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Extension > Environment > Water Resources > Property owners > Shoreland maintenance > Accessing information to protect water quality

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Accessing information to protect water quality

Information and assistance available

Information and assistance are available from many public agencies and organizations that work in partnership with shoreland property owners, lake associations, public officials, and private enterprises to protect water quality. This fact sheet is intended to direct you to the appropriate source of information as you undertake protection strategies or adopt BMPs on your shoreland property.

Assistance may be in the form of:

What to expect when contacting an agency

Questions you may have

Listed below are some common questions people have and which agency would be the most appropriate to contact. Locations, addresses, and telephone numbers are listed later in this fact sheet.

Is my water supply safe for an infant to drink?
MN Department of Health or County Health Department

How do we keep exotic species out of our lake?
MN Sea Grant Extension Program or MN Department of Natural Resources - Exotic Species Program

Do I need a permit to install a new dock?
MN Department of Natural Resources - Division of Waters

How can I keep the lake from washing away my yard?
Soil and Water Conservation District or MN Board of Water and Soil Resources or county planning and zoning department

How many fish can my family eat without getting mercury poisoning?
MN Department of Health or MN Sea Grant Extension Program

How do I know if I have a wetland on my property?
Soil and Water Conservation District or MN Board of Water and Soil Resources

How can I get rid of weeds in my swimming area?
MN Department of Natural Resources - Section of Fisheries

Where can I buy 100 trees to plant on my property?
Soil and Water Conservation District

Where can I get information on building a compost heap?
University of Minnesota Extension or Western Lake Superior Sanitary District

How can I make sure my septic system keeps working?
County Health Department or University of Minnesota Extension

Who controls the water levels in our reservoir lake or river?
MN Department of Natural Resources - Division of Waters or local power utility

What are the guidelines and regulations for paving my driveway?
Soil and Water Conservation District or county Planning and Zoning department

To whom do I report a violation such as dumping into a lake or river?
MN Pollution Control Agency

The following list is categorized by the level at which you might best access information and assistance - local, state, or federal. A brief description of services is given, as well as how to access either by telephone or in writing.

Local resources

Water Plan Coordinators
Your county water plan coordinator is a good place to start because she or he has 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. In Minnesota, all non-metro counties have completed and adopted water plans, and are now in the process of implementation. 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 is the responsibility of the county planning, zoning, or environmental services.

Access: Call your county SWCD or University of Minnesota Extension office for help identifying your county water plan coordinator.

Soil and Water Conservation Districts

SWCDs were formed nationwide to conserve soil and water resources, and are local units of government within each county. Their objective is the control and prevention of soil erosion and water pollution. This is carried out through:

Access: Look in the phone book under county office listings.

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:

The Minnesota Waterline, a toll free number with knowledgeable staff to answer your questions, is 1-800-455-4526.

Minnesota Sea Grant Extension Program, University of Minnesota
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, publications, and audiovisual materials are available on research findings and expertise in these areas:

Access: Minnesota Sea Grant Extension Program
208 Washburn Hall
University of Minnesota Duluth
2305 East Fifth Street
Duluth, MN 55812-1445
(218) 726-8106

Exotic Species Information Center
(address same as above)
(218) 726-8712

County Health, Zoning, Planning, and Solid Waste Departments
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:

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. Access: Look in your phone book under county office listings for health, zoning, planning, or solid waste departments.

Lake Associations
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).

Access: Contact your county water plan coordinator 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 at:

Minnesota Waters
P.O. Box 321
Brainerd, MN 56401-0321
(218) 825-1909

State resources

MN Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR)
The BWSR works with local units of government to help them develop local resource management capabilities. Some of the areas it is involved in are wetlands, shoreland erosion, water quality education, feedlots, nonpoint source pollution and local water planning. Publications, slide presentations, and technical assistance are available. BWSR has regional offices in Bemidji, Brainerd, Duluth, Marshall, New Ulm, Rochester, and St. Paul.

Access: Look under the state government offices in your phone book or contact:
Board of Water and Soil Resources
One West Water Street, Suite 200
St. Paul, MN 55107
612) 296-3767

MN Department of Health (MDH)
Within the MDH, the Division of Environmental Health has these responsibilities related to water resources and shoreland property owners:

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. Publications and videos are available on well construction and abandonment, well disinfection, water quality, ground water contamination, water treatment devices, and well disclosure.

MN Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
Within the DNR, three divisions deal most directly with water resources: Waters, Fish and Wildlife, and Forestry. The DNR has regional offices in Bemidji, Brainerd, Grand Rapids, New Ulm, Rochester, and St. Paul. 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).

DNR - Division of Waters:
The Division of Waters is a regulatory division that 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:

Access: Contact Area Hydrologists in regional or area offices.

DNR - Division of Fish and Wildlife - Section of Fisheries/Section of Wildlife:
The Section of Fisheries works 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. Publications are also available.

Access: Contact the nearest regional office.

The Section of Wildlife 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.

Access: Contact the nearest regional office.

DNR - Division of Forestry:
The Division of Forestry provides service 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.

Access: Contact the nearest regional office.

MN Pollution Control Agency (PCA)
The PCA regulates what goes into our water and conducts water quality studies through its three divisions of Air Quality, Water Quality, and Ground Water/Solid Waste. PCA 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.

The PCA has regional offices in Brainerd, Detroit Lakes, Duluth, Marshall, Rochester, and St. Paul.

Printed materials are available, as well as speakers on specific topics.

Access: Contact the nearest regional office or the PCA state information office at (612) 296-6300.

Federal resources

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), U.S. Department of Agriculture
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:

Access: Contact the field office in most counties, listed in the phone book under U.S. Government, USDA.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - Environmental Research Laboratory
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.

EPA Environmental
Research Laboratory
6201 Congdon Boulevard
Duluth, MN 55804
(218) 720-5733


Shoreland Best Management Practices

Reviewed 2016

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