Surface Water Planning Facts

Council leads regional water protection effort

Good, plentiful water is this region’s greatest natural resource. It keeps our economy strong, enables our region to grow, and supports our enviable quality of life.

That’s why the Metropolitan Council works with partner organizations to deal with pollution that threatens many of the region’s lakes, streams, and rivers. This pollution comes from both specific (point) sources, such as an industrial pipe, and from diffuse (nonpoint) sources, such as stormwater runoff from agricultural land and urban parking lots.

Federal, state, regional and local agencies carry out  their respective responsibilities to prevent and clean up pollution of the region’s waterways. In its role, the Council:

  • Monitors the water quality of area lakes, rivers, and streams in partnership with local water management organizations, state agencies, the the public.
  • Assesses the data collected from monitoring activities to identify water quality conditions and trends.
  • Makes improvements and adopts new technologies at our wastewater treatment plants to reduce pollutants entering our rivers. 
  • Provides direction for metro area partner organizations in pursuing policies, plans, and management activities ("best practices") to improve water quality.
photo of four people in a canoe

Council monitors lakes, rivers, and streams

The federal Clean Water Act requires the State of Minnesota to monitor the water quality of the lakes, rivers, and streams and then to assess the condition of these water bodies.

In the seven-county metro area, the Council supports an extensive network of water-quality monitoring stations on the region’s surface waters. The Council and other organizations use this data to:
Two people testing stream water quality.

  • Determine the extent of nonpoint-source pollution.
  • Determine the overall water quality of the monitored surface waters.
  • Assist in developing plans to comply with limits on the allowed Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) of pollutants, as well as plans for Watershed Restoration and Protection (WRAP) plans.
  • Measure progress toward achieving water quality standards as organizations carry out best management practices intended to meet them.

The Council has undertaken major projects that simulate and assess pollutant impacts on surface waters to better manage their water quality and provide guidance to local agencies as they develop plans to manager their water resources.

For example, the Council completed the “Comprehensive Water Quality Assessment of Select Metropolitan Area Streams.” This is the first major study to examine the historical water quality of the 21 streams and stream segments that the Council and its partners monitor. The study provides a base of technical information that can support sound decisions about water resources in the metro area made by the Council, state agencies, watershed districts, conservation districts, and county and city governments. The Council also completed water-quality models for Credit River and Sand, Bevens, and Carver Creeks.

Upgrades to wastewater treatment plants improve river quality 

MCES staffer monitoring aeration tank.Wastewater treatment plants operated by the Council's Environmental Services division (MCES) continue to perform at a high level, achieving near-perfect compliance with federal and state clean water discharge limits. The Hastings and St. Croix Valley plants are 2 of the top 10 plants in the country for consecutive years (25 and 24 years, respectively) of full compliance with clean water discharge permits.
MCES is continuously evaluating its processes and adopting new technologies to improve the quality of the cleaned wastewater it discharges into area rivers. For example, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, MCES changed its treatment processes to allow biological processes to work more efficiently. The result was to reduce phosphorus in wastewater effluent by 90% and thereby reduce its impact on the rivers. 

Policy, planning, and management direction guide cooperative efforts

The Council is in a unique position to provide a regional perspective on water issues that transcend community and watershed boundaries. Under state law, the Council is required to prepare a comprehensive development guide for the seven-county metropolitan area.

The 2040 Water Resources Management Policy Plan is a part of that guide.  Adopted in May 2015, the plan includes policies and strategies to:

  • Manage the quality of surface waters.
  • Treat wastewater from homes, businesses, and industries to high water-quality standards.
  • Help ensure that the metro area has adequate water supplies, now and in the future.

State law requires the Council to review and comment on watershed plans prepared by watershed management organizations. The Council also reviews local water management plans prepared by counties and municipalities that are a part of their overall comprehensive plans, and provides technical assistance and guidance to communities as they prepare the plans.

Learn more about the Council's water quality management activities.