Conservation Minnesota || Water Mon, 30 Nov 2015 07:00:55 EST Minnesota is all about our lakes Tue, 12 Jun 2012 12:00:00 EST This weekend our family plus extra kids spent a night at the cabin. It’s not exactly wilderness, but it sits on the lakeshore, which makes us all happy. The kids love swimming and water sports. Consequently, they spent as much time as they could in the water until the weather turned cold, windy and wet. I loved that they were outside getting some great exercise. One of our guests, a fifteen year old, asked if he could fish from the dock. He went next door to buy some minnows, found a fishing pole in the basement and cast his line. Although he didn’t get a bite, he seemed to have fun.
While I was relaxed and charmed by the water and activities flowing around me, thoughts of water quality crept into my consciousness. How safe was the lake for swimming, recreating or consuming fish from? What were the kids being exposed to? I knew that some years ago the lake hadn’t tested well.
In the past, I’ve recommended It’s a handy tool for finding out just how safe a Minnesota lake is for swimming or eating the fish from. All you need to do is put in the name of the lake or the county where it’s located. You will get a thumbs up or down for swimming and recreation and consuming the fish. You can also sign up to receive the Parent’s Guide to Safe Recreation. Right now, water testing that informs the site is from 2008, but it will be updated soon. I still find it helpful to know the results of prior testing.
Even if a lake is deemed safe it’s important to take steps to protect yourself and your family. Make it a habit to shower after lake swimming, wait 24 hours after a heavy rain before going for a swim and keep your face and head out of the water as much as possible.
Minnesota is all about our lakes. Just remember to stay healthy when enjoying them.

Minnesota Waters will continue to advocate for lakes and rivers as part of Conservation Minnesota Tue, 12 Jun 2012 12:00:00 EST Two non-profits devoted to protection of our state’s lakes, rivers and natural resources, Minnesota Waters and Conservation Minnesota, have reached agreement to continue their work as one organization.

Earlier this month, the Minnesota Waters board of directors announced their decision to cease operations on May 19th and to complete the steps required to place the organization’s corporate status and brand in a dormant, inactive state.  The difficult decision came after months of effort to address the organization’s longstanding financial challenges or find a new home for its staff and programs.   After the announcement, a new opportunity for their members and statewide network emerged.

“Our lakes and rivers define life in Minnesota.  Minnesota Waters’ members and the state’s lakes associations have been working on the front lines to protect and restore our most cherished places,” said Paul Austin, Director of Conservation Minnesota.  “We want to support their effort and make sure their priorities are heard in St. Paul.”

On Friday the two organizations celebrate the perpetuation of a valuable network that has made a measurable difference for Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, and streams.  “Lake associations, coalitions of lake associations, and concerned Minnesotans have been connected and strengthened through their years with MN Waters. Joining forces with an organization that created the educational tool and played a lead role in passage of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment makes perfect sense.” Kenzie Phelps, Chair, MN Waters Board of Directors.

“Our goal is to find practical solutions to the problems Minnesotans tell us are most important, and concerns about water quality are always at the top of the list.” Austin said.   As a part of Conservation Minnesota, Minnesota Water’s members and lakes associations across the state will participate in setting Conservation Minnesota’s annual priorities, receive updates and support from Conservation Minnesota’s bipartisan capitol team, and website hosting services for lakes associations will continue.  “Both Minnesota Waters’ name and network will play a central role in our future programs.  Over the coming weeks and months, we will ask members and lake associations to help us decide how we can best work together to protect The Land of 10,000 Lakes.”

“Our two organizations have something very important in common, we are both focused on engaging people in protecting what we love most about Minnesota.” notes Lois Sinn Lindquist, MN Waters Executive Director.  “Today and tomorrow, our mission continues.”

Check My Lake to be updated soon Fri, 01 Jun 2012 12:00:00 EST

The Check My Lake tool has helped many Minnesotans learn if their favorite lakes are safe for recreation and fish consumption.    

The site is currently using 2008 lake data.  The MPCA released the 2010 lake data this past spring (new lake data is only released every two years).  Conservation Minnesota hopes to update the date with the 2010 results as well as make some updated to the site.  We would love to hear what you would like to see in a new version of  Click here to tell us.

