After visiting the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website, it became obvious that the reports available through ‘MyEnvironmental Reports’ were insufficient. Two of the three offered documents are 6-7 years old. The third ‘report’ was actually just a link to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), which was used for this paper. The issue as described on the MPCA website is water quality. Water pollution and therefore the health and quality of water sources in Minnesota are an issue, though the website claims that ‘Minnesota’s water has come a long way from the days when raw sewage flowed untreated into rivers as a matter of course’ (MPCA, 2014).
Water pollution and water quality are environmental sustainability issues because virtually all life requires water to live. Polluted water can damage and even kill whole ecosystems, never mind making it difficult for humans and animals alike to have access to uncontaminated drinking water. Uncontaminated water is also necessary for the health of vegetation, whether that vegetation is intended for food purposes or not. Without water, it’s not just that farms and businesses can’t function, and people won’t have indoor plumbing; without water, life is not possible.
Water pollution and water quality are issues which affect everyone. As the MPCA (2014) observes, there are currently ‘impaired lakes, rivers, and streams in the state,’ and ‘agricultural drainage, urban and rural runoff, and erosion caused by removing vegetation from shorelines’ are both making existing issues worse and creating new problems. Therefore, not only are people and businesses being affected by these issues, ecosystems are being several damaged. Lakes, rivers, streams, and other water sources are being further affected, since most water systems are interconnected. In other words, if a stream gets polluted, then all other water sources connected to that stream will also get polluted, carrying the problem of pollution far beyond the original site of pollution and affecting a larger area of people, animals, and vegetation.
The causes of the issue began many years ago, when ‘ as was stated on the website and was stated earlier in this paper ‘ raw sewage was being dumped untreated into the state’s water supplies. This has been worsened by runoff from agricultural operations (such as pesticides and livestock), runoff from urban and rural areas, and erosion on shorelines. These issues result in increased amounts of pollutants in the water systems, which also affect the groundwater. These pollutants may be as seemingly harmless as excessive nutrients or more blatantly problematic like industrial chemicals.
The environmental regulations related to this issue are complex. The MPCA (2014) website contains a link to a document entitled ‘Minnesota Pollution Rules.’ This document contains a section on ‘Minnesota State Water Rules’ which is extensive. It addresses rules regarding permits and certifications regarding water and water sources; how animal feedlots should be maintained (to mitigate livestock related runoff); sewage management, waste disposal, and wastewater treatment; protections afforded to the state’s waters; state standards for water; restrictions regarding water; information regarding programs and partnerships intended to carry out and support the rules; and information regarding certification and training programs related to the different rules and regulations. This document also highlights how the rest of the rules regarding environmental protection in Minnesota. The most important regulations relative to this paper are those which focus on the water systems and sources themselves and those regulations which pertain to how waste is disposed. MPCA (2014) directly points to the fact that many of the water quality issues pertain to pollution related to untreated sewage, but it is also clear that ‘new products and chemicals’ emerge on the market and into use every day, and it is sometimes difficult to know how these chemicals will affect the water and the overall environment, or even interact with one another.
It is clear that the issue of water pollution was not always addressed in the past or regulated. The website readily admits that. However, it is obvious from the MPCA website that the MPCA is attempting to make sure that regulations are followed. Minnesota has in an agency which ‘monitors environmental quality, offers technical and financial assistance, and enforces environmental regulations,’ which is the MPCA (MPCA, 2014). It is the job of the MPCA to make sure that the regulations are observed, to manage related efforts to control or mitigate issues, and educate the public on environmental issues. For example, the MPCA (2014) is currently in the middle of a ten-year cycle of monitoring the watersheds in the state. This helps the MPCA determine water quality and identify problems.
The MPCA (2014) outlines what it is doing to help solve the problem. Part of the MPCA’s job is to find and clean up ‘spills or leaks that can affect our health and environment,’ as well as developing ‘statewide policy, and support[ing] environmental education’ (MPCA, 2014). However, the MPCA (2014) believes that it is more important to prevent pollution than it is to control it, so it prefers to focus its efforts on preventing problems rather than solving them. Nevertheless, solutions offered by the MPCA (2014) to address the issue of water pollution include education and outreach with the public and other governmental agencies on issues like road salt use; assisting businesses in the reduction of their use of hazardous chemicals; and promoting land use practices which protect water sources. The ten-year monitoring cycle mentioned earlier is part of the MPCA’s efforts to protect healthy water sources and identify unhealthy ones which will need to be addressed. The MPCA (2014) also offers tips and information on how citizens can contribute to the MPCA’s efforts to protect the state’s waters.
- Minnesota Pollution Control Agency [MPCA]. (2014). How’s the water? Retrieved from