Accessing information to protect water quality
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Information and assistance available
Information and assistance are available from many public agencies and organizations. These organizations work in partnership with shoreland property owners, lake associations, public officials and private enterprises to protect water quality. Read through common questions you may have and which agency to contact. Resources at the local, state and federal level are listed along with how they can help you protect and best manage your shoreland property.
These organizations offer help in different ways:
- Information and education on water quality issues.
- Technical and planning consultation for your property.
- Issuing permits, requirements, guidelines for developing your property.
- Enforcement of regulations affecting the water quality of lakes and rivers.
- Cost-share assistance and project funding for individual projects.
- Testing and monitoring of water.
What to expect when contacting an agency
- Times: The agency may have office hours between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
- Fees: Some may require fee-for-service; others may be available at no direct cost to the user.
- Call ahead for an appointment: The person you want to speak with may be out of the office, as that is the nature of his or her work - to be out meeting with people or conducting site visits or inspections. It is best to call ahead for an appointment if you want to meet with the person. If you don't reach him or her by phone, leave your name, phone number and a specific message.
- On some issues you may be given several alternatives to help you make a decision. You may also need to be referred to a more appropriate agency.
Listed below are some common questions people have and which agency would be the most appropriate to contact. More information on these contacts is listed below under local, state and federal resources.
Is my water supply safe for an infant to drink?
How do we keep invasive species out of our lake?
Do I need a permit to install a new dock?
How can I keep the lake from washing away my yard?
- Soil and Water Conservation District.
- MN Board of Water and Soil Resources.
- County planning and zoning department
How many fish can my family eat without getting mercury poisoning?
How do I know if I have a wetland on my property?
How can I get rid of weeds in my swimming area?
Where can I buy 100 trees to plant on my property?
Where can I get information on building a compost heap?
How can I make sure my septic system keeps working?
Who controls the water levels in our reservoir lake or river?
What are the guidelines and regulations for paving my driveway?
- Soil and Water Conservation District.
- County planning and zoning department.
To whom do I report a violation such as dumping into a lake or river?
County water plan coordinators
Find your county water planner: local water planners directory from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR).
Your county water plan coordinator is a good place to start because they have knowledge of, and access to, many other resources. The Water Management Act of 1986 (Minnesota Statutes, Chapter 110B) encouraged counties to develop and implement comprehensive local water management plans. The responsibility for implementation varies by county. In some counties, the Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has the primary responsibility, and in others it's the responsibility of the county planning, zoning or environmental services.
Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD)
Find your local SWCD: Soil and Water Conservation District.
SWCDs were formed nationwide to conserve soil and water resources. They are local units of government within each county. Their objective is the control and prevention of soil erosion and water pollution. They provide:
- Technical and planning assistance to landowners on conservation practices.
- Cost-share assistance (50 to 75 percent) to landowners to install erosion control practices, such as on roadsides and shorelines, or to control barnyard runoff.
- Printed information and presentations to landowners and groups.
- Forest stewardship assistance to landowners and communities (this may vary by county).
- Service of selling trees (this may vary by county).
University of Minnesota Extension
University of Minnesota Extension provides education on protecting our water resources with an emphasis on reaching people with practical, understandable methods. These include:
- Displays, publications and demonstrations.
- Workshops, presentations to groups (may vary by county).
- Coordination with other agencies to address water quality issues.
- Training on organizational and group process skills to assist groups in reaching their goals.
Minnesota Sea Grant Extension Program, University of Minnesota
Contact: Minnesota Sea Grant Extension Program.
Lake Superior and Minnesota water resources are the focus of research and educational programs of the Minnesota Sea Grant Extension Program located on the Duluth and St. Paul campuses of the University of Minnesota. Presentations, workshops and publications are available on research findings and expertise in these areas:
- Recreation and tourism.
- Water quality.
- Economic development.
- Coastal management.
- Aquatic exotic species.
County health, zoning, planning and solid waste departments
Find your county website: county website list at Minnesota.gov.
Health/environmental services departments enforce public health regulations and assist in areas that affect water resources and shoreland property owners. Many functions deal with individual septic systems. The county health department:
- Issues permits and inspects the installation of septic systems.
- Inspects septic systems for observable failure during point-of-sale inspections.
- Licenses and monitors septic system contractors.
- Licenses and inspects septic tank pumpers and on-land septic disposal sites.
- Tests water from private wells for safety and at the time of property transactions.
- Tests surface water at public beaches for fecal contamination.