John Helland: Water Framework Plan Deserves to be Taken Seriously Fri, 01 Apr 2011 12:00:00 EST The weakening of several water standards and regulations by legislative action this session is very curious and troubling.  It seems almost paradoxical that this distrust and attack on our water regulations is happening the same year that a legislatively-mandated framework plan to provide a sustainable water resources future was delivered to the legislature.

The framework plan, "Minnesota Water Sustainability Framework", provides a 25-year roadmap that frames water sustainability issues, and provides strategies and recommendations for addressing those issues.  Although not intended to be a specific spending plan for the Clean Water Fund, it was funded by monies (3/4 of a million dollars) from that fund that also will last for at least 25 years.  So one can conclude that the desired strategies in the framework plan would certainly help guide the expenditure of monies from the Clean Water Fund.

One of the key essential five top actions in the framework plan is to:  "Comply with water quality standards through implementation plans for reducing pollutants, and bring farmers to the table to be part of the solution."  Another is to address future contaminants.  Now look at the probable top five state water standards presently under attack in the House and Senate budget bills.

They are (in no particular order):
- lowering standards for phosphorus in Lake Pepin;
- letting the legislature devise a lesser standard for sulfide pollution in wild rice;
- placing a two-year moratorium on new water rules;
- weakening the standards for large agricultural feedlots; and
- prohibiting new protective rules for the urban Mississippi river corridor.

None of the above legislative provisions in play will help provide a sustainable water resources future for Minnesota.  If enacted, we will be going backwards in our traditional efforts to devise a sustainable water policy.  The framework plan is a very substantive document and deserves to be taken seriously, not only in 2011, but throughout the next 25 years.  (Full disclosure:  I was a committee team member that assisted in developing a portion of the framework plan under the auspices of the University of Minnesota Water Resources Research Center.)

John Helland: Natural Disasters Clearly in My Mind Thu, 24 Mar 2011 12:00:00 EST As we await the rapidly-approaching flood stage of local rivers and all the media reports of radioactive drift from the terrible tragedy in Japan, it all hits home a little too closely for me.  Not that I have to worry about immediate flooding in my neighborhood; I live on the crest of a series of hills.  However, I have a Japanese daughter-in-law from Tokyo that now lives with my son and grandson in New York City.

The destructive scenes of the tsunami spreading across the coastline of Japan reminds us all of the powerful nature of water.  While we won't experience the devastation and loss of so many lives, hopefully little devastation and no loss of lives, the Minnesota flooding will cause damage to our physical and natural resources.

My daughter-in-laws parents live in Tokyo with another grandson and his parents.  Once the nuclear plants began to experience meltdown, along with the escaping radiation, the in-laws began to think about evacuating the country and fleeing to America.  As Japan is the only country to experience atomic bomb explosions in its lifetime, I'm sure still fresh in the minds of Japanese elders, I could not blame the reaction by my in-laws.  They definitely didn't want their 2 and 1/2 year-old grandson there to experience radiation drift.

Some stabilization at the nuclear plants and luck because of prevailing winds have caused more calm every day away from the immediate area of the earthquake.  However, there are still many unknowns and everyone south of the impact zone is clearly concerned.  The in-laws fled further south to Osaka where they have relatives to stay with.  How long they may be there is a distinct unknown.

So one wonders if this Japanese tragedy will cause our legislators to hold off on the lifting of our moratorium on nuclear plants here.  The governor has put some strict conditions in the way of the legislation before it can reach his desk.  And with the potentially damaging flooding just ahead, and the legislature putting the finishing committee touches on the budget bills this week, they should be fully cognizant that there needs to be adequate monies for our natural resource agencies to be able to restore river and creek banks to their natural condition.

John Helland is a Minnesota legend but humble man who worked on environment and natural resource issues for the legislature for over 35 years, and now writes, blogs and enjoys leisure while watching from afar. He is now a proud grandfather, too.

Listen to the Outdoorsmen, women, and they'll tell ya something... Thu, 24 Feb 2011 12:00:00 EST Vern Vangsness used to be a farmer.  He can tell you about the corn, the alfalfa, beets, and all the stuff he used to grow.  He says all farmers used to work like that, but when the demand for corn went up, the diversity of the crops went down.  Farmers wouldn’t rotate their crops like they used to or even let the land “rest” a season or so.  Farmers made enough money from corn to refuse even the “free” money they got from the government to grow nothing.

