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MPCA begins water quality monitoring field work throughout state

Monitoring crews from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) are beginning the sixth year of a 10-year effort to assess the condition of rivers, streams and lakes in Minnesota. This work is being funded by the Clean Water Fund from the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2008.

The majority of the monitoring activities will focus on specific watersheds. There are 81 major watersheds in Minnesota. Each watershed is comprised of a network of interconnected streams, lakes and wetlands. The intent of this monitoring is to develop a complete picture of the conditions of the water body types in each watershed.

Biological monitoring in rivers and streams will be carried out by two biological monitoring units, divided into a north team in Brainerd and a south team in St. Paul. This summer, the north team will work in the Mississippi River-Headwaters, Lake Superior North, Two Rivers, and Snake River (Red River Basin) watersheds. The south team will work in the Rum River, Minnesota River-Mankato, and Watonwan River watersheds.

To see monitoring teams in action, you can watch short videos on fish sampling and invertebrate sampling on the MPCA's Biological monitoring of water webpage (

Other MPCA monitoring teams working with the Department of Natural Resources and local water resource managers will track water quality trends on the state's largest rivers and on major tributary rivers at the outlets of most major watersheds in Minnesota.

The stream monitoring is designed to measure and evaluate the condition of rivers and streams by studying the biology, including fish, aquatic invertebrates, and plant life as well as habitat, flow and water chemistry. Examples of aquatic invertebrates include insect larvae, crayfish, snails, small clams, worms and leeches. Stream water chemistry is monitored to provide information about the quality of the water in which these fish and invertebrates live.

Lake-monitoring crews will sample the larger lakes in the same watersheds. The MPCA is committed to monitoring all lakes greater than 500 acres in surface area, and as many lakes over 100 acres as possible. The lake-monitoring teams will focus on water clarity, nutrient concentrations, and other water chemistry parameters to assess the lakes' ability to support recreational uses.

Wetland monitoring crews will sample five to 10 wetlands in the headwaters of tributaries to Lake Superior and 20 marsh wetlands across southwestern and northwestern Minnesota.

The MPCA relies on a large contingent of volunteers and local partners to collect water quality data on lakes and streams. Several groups have received funds through Surface Water Assessment Grants to collect water quality data in these watersheds in 2013.

There are certain expectations for what the biology and water chemistry should look like at a given sampling location. If samples do not meet those expectations, the sampling location could be considered impaired. If that happens, the MPCA would look more closely at what could be causing impairments and find ways to correct the problems.

For more information about these monitoring program activities, visit the MPCA's Water quality condition monitoring webpage (