The zoning department regulates land use to encourage the most appropriate use of land, while preserving economic and environmental values. It also administers and enforces the zoning ordinances, except in incorporated cities and townships that have their own zoning administration.
County governments carry out solid waste programs including management of landfills and transfer stations, collection of household hazardous waste and coordination of recycling activities.
Find lake associations: Minnesota Waters.
Lake property owner associations have been formed for many lakes in Minnesota. The purpose of a lake association can vary. They may be organized mainly for social and security reasons, around a specific issue such as weed control, for political purposes, or to encourage activities such as water quality testing or placement of navigational buoys. Individual lake associations may join together to form county Coalitions of Lake Associations (COLAs).
Contact your county water planner to find out about lake associations in your area. For assistance in organizing a lake association, contact your county water plan coordinator, county office of the University of Minnesota Extension or Minnesota Waters.
Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR)
The BWSR works with local units of government to help them develop local resource management capabilities. It's involved in wetlands, shoreland erosion, water quality education, feedlots, nonpoint source pollution and local water planning. Publications, presentations and technical assistance are available.
Minnesota Department of Health (MDH)
Within the MDH, the environmental health division has these responsibilities related to water resources and shoreland property owners:
- Regulating the construction, repair and sealing of wells and borings.
- Licensing well contractors and well pump installers.
- Requiring well disclosure prior to property transfer.
- Licensing and regulating plumbers.
- Establishing health risk limits for contaminants in water.
- Establishing fish consumption advisories based on health risk limits.
MDH issues permits for well construction and well sealing notification. A well may not be constructed or sealed until after it has received the appropriate notification. Information is available on well construction and abandonment, well disinfection, water quality, ground water contamination, water treatment devices and well disclosure.
Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
Within the DNR, three divisions deal most directly with water resources: ecological and water resources, fish and wildlife, and forestry. The DNR has a Minnesota toll-free number to provide you with information on materials available and DNR facilities, services and regulations: 1-800-766-6000 (TTD 1-800-657-3929).
Ecological and waters resources division
Contact: DNR area hydrologists.
The ecological and water resources division provides technical and educational assistance to local government units and citizens. It has regulatory jurisdiction over the alteration of protected lakes, rivers and wetlands, and water use. Shoreland property owners need to contact the division prior to altering lakes, rivers or wetlands below the ordinary high water level to obtain information and to determine if a permit is needed. Programs include:
- Alteration of lakes, rivers and wetlands.
- Water use, withdrawal of surface and ground water.
- Dam safety, water level control structures.
- Land use management programs such as shoreland, floodplain, and wild and scenic rivers.
- Information on streamflow, lake levels, precipitation and ground water levels.
- Publications, presentations and displays.
- Advice on local land use ordinances.
- Hydrologic data to provide information for decision making.
- Grant programs.
Fish and wildlife division
Contact: DNR fisheries regional offices.
The DNR fisheries offices work in the area of fish management and water quality as it relates to fish and other aquatic life. It issues permits on aquatic plant management and fish stocking and transportation.
The wildlife section can provide information on how to improve your wetlands for wildlife and the value of wetlands for wildlife. It can also give alternatives on the control of beavers and exotic species.
Contact: DNR forestry regional offices.
The forestry division provides information to landowners on tree planting and care. Although it usually deals with large stands of trees on an ecosystem basis, staff can give advice about shade tree management on smaller land parcels. This division issues burning and timber harvest permits.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)
Contact: MPCA regional offices.
The MPCA regulates what goes into our water and conducts water quality studies. MPCA issues permits that deal with the discharge of pollutants into the air, water or land. It also carries out the enforcement of local, state and federal regulations that deal with pollution control.
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Department of Agriculture
Contact: Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
The NRCS is a conservation-oriented natural resource federal agency. NRCS offices are often co-located with SWCD offices and the two work together closely. They can:
- Help property owners prepare conservation plans to manage soils, water, plant and animal resources.
- Conduct soil surveys.
- Assist local groups in planning and installing small watershed projects, such as watershed protection, erosion and sediment control, and agricultural water management.
- Collect data to be used by organizations and individuals to make land use decisions.
- Provide technical assistance to implement the Conservation Reserve Program, Sodbuster, Swampbuster and conservation compliance provisions.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Contact: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Minnesota is home to EPA's only federal freshwater research laboratory, located on Lake Superior in Duluth. This laboratory is the nationwide resource center of expertise on freshwater (lakes and streams) aquatic ecology and toxicology. Scientific publications on water pollution are available.
Reviewed in 2018