The Rum River runs from Lake Mille Lacs through Mille Lacs, Isanti, and Anoka Counties before it drains into the Mississippi River. Thousands of people enjoy this river for fishing and canoeing every year. Many of those who do not use the river appreciate having the river within their community. Recently, the soil and water conservation districts and county departments joined with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to develop a multi-county management plan for the river and the surrounding watershed.

The management plan is based upon intensive water monitoring. Monitoring results were mixed. Many areas are in good shape, including the river itself and many lakes. The best water quality is found in the upper portion of the watershed in Mille Lacs and Aitkin Counties where forested land dominates. Water quality declines in southern Mille Lacs County and Isanti County, where there is more agriculture. Water quality stays about the same, or declines slightly, in Anoka County, which is more suburban.

The Rum River itself has good, but threatened water quality. The levels of nutrients and other pollutants have declined in recent decades. Still, phosphorus, an important nutrient pollutant, averages around 97 micrograms per liter, which is barely below the State water quality standard of 100.

Among the lakes in the watershed, there is a mix of good and poor conditions. Most of the lakes are in Isanti County, and 10 of these have too many nutrients that result in algae blooms, causing unacceptable conditions for fishing and swimming. Impaired lakes include Green, North and South Stanchfield, Fannie, Skogman and others. Several lakes are in good condition, such as Spectacle and East Twin. Lake George is the only lake that has a statistically significant trend of change; it is in good condition but declining.

Two related management plan reports have been drafted. One report, titled the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) aims to protect those waterbodies that are in good condition and restore those that are impaired. The second report, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study provides additional detail on impaired waters and pollutant reductions needed to bring them into compliance with State water quality standards.

Management strategies called for in the reports vary by region. They include protecting habitat along the river corridor, vegetated buffers along waterways, discouraging additional drainage, correcting riverbank erosion, and ensuring land use changes to developed or agricultural areas include measures that protect water quality. The highest priorities are recreational lakes and the Rum River, especially where work will benefit multiple waterbodies, and waterbodies that are close to but not yet exceeding State water quality standards.

The WRAPS and TMDL are broad scale plans meant to guide local decisions. Each county or smaller jurisdiction has a water management plan that is expected to draw from the WRAPS.

A public comment period on the Rum River watershed WRAPS and TMDL reports is open until May 31. Reports are available at the MPCA’s webpage or may be requested by contacting Bonnie Finnerty of the MPCA at 218-316-3897 or toll-free at 1-800-657-3864. Comments may be submitted to bonnie.finnerty@state.mn.us or Bonnie Finnerty, MPCA, 7678 College Road, Baxter, MN 56425. Written comment must indicate whether they pertain to the WRAP or TMDL report and should clearly state the action you believe the MPCA should take, including specific references to the section of the draft report(s) you believe should be changed, and your reasoning.

Other questions may be directed to Susan Shaw of the Mille Lacs SWCD at 320-983-2160 or susan.shaw@millelacsSWCD.org.