A new look to tackling Minnesota’s water pollution

Lake Volney may not be enough, but it ought to count for something.

For all Minnesota’s celebrated rivers and lakes, probably most people haven’t heard of Lake Volney, a 130-acre body of water near Le Center in southern Minnesota. It’s surrounded by cabins and homes and soybean fields, and for years, members of a local lake association have been working to make it cleaner.

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And they have had success. Once, you could see only three feet down into its murky water; now you can see 12 feet. Building on outcomes like that, members of lake associations around Minnesota are banding together this year to create an organization with statewide clout.

In some ways, that’s kind of a new look for Minnesotans wrestling with water quality problems, a topic we explore in Ground Level’s “Cleaning Minnesota’s Waters” project. Residents have banded together, formed new kinds of partnerships or simply found ways to get local cooperation in efforts to clean up lakes and rivers.

Cleaning Minnesota’s water has been a huge task for decades, but it’s different today than it was when taconite tailings in Lake Superior, power plants on the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers, pulp operations up north and sewage treatment plants grabbed the headlines.

Technology and a changing sense of tolerance that put restrictions on how water gets used have made for cleaner water. But population growth, agriculture, development and new kinds of pollutants continue to pose difficult challenges, and lakes and rivers continue to suffer.

And, although there’s plenty of room for state and federal policy debates, a lot of the action is local.

With this report, Ground Level explores some of these efforts to take action locally and places them in the context of how Minnesota is – or is not – protecting its water heritage.

A big issue, of course, is how farming practices contribute to pollution. As reporter Jennifer Vogel writes, there is contention over responsibility and over the science of measurement. At the same time, there are efforts at reaching across traditional lines and at trying new practices.

Check out the video of Windom farmer Tony Thompson. See how farmers and local officials are tackling problems in a watershed near Moorhead. Learn how much-criticized Crow Wing County is trying to deal with shoreline development pollution and how a Duluth collaboration is cutting down runoff into Lake Superior.

All these stories and more involve Minnesotans in communities taking action to solve a problem. See if you can learn something from the folks around Lake Volney and their counterparts across the state.

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