By Tony Havranek, Director of Fisheries, WSB
Here in Minnesota, we’re proud to be the land of 10,000 lakes. We have deep ties to water – from its significant cultural importance to native tribal communities to the “Up North” summer tradition of boating, fishing, swimming, and enjoying lake life.
But no matter if you’re in Minnesota or anywhere across the country, the health of our waters – from drinking water to recreational water – is critical to our environment, to wildlife, and to ensure that we can enjoy our time on the water today and preserve it for future generations.
What are Recreational Waters?
People tend to have different ideas when defining recreational waters. Some instantly think of swimming, while others jump to fishing, kayaking, or boating. Recreational waters can include rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.
When the government talks about waters, they designate them into categories including drinking water, agriculture, industrial, or navigational use. Within each designated use area, there are water quality standards, which can be measured numerically or narratively, that determine whether the water is fit for its designated use or impaired.
Monitoring Water Quality
Entities at all levels manage and maintain our waters, from federal and state agencies to municipal governments, to non-profit organizations, to local groups like residential lake associations.
When evaluating a body of water’s quality for its intended use there are three main categories that can characterize the water: the water’s chemical, physical, and biological characteristics. Cities or other local entities checking water quality typically focus on measuring phosphorous, chlorophyll-a, and secchi depth since there are numerical standards developed for comparison as well as other indices which can provide additional understanding of the quality of a specific body of water with regard to these chemical characteristics.
From there, it is determined if a water body is impaired and what remedies need to be applied.
Issues Facing Recreational Waters
There are a number of issues that can impact the health of our waters. Some are man-made, and others are caused by climate and weather changes.
For those on the lake this summer, algae blooms are often one issue that pops up when the weather gets warm. Algae blooms occur when there is an elevated concentration of phosphorus. Too much algae can reduce water visibility and quality. Furthermore, when blue-green algae becomes too concentrated in lakes, it can be toxic to humans, dogs, and other animals.
Invasive species are also an issue for recreational waters, and are often caused by people moving plants, dirt, and/or animals into new habitats. Zebra mussels have proven to be a problem when they colonize the bottom of lakes. Their sharp shells can puncture skin and are a risk to those swimming. Phragmites australis, one of the most invasive plant species in North America, can grow tall in shallow waters, interrupting kayaking and other water activities.
Climate change, and more extreme weather events, can also impact the health of water. High rainfall, for example, can elevate a water body to unsafe levels, flooding local communities, damaging properties, or making the water body unsafe for swimming, boating, and other activities due to contaminants in run off.
How Partnership & Collaboration Will Help Protect Recreational Waters
With so many different entities, government organizations, and nonprofits working to protect and monitor our waters, partnership is key. Greater collaboration can better protect our waters and help meet water quality goals that benefit everyone. Many grant funding opportunities exist to aid entities and partnerships interesting in improving and addressing water quality and conservation.
Only one percent of Earth’s water is fresh and available to humans, making it an incredibly precious resource. We must all work together to protect it, so we can enjoy it today and for generations to come.
Havranek has nearly 20 years of experience in the natural resources field. Prior to his time at WSB, Tony helped develop federal policies with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and worked with tribal communities throughout the Midwest on their natural resources needs. He is recognized throughout the industry for his forestry, water quality, fisheries, aquatic and terrestrial vegetation, wetlands and wildlife expertise.
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