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Project aimed at cleaning Upper Mississippi River

Crews from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will begin to sample area waters in June as part of an effort to monitor water health.

The Upper Mississippi River-Brainerd watershed, which includes parts of Crow Wing, Aitkin, Cass, Morrison and Todd counties, includes 212 lakes that are larger than 10 acres, and 2,149 river miles that are sources of economy, recreation and tourism for the area.

While the health of Crow Wing County's waters are important to those who live, work and vacation here, it trickles down - literally - to the Gulf of Mexico, where the water eventually ends up, a resource for millions of people along the way.

In an effort to ensure water leaving Crow Wing County is just as clean, if not cleaner, than when it arrived, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, along with the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District, the Aitkin County SWCD and Central Lakes College are teaming up to monitor bodies of water to identify areas where land use changes are necessary and resources need protecting.

This spring, teams will collect water samples from 25 locations within the watershed and study water clarity, oxygen, nutrient and bacteria levels in area lakes, streams and rivers. MPCA crews will also sample fish using electrofishing equipment from June-September and collect invertebrate samples from August-October.

This is the second year of the four-year process. When all the data is gathered and analyzed, a full picture of the health of Crow Wing County's waterways, and the watershed as a whole, will come together. Then local SWCDs and the MPCA will create an improvement plan and take actions designed to restore and protect each county's water quality.

A recent study by the MPCA shows the upper Mississippi River, which starts at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota, is nearly pristine. It becomes more polluted by development, farm runoff and pollution from cities as it flows south. By the time the river reaches Minneapolis, it no longer meets standards set by the Clean Water Act for aquatic life and human use.

This project, funded by the Clean Water and Land Legacy Amendment, was created to preserve Minnesota's drinking water sources, as well as protect, enhance and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, fish, game and wildlife habitat.

For more information, visit www.crowwingswcd.org or www.pca.state.mn.us, and search "Mississippi River Brainerd."

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