Clean water groups highlight progress for Powderhorn Lake, call for more success stories

Environment Minnesota

Minneapolis, MN. – On the heels of the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a new report tells the story of how the bedrock environmental law has helped to restore and protect Powderhorn Lake. When the lake was first created in the 1920s Powderhorn was enjoyed for swimming, but in the 1960s its natural water supply was cut off, leaving it polluted by storm runoff. Today, thanks to efforts stemming from requirements of the Clean Water Act, the lake is once again a source of neighborhood pride, even being voted best lake in Minneapolis in 2013 by CityPages.

Clean water groups, small businesses, and local government officials released Waterways Restored, a series of case studies compiled by Environment Minnesota Research & Policy Center, on the banks of the Powderhorn Lake to highlight the need for a new rule to restore protections for over half of the state’s rivers and streams.

“The Clean Water Act has brought progress to Powderhorn Lake, but the law’s promise isn’t yet fulfilled,” said Cora Ellenson-Myers, organizer with Environment Minnesota.  “All of our rivers and streams deserve a success story.”

In recent memory, Powderhorn Lake was algae-covered, trash-filled and suffering from polluted stormwater runoff. By the mid-1990s, the only way fish could survive in the lake was to be stocked by state officials – even then, only the operation of mechanical aerators kept oxygen levels in the water high enough for fish to survive. When an aerator broke in the winter of 1998, killing all the fish, residents of the neighborhood banded together to explore ways to restore the lake. The Clean Water Act empowered local citizens to take action and secure funding to clean up the lake, helping lead to the removal of the lake from the state’s impaired waters list, and Powderhorn Lake being voted Best Lake in Minneapolis, according to the Environment Minnesota Research & Policy Center report.

“Powderhorn Lake is one of only 37 waters that have come off our list of impaired waters. It is remarkable progress and I congratulate the community for their efforts,” said Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner John Linc Stine, “We want to see more progress like this in the future, but we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

While Lake Powderhorn is guaranteed protection under the Clean Water Act, nearly 47,000 miles of Minnesota’s rivers and streams are not, thanks to a loophole in the law secured by developers and other polluters nearly a decade ago.

In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to restore protections for the headwaters, streams, and wetlands left in limbo by the loophole. But oil companies, agribusinesses, and developers are campaigning bitterly against it, and last month the U.S. House voted to block the rule.   

Advocates at today’s event, however, stressed broad support for the proposal from environmental groups, farmers, small businesses, and ordinary citizens. Tomorrow, over 1600 supportive public comments from Minnesota will be among the 500,000 delivered to EPA officials in Washington, D.C.

“A clean Lake Powderhorn is important to the community- it’s where we hold our annual May Day Parade, and countless people come to fish and enjoy the lake,” said Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano who represents the Powderhorn area, “The lake’s progress under the Clean Water Act shows that when communities are able to clean up their water, great things can happen.”

While Powderhorn Lake is getting cleaner, polluters still dump over 17 million pounds of toxic chemicals into waterways statewide each year. Protection from pollution and development for the smaller streams that flow into Minnesota’s lakes and rivers, advocates said today, is crucial to protecting the our waters for future generations.

“The only way to continue to see success stories like this in the rest of Minnesota’s lakes and rivers is to make sure that they have protection under the Clean Water Act,” said Ellenson-Myers. “That’s why it’s so important for EPA to restore protections for all the waters that crisscross our state.”