MCEA petition restores public waters protection for Limbo Creek, four additional waterways
August 10, 2020 Contact: Aaron Klemz, firstname.lastname@example.org, 763-788-0282
St. Paul, Minnesota -- Today, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) announced it would restore four streams in Renville County and one in Polk County to the Public Waters Inventory (PWI), giving them protection from being ditched, drained or modified without a permit. In doing so, DNR also established that it is public policy that public waters, whether listed or not in the PWI, are entitled to protection under state law. One stream being restored to the PWI is seven miles of Limbo Creek in Renville County, which is threatened by a proposal to convert the stream into a ditch for agricultural runoff. This action means that the ditch project cannot proceed unless it receives a public waters works permit from the DNR.
The action was a partial correction of a 2017 Minnesota DNR Commissioner’s Order that eliminated 640 miles of streams and rivers in 70 counties across Minnesota from the PWI. MCEA appealed that order, and in January 2018 DNR published a framework to correct errors and add streams and rivers that meet the definition of a public water under Minnesota law. In 2019, MCEA specifically petitioned to relist Limbo Creek, and DNR today finally resolved that petition, seventeen months after it was filed.
“The DNR’s action today is a huge win for local residents who have fought to protect Limbo Creek from being turned into a ditch since the 1970’s,” said Elise Larson, Senior Attorney at MCEA. “But DNR has a long way to go. Two and a half years ago, DNR told a court they would restore public waters incorrectly deleted from the list by the end of 2019. While we applaud this action today, we want a plan to correct all of the errors across the state as DNR promised years ago.”
Public waters provide benefits to the public. They are protected from being filled, drained, dammed, or altered without a permit. Permits protect downstream users from being adversely impacted by actions upstream. The Public Waters Inventory is supposed to accurately catalog all waterways in the state that are protected by the DNR for public use, and if a stream is not included, the confusion puts it at risk.
In MCEA’s appeal of the 2017 Commissioner’s Order, it found waterways across the state that were incorrectly deleted from the PWI and clearly met the definition of a public water (“natural and altered watercourses with a total drainage area greater than two square miles.”) While the order today restores these protections to five streams, the DNR has committed to completing review of all of the waterways deleted in 2017, and has 68 counties worth of work to do after today’s announcement.
The DNR opened a 90 day comment period on the order restoring public waters protections to these five streams that closes on November 11, 2020.
What local residents are saying about the announcement protecting Limbo Creek:
“Today's announcement that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is relisting Limbo Creek as a public water is epic. After over 40 years of championing this issue our persistence has been rewarded. Limbo Creek is the poster child of watercourses and wetlands that need protection. The interest in drainage is tenacious, and without MCEA's involvement Limbo Creek would have been lost. Thank you to all of those that made this day possible.”
Tom Kalahar, Olivia, Minnesota, retired conservationist and City Council member
"This clarification of policy regarding the Public Waters Inventory will end years of confusion and fights over interpretation of the definition of a public water. It now protects those numerous water courses which may have been overlooked, which in turn help protect and enhance downstream and connected bodies of water. It is a big win for all Minnesotans who value our precious water resources and lessens potential litigation on whether or not a body of water is protected."
Scott Sparlin, Executive Director, The Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River and Coordinator, Minnesota River Congress