By lmassociation, 13-May-2013 17:31:00
Here, I review the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR).
The mission of the BWSR is to “improve and protect Minnesota's water and soil resources by working in partnership with local organizations and private landowners. Core functions include implementing the state's soil and water conservation policy, comprehensive local water management, and the Wetland Conservation Act as it relates to the 41.7 million acres of private land in Minnesota.”
BWSR’s biennial budget is $125.8 million. Sixty-nine percent of its income comes from Clean Water Legacy monies, 20% from the state’s general fund and the remaining 12% from other sources. Eighty-eight percent of these monies are spent as grants to local governments and the remaining 12% on agency administration.
BWSR has 15 board members and five state agency representatives, 88 staff and nine offices throughout the state.
The Clean Water Fund provides grants to local units of government. This fund is most directly related to lake interests. BWSR’s Clean Water Fund granted $27.5 million in fiscal year 2012 (July 2012 through June 2013). Of this amount, $13.8 million were for grants to protect surface water, however, none of this money went to Lake Minnetonka or its watershed.
BWSR oversees watershed districts, such as the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, by approving their overall plans. However, very little of BWSR’s funding or assistance is provide to the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District.
This completes my review of the most significant state agencies with involvement on Lake Minnetonka. The combined biennial budgets for the Pollution Control Agency (PCA), Department of Natural Resources and BWSR is $1.4 billion.
At this point, we should look at issues and outcomes.
The most prominent pollution reduction and lake restoration program in Minnesota is the EPA-required, state-administered impaired waters inventory (or “listed”) and TMDL implementation program. Simply, the EPA requires states to list all surface waters impaired by various classes of pollution, including nutrients, sediments and toxics. The states are then required to develop plans, referred to as TMDLs (total maximum daily loads) that allocate pollution sources and identify the required reductions to bring the water body into compliance, meaning no longer impaired. Those waters that have been restored are then “delisted.”
There are huge challenges and policy implications. There are 3010 impaired waters in Minnesota. This seems large, but it is the tip of the iceberg. Because only those waters with sufficient monitoring data can be evaluated and considered for listing and because only a fraction of the state’s waters have adequate monitoring data, the true number of impaired waters is much larger.
Another challenge is the development and implementation of TMDLs is enormously expensive. It was estimated prior to the enactment of the Clean Water Legacy Act, this process would require $80 to $200 million per year for first 10 years.
Actually cleaning up these impairments has not substantially occurred. According to the PCA website, only 15 waterbodies (3 lakes and 12 river segments) have been restored.
The few well-documented success stories for truly restoring impaired lakes tell the story. Two examples, East Alaska Lake (WI) and Cedar Lake (IN) have recently been reported (In LakeLine, Winter 2012). The restoration of these small lakes occurred at great cost and time. The restoration efforts took at least two decades. The total effort for Cedar Lake (781 acres) cost $27 million – total costs were not reported for East Alaska Lake (53 acres). These cases highlight the significant efforts required to clean up a lake.
Many of Minnesota’s lakes, including several bays on Lake Minnetonka, have become impaired due to long-term (centuries), permanent changes in the landscape. Reversing and restoring these require a great deal of time and substantial funding. Overall, our state agencies have a huge job. Many of the opportunities and responsibilities for protecting and cleaning our lakes fall to local governmental organizations, often with mandates from above and supported by state funding and assistance.
The role of local organizations will be the topic of the next several columns.
By lmassociation, 09-May-2013 18:00:00
Lakeshore owners on the above-mentioned bays have the option of opting out of the treatments. For details, download the formal notice in "Bay Projects."
By lmassociation, 16-Apr-2013 13:45:00
Here, I review the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The mission of the DNR is to “work with citizens to conserve and manage the state's natural resources, to provide outdoor recreation opportunities, and to provide for commercial uses of natural resources in a way that creates a sustainable quality of life.” Simply, the DNR manages the exploitation and use of the state’s natural resources.
