Minnesota river volume has doubled in 40 years

Also, don't listen to Michigan

If you think Minnesota has a lot of lakes and wetlands, there used to be many more.

That was before the late 1800s and early 1900s, when settlers drained the land with ditches in order to farm, John Linc Stine told a Zoom group on Monday evening.

"We had to pave paradise and put up a parking lot, as the song says," said Stine, executive director of the nonprofit Freshwater, a St. Paul-based advocate for Minnesota waters. Stine is a former commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

As water runs off land, it has swelled the channels it enters. Over the past 40 years, some rivers, including the Minnesota River, have doubled the volume they carry, he said.

Stine was speaking at the first of four talks scheduled this summer by the Legacy of the Lakes Museum and the Douglas County Lakes Association. The next one, “Cabin and Lakehome Shoreline Management,” is scheduled for 7-8 p.m. Monday, July 13. They are open to the public.


Other points Stine made:

  • Although Michigan may claim to have 13,000-plus lakes, it doesn't have any size or depth standards and therefore can't claim any comparison to Minnesota, which has more than 11,000. "Don't let anyone tell you Michigan has more lakes than Minnesota," he said. "They'll take anything under the sun and call it a lake."
  • Minnesota exports its water, as 98% of the water that flows into other states or Canada fell here. Very little water flows into Minnesota from other geographic areas.
  • May and June are the most hazardous months to area water quality, as crops haven't grown enough to hold the soil together, and soil can wash off into lakes and streams. During these two month, about 80% of the phosphorus runoff in the state occurs. Buffer strips of at least 50 feet help shorelines during this period, and more than 90% of farmers are complying with the state's buffer law.
  • Alexandria area lakes are relatively healthy, except for the impaired lakes of Winona, Henry and Agnes. Rivers in the Long Prairie Watershed, one of the watersheds that drain Douglas County, also appear to have good water quality, showing low total nitrogen levels and low to moderate phosphorus levels.
  • Minnesota drains water to several destinations. Alexandria waters eventually end up in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Because of all the nutrients that run into the Gulf of Mexico, it is home to an oxygen-starved dead zone that forms in the summer and is larger than the state of Connecticut.

Stine urged people to protect waters by planting deep-rooted native plants, limiting lawn sizes and reducing sidewalk salt. Farmers can help by using cover crops, minimizing fertilizer use, adopting eco-friendlier practices and maintaining healthy buffer strips.
People can also become citizen water monitors through the MPCA or Master Water Stewards, a program akin to the Master Gardener program that is offered through Freshwater.

What To Read Next
Get Local