Vern VangsnessSo Vern sold out and bought a resort down by Osakis.  Vern swears that as big as that lake is, in 20 years, it’ll be full of the run-off from the local farmers down there.  That’s why Vern is a stern supporter of the Legacy Amendment funds.  He’s happy to talk about that too.  About how the lake’s got to be clean to keep his guests coming back.  Vern was just one of the many folks who talked to us at the Alexandria-Glenwood Legacy Destination Weekend over Valentine’s Day weekend.  With not much fish to catch (ok, none, if you read the press reports), outdoorsmen and women were more than happy to talk about what’s important to them.  Without exception, they said preserving the Legacy funding was paramount to being a Minnesotan.  After all, they said, if we can’t preserve what makes this state so great, then we ‘re not really saving the state at all, budget fix or no.

Whether we visited the lakes, the trails, the theaters, or the museums, the story was the same.  Minnesota is a great place and deserves protecting.  Especially after this past week of cold and snow.  Without our natural resources and cultural assets, we’re missing the answer to that question we all get from far-away friends or from Facebook: “why do you live in Minnesota again?”

To see what Vern and others said about Legacy funds or to submit your own video, go to

We’re collecting video postcards from Minnesotans all over to send to the Capitol about preserving Legacy funding.

And look for stories about Legacy Destination communities on “Finding Minnesota” on WCCO-TV and posters detailing all the weekends at Travelers Information Centers across the state.  For convenience, there’s also a website with pictures and links at



Darby Nelson: Reflections Tue, 18 Jan 2011 12:00:00 EST
It has been an honor to have served on the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council these first two critical years. In my previous 67 columns in this space, I have tried to help people follow how the council arrived at its recommendations for how Outdoor Heritage Funds would be best spent. I hope it has been helpful.

As we began our work on December 1, 2008, we understood the importance of keeping the faith with the voters who had spoken so clearly. Our obligation was to “get the process right.” Toward that end we committed ourselves to
  • Total transparency
  • Establishing strong accountability standards
  • Base our decisions on sound science
  • Maximize the conservation outcomes for every dollar spent from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
That many people have told me how pleased they are with our process (even those we did not fund) suggests for the most part we met our standards. Give Chair Mike Kilgore and Executive Director Bill Becker credit for outstanding leadership.

For those of us who care deeply about Minnesota’s great outdoors, the Outdoor Habitat Fund has been a godsend. Will it continue to be used as voters intended? Might some attempt to use some of the money to supplanting historical funding? Will they….? Our ongoing task is to be ever vigilant.

On a personal note.

My two year term on the council is ending. I leave to work on another important environment/conservation issue: our lakes. We say we love our lakes yet we not only allow but participate in their deterioration. I have spent a number of years using my aquatic ecology background in a journey to many lakes trying to better understand that paradox. The result has been my book, For Love of Lakes. The book is currently in press at Michigan State University Press as I write. It is to be released this fall.

For Love of Lakes has been very well received by reviewers. In fact the editor in chief at the MSU Press calls it the “Sand County Almanac of lakes.”

I look forward to sharing what I have learned through talks and power-point presentations to any group interested in lakes.

Darby Nelson]]>
'The Colors of a River: Pollution and the Upper Mississippi' Wed, 03 Nov 2010 12:00:00 EST
Reserve your free ticket now!

When these sewers flowed full and the river fell to its low water stage, 5.8 gallons of water had to dilute one gallon of sewage.  Photo provided by Metropolitan Waste Control Commission.
What was the Mississippi River like when only American Indians and early explorers paddled its waters? When did we first begin polluting the Mississippi and how? How bad did it get before anyone did something about it?

This Thursday evening, join historian and author Dr. John O. Anfinson of the National Park Service for an engaging discussion of these questions and a look at the pollution issues facing the great Mississippi today.

A panel of water resources experts will also be available for questions at the conclusion of the presentation.  In addition to Dr. Anfinson, panelists include Trevor Russell, Watershed Program Director at Friends of the Mississippi River; Larry Rogacki, Director of Plant Services for Met Council Environmental Services; Richard Kiesling, Hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, and Anna Eleria, Water Resource Specialist with Capitol Region Watershed District.