The DNR’s biennial budget is $956 million. Funding comes from the general fund (21%), the Game and Fish fund (21%), the Natural Resources Fund (19%), the Outdoor Heritage Fund (Legacy money, 16%) and other sources (24%).
The DNR has these divisions (percent of budget expenditures): Fish and Wildlife (24%), Parks and Trails (22%), Forestry (15%), Ecological and Water Resources (12%), Other Services (12%) and other (15%).
The DNR Commissioner is appointed by the Governor. There is a Deputy commissioner and three Assistant Commissioners. The agency sprawls with 65 area offices throughout the state in addition to its Central Office in St. Paul.
Lake Minnetonka interfaces with most of the DNR’s divisions:
• Ecological and Water Resources – Manages invasive species programs, water withdrawal permits, regulates lake levels and the outflow of the Grays Bay Dam, sets rules for aquatic plant management as well as shoreland management.
• Fish and Wildlife – Regulates fishing, conducts surveys, stocks fish and administers the aquatic plant management program (except invasive aquatic plants).
• Enforcement – Enforces state laws, mainly through conservation officers.
• Parks and Trails – Plans and manages the public access program.
• Lands and Minerals – Minimal involvement on Lake Minnetonka.
• Forestry - Minimal involvement on Lake Minnetonka.
The Lake Minnetonka Association works closely with the DNR in the Bay-Wide Milfoil Control Program. DNR staff assists with the preparation of the lake vegetation management plans, provides grant funding, provides permits and offers technical assistance. The relationship and coordination has evolved to a point where the program runs smoothly and benefits significant portions of Lake Minnetonka.
The other main area of concern to the Lake Minnetonka Association is the management and control of aquatic invasive species (AIS). Compared to other programs of the DNR, AIS as an issue and as a program is new. In addition to being a complex ecological issue, AIS also run askew of the sometimes competing interests of their various Divisions. Specifically, AIS exploit the ‘unfettered’ access provided through the Parks and Trails Division and then must be managed by several other Divisions.
The Lake Minnetonka Association and many other organizations and individuals (including the DNR) are highly concerned about AIS impacts to Lake Minnetonka. The complexity of the AIS issue however, means compromises must be made. Providing effective management while at the same time balancing competing interests is a huge challenge.
The DNR’s Strategic Conservation Agenda has these elements:
• Aquatic ecosystems are healthy and sustainable (part of Goal 2).
• Target: Limit the rate of spread of Eurasian watermilfoil to no more than 10 new water bodies per year, and prevent spread of zebra mussels to waters not connected to previous infestations (a performance and accountability indicator under Goal 2).
Until recently, this target has been substantially met. However, in 2012, it has not as there were 16 new lakes were infested with Eurasian watermilfoil and 14 new lakes with zebra mussel.
More concerning is there are no performance indicators for any other AIS. Since Lake Minnetonka already has milfoil and zebra mussel, we are concerned with spiny waterflea, quagga mussel, Asian carp, hydrilla, VHS, etc. We do not want them.
In fairness, the DNR must work within the legal, policy and budget constraints, which are largely controlled through the legislature. While significant improvements to AIS management have been made in recent years, AIS remain uncontained and continue to spread.
Local planning and implementation of AIS prevention is necessary given the limitations of the DNR. On behalf of those who love Lake Minnetonka, we hope the collective efforts are not too late to prevent more AIS from getting in.
By lmassociation, 18-Mar-2013 16:32:00
This series continues with a review of the state agencies involved with managing Lake Minnetonka. There are numerous agencies with their fingers in the lake (in a regulatory sense), mainly including the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Pollution Control Agency (PCA). In most other states, the functions of these three agencies are combined in a single agency.
Here, I will review the PCA.
