust and collaborative phase of water protection in the region. In a short Q & A, participants will close with two related questions:

  • Do you see examples of on-the-ground conservation supported by clear, timely communications and engagement?
  • How is it making a difference?

Update on the BALMM draft nitrogen memo

In an effort to summarize southeast Minnesota’s information, tools and data needs related to nitrate reduction work, BALMM leadership has drafted a memorandum. Input from the Nitrogen Workgroup was used to identify specific resource needs and priorities. At the June 17 meeting, Caitlin Brady, BALMM Chair, will lead a discussion of the most recent version of the memo and next steps.

MPCA study: Lake Pepin close to meeting water-quality standard, more work needed upstream


Lake Pepin in southeast Minnesota is close to meeting its custom water-quality standard designed to minimize algae, with more work needed upstream to meet the goal, according to a study recently released by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The study focuses on phosphorus levels in Lake Pepin and the Mississippi River upstream, from the Crow River near Dayton, Minn. to the St. Croix River near Hastings, Minn.

The study also references the need to reduce phosphorus in several other rivers, including the Minnesota and Cannon rivers. These river systems are addressed in separate studies.

Phosphorus comes from many sources, including wastewater discharged by communities and industries, and runoff from farm fields and urban areas. Both urban and agricultural sources need to reduce the phosphorus they send to rivers and eventually Lake Pepin. About two-thirds of the algae in Lake Pepin are produced upstream. As such, the study calls for reducing phosphorus from upstream rivers by 10-50 percent.

Lake Pepin, which has characteristics of both a lake and river, is about 21 miles long and one of the widest parts of the Mississippi River. Nearly 50,000 square miles – roughly half of Minnesota plus a bit of three neighboring states – drain to Lake Pepin through the Upper Mississippi, St. Croix, and Minnesota rivers. Eighty-two percent of Minnesota residents live in this basin. No other water-quality project in Minnesota has addressed such a large area.

The TMDL process has spanned several years, largely due to the need for more scientific work on water quality standards for the lake and rivers, as well as extensive stakeholder engagement. During the study period, the work to decrease phosphorus was ongoing. From 2000 to 2019, communities and industries upstream of Lake Pepin decreased the phosphorus discharged in their wastewater by 80 percent.

Thanks to their efforts, Lake Pepin is close to meeting its standard, though two sections of the Mississippi upstream need further reductions to meet their water quality goals and help Lake Pepin at the end of the system.

For regulated parties, mainly wastewater and stormwater systems that require state permits, the TMDL may mean additional limits on phosphorus. However, most regulated parties have already met the goals for upstream waters and Lake Pepin.

The remaining pollutant reductions must then come from agricultural land, which makes up the majority of land use in the Minnesota River and Cannon River watersheds. But these sources are not subject to regulation. The focus will remain on voluntary best management practices that build soil health, reduce runoff, and otherwise protect water quality.

The MPCA is accepting written comments on the study through 4:30 p.m. June 19. Send comments to or request information from Justin Watkins (507-206-2621), MPCA, 18 Wood Lake Drive SE, Rochester, MN  55904.

La Crescent area: Most streams meet standards for fish and other aquatic species

Mississippi River-La Crescent Area Watershed

Defined by wooded bluffs and spring-fed cold-water streams, the Mississippi River-La Crescent Area Watershed in southeast Minnesota offers trout fishing and other recreation. The majority of streams in this small watershed – covering 95 square miles in Minnesota – meet water quality standards designed to protect fish and other aquatic species, according to studies by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The streams include a portion of Pine Creek in Winona County, Rose Valley Creek, and Dakota Creek.

However, a portion of Pine Creek in Houston County has levels of bacteria and sediment too high to meet water quality standards. Bacteria can come from wastewater and manure, and can make water unsafe for swimming. Sediment, from erosion and runoff, can make the water too cloudy for fish to find food, avoid predators and perform other life functions.

The MPCA recently completed two studies of the watershed:

  • The total maximum daily load (TMDL) study identifies bodies of water that fail to meet water quality standards (known as “impaired” waters), the sources of pollution, and how much pollution reduction is needed to restore the waters’ ability to support swimming, fishing, and healthy fish and bug populations.
  • The watershed restoration and protection strategy (WRAPS) report recommends ways to protect waters that are in good condition, and improve impaired waters.

Both these reports, scheduled to go on public notice June 1, provide information that will be used to develop local plans for implementing stream restoration and protection projects.

Because nearly half of this watershed is forested, maintaining forestland is an important strategy for protecting the streams meeting standards. Forests soak up precipitation and hold soil in place, reducing runoff of pollutants. They also provide shading to help keep trout streams cool and provide habitat.

To reduce bacteria and sediment pollution in Pine Creek, the studies recommend several strategies, including the following:

  • Increasing water storage through water and sediment control basins (watershed-wide) and soil health practices on agricultural fields. Holding back water helps reduce erosion and thus sediment in streams.
  • Addressing failing septic systems, improving animal manure management and ensuring animal feedlot compliance, all of which help reduce bacteria levels in streams.
  • Maintaining good pasture management and improving pasture management where needed.
  • Continued implementation of the City of La Crescent’s stormwater program to reduce urban runoff.

The MPCA is asking for public comments on the two reports, which are available on the MPCA web site. Mail or email written comments to Emily Zanon, MPCA, 18 Wood Lake Drive SE, Rochester, MN 55904 by 4:30 p.m. on July 1. Call her at 507-206-2613 for more information.

Proposed new feedlot permit includes new water quality protections from land-applied manure

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) recently released its draft five-year feedlot general permit, which covers about 1,200 large feedlots in Minnesota.

The proposed permit includes new measures to limit the leaching of nitrates from manure spread on farm fields. It extends the required cover crop period for manure application to October. Cover crops are required to mitigate the risk of nutrient pollution to groundwater and surface waters from manure. The current permit requires cover crops June through August.

The draft permit also restricts manure applications in September and October. Producers must wait until the soil is colder than 50 degrees F to apply manure in October, or use other practices such as cover crops, split applications of nitrogen, or nitrification inhibitors.

Lastly, the draft permit includes streamlined record-keeping requirements, revised permit format, and the online application process will save feedlot owners time.

The draft permit is open for public review and comment through Thursday, July 23, 2020.

The MPCA regulates feedlot operations using the Clean Water Act, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and State Disposal System (SDS) permits to comply with state law and the federal Clean Water Act. A general permit covers facilities whose operations are similar and is an efficient way for the MPCA to issue permit coverage, compared with issuing individual permits. It’s designed to protect water quality, primarily from the storage and land application of manure from feedlots of generally more than 1,000 animal units.

The new permit will become effective Feb. 21, 2021. The draft permit will be posted on the MPCA’s public notices webpage, and linked from the feedlot program permit webpage. The MPCA is accepting written comments on the draft permit until 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 23, 2020.

Send written comments to or request information from George Schwint (320-894-5866), Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 12 Civic Center Plaza, Ste. 2165, Mankato, MN, 56001. Comments must state your interest in the permit, the action you wish the MPCA to take including specific references, and specific reasons supporting your position.

A recording of one of the virtual information meetings held by the MPCA on the proposed permit is available on the MPCA feedlot permit webpage. Learn more about public-participation opportunities on the MPCA website.