The people who developed a broad plan to improve the water quality in the lower St. Croix River got together to celebrate last Friday.
As St. Croix 360 reported in early September in a post by team member Randy Ferrin, the plan was recently approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, clearing the way to take steps to reduce phosphorus in the river to 360 metric tons per year (the origin of St. Croix 360’s name).
The basin team and members of the media marked the milestone on Friday with a cruise on the river out of Afton, MN. The Stillwater Gazette’s Avery Cropp reports:
The St. Croix River was listed in 2008 as an impaired waterway by the MPCA due to an excess of phosphorus in the water. This caused algae blooms that decrease oxygenation of the water and could impact area recreation if not corrected. The clean-up plan created by the study is known to those involved as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study.
“What the TMDL will do is show us the scale of effort necessary to impact the St. Croix. To target where and how many areas in communities we need to work with to reduce the amount of pollutants that enter the river,” said Jay Riggs, district manager of the Washington Conservation District.
In addition to working with farmers, cities and residents to reduce runoff that causes harmful phosphorus in the river, the team will also begin seeking to engage more of the people who love the river in the effort:
“And that’s the part we’ve got to work on. No one really understands what their impact is on the river, we need to discover something that gets people engaged moving forward,” said St. Croix River Association Executive Director Deb Ryun. “We’re hoping to make this the cleanest tributary to the Mississippi, to keep the St. Croix from any further degradation, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
The Mississippi is a cautionary tale, as its sediment-laden waters appear brown where the blue St. Croix flows into it at Prescott, Wis. The purpose of the St. Croix plan is to avoid the same fate, as the Star Tribune’s Kevin Giles reports:
Encroaching development, fertilizer pollution and storm water runoff from yards, streets and farm fields pushed the wider and deeper portion of the river, Lake St. Croix, onto Minnesota’s impaired waters list in 2008.
Monitoring of water quality showed that excess phosphorus had created large oxygen-sucking algae blooms that will threaten recreational pursuits such as fishing unless those who depend on the river repair it, the study concluded.
The MPCA plan seeks to reduce phosphorous contamination in Lake St. Croix to 360 metric tons a year, the same as 1940s standards. Without corrective action, the study concluded, phosphorous contamination could grow to 540 metric tons a year by 2020.
“Now we have the real work ahead of us,” Commissioner John Linc Stine of the MPCA told the assembled stewards.
More information about the effort is available on the Basin Team’s website.