The PCA’s mission is “Working with Minnesotans to protect, conserve and improve our environment and enhance our quality of life.” The PCA works to prevent pollution, monitor environmental quality, provide technical and financial assistance, enforce environmental regulations, clean up spills and develop policy. Basically, the PCA administers, coordinates and enforces environmental statutes, rules and programs.
The PCA is governed by an 8-member Citizens Board, chaired by the Commissioner, and all are appointed by the Governor.
The PCA’s biennial budget is $363 million. Funding comes from various taxes and fees (55%), Federal monies (15%), the Clean Water Fund (13%, Legacy monies), the General Fund (3%) and other funds (14%).
The PCA is the state agency that administers the federal Clean Water Act (CWA), which is of most direct impact to Lake Minnetonka. Lake Minnetonka’s water quality has benefited greatly as a result of the CWA (for some background, see February’s column). The largest, most profound improvements in water quality followed the elimination of six wastewater treatment plants discharging to Lake Minnetonka (last one in 1982).
Water quality in Lake Minnetonka has steadily improved over the past several decades, now to a point where it has stabilized. Problems remain in the shallow, western Bays, particularly Halsteds, Stubbs and Jennings, where past pollution remains in the basins and recycles each summer and runoff pollution continues to be problematic.
The CWA directs states to identify impaired waters and develop plans (called ‘TMDLs’) to mitigate these impairments (that is, clean them). With respect to lakes, there are numerous challenges to actually cleaning them, including a) nutrient-impaired waters have lost their resilience and are slow to respond, b) runoff pollution is difficult and extremely expensive to reduce and c) agricultural runoff, which is often a major contributor, is exempt from the CLA. Simply, ongoing nutrient (phosphorus) pollution to lakes in the form of runoff occurs because land development, both urban and agricultural, have altered the landscape in a manner that cannot be reversed – it is ‘hardwired.’
Halsteds Bay is a case in point. The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District has determined that phosphorus load to Halsteds Bay must be reduced by 54%, which equals 1,523 pounds per year. To accomplish this, the District requires municipalities to implement stormwater projects. It has been estimated the cost for this will be 30 million dollars.
One such project, called the “Six Mile Marsh” project involves the purchase of a 113-acre farm (purchase price = $4.5 million), then the subsequent restoration of the site. When all is said and done, the expected outcome is the reduction of phosphorus by 200 to 350 pounds per year, 13 to 23% of the goal.
Interesting public policy questions arise here. For one, this is expensive. The 1,523-pound goal at a cost of $30 million translates to $20,000 per pound of phosphorus removed. Secondly, these reductions will take a great deal of time, probably decades (maybe longer). Thirdly, the 54% reduction is not enough to meet the water quality target in Halsteds Bay. Finally, even with substantial phosphorus reductions, some kind of sediment treatment will be necessary.
This is one of the concerns with the implementation of the CWA nation-wide; that is, mitigating runoff phosphorus pollution that causes and sustains poor water quality in lakes is not effective. Indeed, I am not aware of a single case in the nation where mitigating urban or agricultural runoff has resulted in restoring a nutrient-impaired lake.
By the way, there are alternatives that are cheaper (about 100-times), faster, more effective and safe.
Back to the PCA. Our pollution control agencies have gotten too far away from the intent of the CWA (at least in the context illustrated above) to restore our nation’s waters. We have focused too much on means and not enough on outcomes. This has filtered down to states and local management organizations to the point where cleaning up Halsteds Bay is not likely to occur any time soon.
We can do better.
By lmassociation, 19-Feb-2013 14:21:00
As we begin exploring who manages Lake Minnetonka, I will start at the federal level. Many other federal laws, programs and agencies are involved with lakes; however the Clean Water Act (CWA) as administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the focus of this discussion.
The CWA is the overarching federal regulation that frames water pollution controls. The first water pollution laws in the United States included:
• The Rivers and Harbors Act (1899) – established policies for navigable waters.
• The Water Pollution Control Act (1948) – the first water pollution laws.
