MN Nutrient Reduction Strategy Progress Report

As the year comes to a close, it presents a good time to reflect on the progress of various water resources projects and set additional steps for moving forward.

One such project is the Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS), which was adopted by 11 organizations in 2014. The NRS “outlines how Minnesota will reduce nutrient pollution in its lakes and streams, and reduce the impact downstream”. It targets phosphorus and nitrogen levels, establishing reduction goals of 10-20% to be reached by 2025 over much of the state, as well as larger reduction goals to be reached by 2040.

Every 5 years, the NRS requires a progress report to asses whether or not the state is on track to reach the nutrient reduction goals. As such, the 5-Year Progress Report on Minnesota’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy was released by the State of Minnesota this year and this report serves as a halfway point for the goals to be reached by 2025.

The progress report assesses 1) water quality trends over the past 1-2 decades to determine if water quality is improving, 2) state-level program advancements to see if their programs are making progress, and 3) changes in practices to see if enough practices are being added to reduce nutrient pollution. The report also lays out the actions will be taken or will be continued in the next 5 years.

Assessment of water quality trends over the past 10-20 years showed that phosphorous levels are down, while nitrogen levels are up. An important note is that the significantly increased precipitation in recent years has led to increased runoff. This offsets the progress made with phosphorus levels and increases nitrogen levels further. Over the next 5 years, river monitoring and trends analysis will continue.

Of the major program areas identified in the initial 2014 NRS, almost all were advanced. Minnesota has expanded and/or initiated more than 30 programs associated with the recommendations in the 2014 NRS. However, more time is needed for these programs to effectively contribute to nutrient reduction at their full potential. Partner agencies will continue to develop, implement, and expand these programs over the next 5 years.

Although there is still a great deal of work to do in both urban and rural areas regarding practices to reduce nutrient pollution, wastewater treatment has shown to contribute to the reduction in phosphorus levels and cropland practices have gone into place on several hundred thousand acres. Over the next 5 years, progress will continue with urban stormwater, septic systems and manure spreading, along with continuing the steps outlined in the 2014 NRS.

The report also lays out some additional steps that need to be taken in the next 5 years:

  1. “Maximize the multiple benefits of NRS practices by coordinating with other plans and strategies that use similar practices to achieve resiliency to climate change and ecosystem improvements.
  2. Identify and address social, economic and other human dimension obstacles to scaling-up BMP (best management practice) implementation.
  3. Use the latest research to continue refining the optimal combination of practices that will achieve the needed nutrient reductions in our waters.
  4. Optimize wastewater nitrogen treatment.”

The progress report can be viewed on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s website on this page. There you will find the entire report, along with an executive summary and appendices. Additionally, the Tracking BMP Progress tool can be used to visualize progress in BMP adoption for nutrient reduction across the state.

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