As Rising Temps Hurt Lakes, Pilot Project Seen as a Solution

Jul 31, 2020

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WALKER, Minn. -- Minnesota is coming off a streak of extremely hot weather. But year-round, the state is warmer than it used to be, and concerns about rising temperatures and their effect on lakes isn't going away.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota said the state is one of the three fastest-warming in the nation. Studies have looked at how forests and agriculture are affected, but Jeff Forester, executive director for Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, said he'd like to see more research about the effects on waterways.

Despite not having a clear picture, he said those paying close attention already know that lakes are in trouble. "Obviously, a lot more algae bloom; significant changes in hydrology, so, either too much water, not enough water," Forester explained. "And you know, this is driven kind of by the combination of warmer water and these pulses of rain."

Forester is referring to the greater frequency of heavy rainstorms and the runoff they produce. In northern Minnesota, Forester's group is working with organizations in Cass County on a project that teams up environmentally conscious farmers with lake associations, to reduce agricultural runoff. That project, called Up the Creek Meats, asks lake associations to buy meat in bulk from farmers who've adopted practices protecting waterways.

Tasha Schlangen, manager of 3Sixteen Ranch in Fort Ripley, is one of the producers behind the effort. While it's too early to say whether the idea will catch on, she thinks it's a good approach to keep regenerative farmers in business, and reduce the industry's impact on lakes. "I think it's a great way for farmers to get their name out, and for the residents to buy locally, and just a good way for the environment and, you know, [to] keep the lakes fresh," Schlangen said.

Forester's group is also trying to educate lakefront property owners to restore their shorelines. He said a combination of more research and action is needed to gain momentum to keep lakes as fresh as possible. Even so, he believes not all the effects of climate change and rising temperatures can be reversed, and said Minnesotans will have to adapt, including their choices of fish. "You know, we're not going to have walleye lakes, like we have now," Forester said.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates 56% of the state's waterways are impaired, mostly in the southern half of the state, where there is more urban and agricultural runoff.