• The Water Quality Act (1965) – established the first water quality standards.
Amendments to existing federal laws in 1972 embodied the CWA, which led to sweeping changes in the nation’s approach to restoring rivers and lakes. The goal of the CWA is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”
Phosphorus pollution caused lake eutrophication (the technical term for impairment due to the enrichment with phosphorus) and the main causes were wastewater discharges and agricultural runoff. The CWA confronted the former offender and (still) exempts the latter offender.
The impetus for the CWA as well as the main water pollution problems initially focused more on rivers than lakes. Thus, initial lake restoration efforts were somewhat incidental to the implementation of the CWA and the construction grant program, which provided substantial grants to upgrade sewage treatment.
Prior to this, many large lakes received untreated or poorly treated wastewater assuming they would ‘assimilate’ the pollution in the same manner as rivers. But lakes and reservoirs are standing water - whereas rivers flow - meaning the pollution ‘assimilated’ by rivers really flowed downstream and did not accumulate. There were a number of prominent case studies of advanced eutrophication the United States. Examples of these ‘poster lakes’ included Lake Washington (Seattle WA), Lake Mendota (Madison WI) and Lake Minnetonka.
All these lakes had similar restoration profiles – long-term pollution caused by wastewater discharge (at one time, six sewage discharges emptied directly into Lake Minnetonka), the removal of the pollution source and the recovery of the lakes’ water quality.
The Clean Lakes Program was a minor program of the CWA, at least in terms of funding; however it was very popular and we learned much about lake restoration and management technology. This program was de-funded in the 1980s.
During this time (1980s) a few counter-examples surfaced, notably Shagawa Lake (Ely MN). Following the reduction of sewage phosphorus inputs by 99%, Shagawa Lake’s water quality did not improve. The studies of this lake illustrated that phosphorus had built up in the lake sediments and were ‘recycled’ year after year, thereby masking the substantial reductions in sewage phosphorus inputs. This ‘internal’ phosphorus loading is a significant and substantial ongoing phosphorus source that interferes with the recovery of most lakes.
Concurrently, we recognized that watershed runoff (both urban and agricultural) also contributed significant phosphorus to lakes, which led to their eutrophication.
The CWA was amended in 1987, de-funding the Construction Grant and Clean Lakes Programs, establishing the ‘319’ nonpoint source control program (referring to section no. 319 of the CWA) and establishing the ‘TMDL’ (total maximum daily load) program. The confluence of these amendments with the improved understanding of eutrophication modeling, the watershed approach and internal phosphorus recycling reframed the nation’s approach to protecting and restoring lakes and reservoirs.
The upshot is that today, most sewage pollution is under control, but there remain huge challenges with the management of lake eutrophication. The goal of the CWA - “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” - at least with respect to lakes and reservoirs, has not yet been accomplished.
The most recent (2009) National Lakes Assessment by the EPA shows that:
• About 50% of the nation’s lakes and reservoirs are eutrophic
• At least 30% of the nation’s lakes and reservoirs have a prevalence of toxic-forming algae
The regulatory framework embodied by the CWA is inadequate to address these ongoing challenges for these reasons:
1. Agricultural runoff, a substantial cause of lake impairment, is exempt from regulation through the CWA.
2. Phosphorus-impaired lakes commonly experience internal phosphorus recycling, which diminishes the lakes’ resilience to external phosphorus reductions.
3. We now focus almost exclusively on managing and regulating nonpoint phosphorus sources, which in the majority of cases cannot be practically or economically reduced and
4. Best management practices (BMPs), the main programmatic tool, have limited efficacy with respect to phosphorus reductions.
Indeed, I have challenged colleagues across the country to provide documented cases where impaired lakes have recovered following the implementation of BMPs and have yet to find any.
We have shifted our focus from outcomes to means, which has resulted in the lack of demonstrable results. It is time, I believe, to change the regulatory paradigm.
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