Minnesota River Environment Slowly Improves

Updated: 11/13/2012 7:45 AM KSTP.com By: Mitch Pittman

Minnesotans are intimately attached to our bodies of water, but lifetimes of farm runoff and wastewater left the Minnesota River in terrible shape.

It's a river so dirty it's been designated 'impaired.' Meaning it doesn't meet federal clean water standards.

The process of rehabilitating the river has taken years, but the Minnesota, which winds more than 300 miles through our state, is getting cleaner.

The heart of the problem is too little oxygen. At the Blue Lake facility in Shakopee, 260 million gallons of waste water gets treated every day with special bacteria added to increase oxygen levels

"Rivers that are going to support aquatic life, recreational activities, really have so much to do with the health of our economy and the health of the region, they're great assets," said Met Council chair Susan Haigh.

That's why several million dollars was spent in the last decade to build treatment plants along the Minnesota, where a tenth of the flow is waste water.

For three weeks in August, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency tested the river and found that even under stressful drought conditions, the river was healthy.

Recovery of rivers is a slow process, but officials are hopeful the river could have its 'impaired' designation removed next year; two years ahead of their 2015 goal.

"So everything we do here is not only benefits our local environment, our local economy," said Glenn Skuto, a water quality expert with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. "But it has a positive impact on the Mississippi, on Lake Pepin, and all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico."

Tthe new waste water treatment system is also very efficient. The Met Council says it costs 40 percent less to operate than the national average.