Friends of the Mississippi River is hosting the event, Thursday 6:30-8:30 p.m. at St. Kate's in St. Paul. "Colors of a River" is free but capacity is limited and pre-registration required. For more information, or to reserve your spot, please visit the event webpage.

Christine Lee: Something Good from 'Troubled Waters' Thu, 28 Oct 2010 12:00:00 EST Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story this week. I was happy to move on from the scandal that had been surrounding it, for two reasons: the facts that the movie actually present should be more widely discussed than the reasons for its initial delay, and because, as a graduate from the U, I was growing weary of the enormous criticisms the University as a whole was drawing simply for the mistakes of one off-base employee. So, on to the important stuff: I enjoyed all of it, from its clear presentation of the issues facing the Mississippi River to its segments focusing on all sorts of different Minnesota farmers who are doing the right thing on their farms.

Oddly, one of the topics mentioned in the film that most strongly struck me was the discussion of the Koda Energy plant in Shakopee, Minnesota. The plant became operational in mid-2009 and was the first biomass facility in Minnesota to burn only natural materials. Koda operates by burning natural materials like wood chips, prairie grass, and – most endearingly – oat hulls (that is, the center part of a Cheerio and other leftovers donated by nearby General Mills).
Oat hulls
All of their materials come from within a sixty mile radius of the plant.

Koda Energy produce both heat and electricity that they then sell back to the grid. This is true renewable energy that is benefiting Minnesota by reducing our reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels and by providing jobs to the area.

The plant was featured in Troubled Waters because of a service it provides to area farmers: encouraging them to plant prairie grasses by buying them back at a reasonable rate. The current setup of the federal Farm Bill encourages almost solely corn to be grown in Minnesota. Now, farmers can grow prairie grasses and sell them to Koda Energy for a profit. These natural grasses are enormously beneficial:

•    Their deep root systems filter groundwater and survive droughts better than corn or other crops;
•    They require the application of significantly less nitrogen- and phosphorus-rich fertilizer;
•    They are perennials so they require no reseeding each year;
•    They prevent erosion along streambanks which contribute to sediment flow; and
•    They are natural habitat for local wildlife. An amazing array of benefits!

The Koda Energy Plant was a small aspect of the film, yet it really resonated with me. I was amazed by the clear and straightforward ideas and theories which are still so uncommon and revolutionary in the United States. I am proud that this plant is in Minnesota, and I hope more energy plants continue to follow suit!

Christine Lee grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Environmental Education and Communication. She is currently the Event Marketing and Logistics Coordinator for Friends of the Mississippi River.

Leaf-ing Behind Clean Water Tue, 26 Oct 2010 12:00:00 EST
The Freshwater Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of Minnesota waters, claims five bags of leaves and organic debris removed from streets and sidewalks can contain one pound of phosphorus, which if left alone could lead to the growth of up to 1,000 pounds of algae.

To read more about this innovative Minnesota water quality project, click on this link.
Dave: Water is Minnesota's Destiny Sun, 24 Oct 2010 12:00:00 EST
When voices from around the world are calling water "the oil of the 21st Century," you don't need to ask why.

Over two billion people on the face of this planet have little or no access to potable water. Meanwhile, global corporations are taking and selling water for private profit.  The EPA says more waters are being added to the national "polluted" list than are being removed.

Minnesota has done its share in many ways. 
Water is worth more than gold to Minnesota.
The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, thanks to voter approval, is generating $100 million per year for water cleanup.  MInnesota was the first state to ratify the Great Lakes Compact, which protects against some long-range shipments of Great Lakes Basin water.

But we're not doing as well in other areas.  We're mining groundwater in many growing suburbs for our drinking water supplies, sending it down the Mississippi rather than back in the ground.  We still face challenges in preventing pollution from agriculture and other industries.  And few of us see the need to conserve water, since it seems to be all around us.

We can't count on that to continue.

Think about it. Water comprises between 60% and 70% of our body weight.  Water is necessary for every piece of our economy, from agriculture to manufacturing and from tourism to ore processing and shipment.

And, you can live without oil, but you can't survive without water.

We need to remember that last point.  No matter what fuel shortages or crises we face during the rest of this century, we will always have water -- if we make sensible decisions as individuals, as a society, and as governments.

Dave Dempsey is communications director for Conservation Minnesota.