Water, our most important asset, is fortunately still clean and plentiful.
Yet, will it always be so?




by Sally Sedgwick
for the Itasca Water Legacy Partnership

What most of us notice when we’re out on the lake is whether the water is clear.

But underlying that clarity is lake quality data – pH, phosphorus content and more. In fact, lake water quality data is used for all sorts of reasons – doing research, making policy, forecasting trends and developing water plans, explained Moriya Rufer, aquatic ecologist with RMB Environmental Laboratories (RMBEL) headquartered in Detroit Lakes.

Over the past few decades, lake data has been collected on and off by volunteers on many of the 1,084 lakes in Itasca County. Much of that data is in the public water database kept by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, where it can be accessed by anyone.

Last year the Itasca County Soil and Water District was working with RMBEL to update the county water plan. While using the public data and checking with lake associations, they discovered a curious thing. Not all the data collected had found its way to the state database.

At the local level, lake associations they contacted knew of other data or other years that data had been collected. Driven by local concern, lake associations had created their own volunteer monitoring programs and used different labs throughout the state to process samples. Some of that data had stayed in files kept locally.

The Itasca Water Legacy Partnership, a volunteer group which seeks to preserve the county’s water quality, decided to do something about the gaps in accessible data. Together with RMBEL, which is donating staff hours to the project, they are sponsoring a project to go through the process of contacting each lake association and setting up meetings to look over the data that is currently in the state database and find any missing data to complete the record. The end product will be a report readily available and easily understood by the lay person who wants more information about a particular lake.

Anna Johnson collecting Itasca County water dataThe project is coordinated by Rufer and is expected to be completed by the end of 2016. Anna Johnson from the Grand Rapids RMBEL lab located on the Itasca Community College campus has been contacting each lake association in the county during September 2016.

“Volunteers have put a lot of time into helping collect the data,” Rufer pointed out, “so it’s good to be able to have this data available for reports and planning documents.”

IWLP was organized in 2009 to form partnerships and create awareness about the remarkable water quality experienced in Itasca County, and the efforts needed to preserve that water quality.

To date, IWLP has partnered in $1.5 million in grants for projects and partnered with a variety of organizations including national, state and county agencies. Among those projects underway and completed are control of and education about aquatic invasive species, ensuring availability of local water quality testing, identifying sensitive lakeshore and establishing the economic value of water resources in Itasca County.

The mission of IWLP is to "Team Up" with other organizations and concerned citizens to maintain abundant, clean water for our continued health, enjoyment and a strong economy. IWLP is a nonprofit made up of volunteers interested in its mission in preserving water quality within the county and welcomes prospective members. 


Itasca Water Legacy Partnership Teaming Up With RMB Environmental Laboratories

RMB Environmental Laboratories (RMBEL) opened for business January 4, 2016 as a state-certified water qualiity lab and can offer the following services:

  • safe drinking and clean water analytical testing for drinking water, ground water, ambient waters (lakes and streams), and waste water (including compliance monitoring)
  • assist lake associations in developing water quality monitoring and assessment programs
  • well water testing (test kits available at the lab or at Itasca County Environmental Services, Itasca County Courthouse)
  • water sample collection by RMBEL staff
  • provide information and educational programs
  • environmental consulting and assessment, taxonomy, aquatic plant surveys, and aquatic invasive species (AIS) protection strategies

 Location:            Itasca Community College, Room 105 Wilson Hall, 1851 East Highway 169, Grand Rapids, MN (Private entrance on south side of Wilson Hall--click here for Map)                                 

  • Telephone:        218-322-2304
  • Email:                 customerserviceGR@rmbel.info
  • Hours:                 Monday through Friday 11:00 am -- 3:30 pm, afterhours by appointment 
  • Website:             www.rmbel.info 

IWLP is elated to work in collaboration with RMBEL and welcomes their 20 years of experience to Grand Rapids.  They look forward to a lasting relationship providing scientific information on Itasca County's waters.  As additional funds become available to do more water quality assessments in Itasca County, IWLP will be in a prime position to seek the funds and increase the knowledge of the County's waters.  We need to continue to take steps to ensure that Itasca County's water quality remains at its current high level.  The only way to mainain that quality is by good stewardship, which includes ongoing monitoring.  If you find yourself in need of lab services, please consider patronizing RMBEL.



Distinguished Scientist (and Itasca Water Legacy Partnership Board Member) to direct University of Minnesota's Sea Grant Program 

The University of Minnesota Duluth announced that John A. Downing, an internationally prominent aquatic researcher and educator, has agreed to become the University of Minnesota Sea Grant College Program Director and a professor in the Department of Biology beginning in January 2016.  Downing is moving to Duluth from Iowa State University where he is a Regent's Excellence Professor of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology and Chair of the Environmental Science Graduate Program.  Dr. Downing is also the Chair of the Executive Board of the Council of Scientific Society Presidents and the immediate past-president of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography.   In additon, Dr. Downing has local roots in Itasca County where his family manages a tract of land and shoreline as a conservation area.   Congratulations, John!  


2015 Aquatic Invasive Species Control Efforts 

Aquatic Invasive Species Boat Inspection In 2014, IWLP signed an agreement with Itasca County to hire a coordinator to oversee the communications and prevention part of the Itasca County Aquatic Invasive Species program. The Itasca County Coordinator, Bill Grantges, reports regularly to the IWLP Executive Committee and Board. He works with the Itasca Soil and Water Conservation District and its AIS program that surveyed 96 county lakes in 2015 (47 had mostly plant AIS) and treated purple loosestrife infestations at numerous locations throughout the county. In addition, Bill works with representatives from the Itasca Coalition of Lakes Associations (ICOLA) to review applications for Community Assistance Program (CAP) grants and monitor grant progress. Bill also oversees the Itasca County Aquatic Invasive Species Program Facebook page. 

By mid-October 2015, Bill reports that his team of inspectors conducted over 7,840 watercraft inspections with trends pointing to a 20% plus violation rate, an improvement form 2014. This work reflects 6,357 hours of inspection and decontamination time. Zebra mussels have been detected on three occasions, all at the Sherry Arm’s Landing on Pokegama Lake, with two on bunk trailers. The mobile thermal AIS decontamination unit has been in service since June 24, 2015. For the last four weekends, the decon unit has seen near constant use while stationed at the heavily infested Sand Lake. Bill’s inspectors provided tournament and pre-fishing coverage for several local fishing tournaments.

Communication and awareness efforts represent a substantial increase over previous years. Several AIS Watercraft Inspectors and SWCD AIS Field Crew participated in the Tall Timber Days parade with the AIS decon unit and made a big “splash”.  The popular AIS booth at the Itasca County Fair was a great success with over 1,500 people listening to conversations about AIS and how to prevent its spread. Bill gave numerous presentations to local lake associations and business groups and is a regular presenter at ICOLA. Bill also has a project in process with the Grand Rapids High School IB Biology program following up on a study conducted this summer at Sand Lake.  








To "Team Up" with other organizations and concerned citizens to maintain abundant, clean water for our continued health, enjoyment and a strong economy.


IWLP Itastca County Mission



Some of our important partners have been the Blandin Foundation, Itasca County, Itasca County Soil & Water Conservation District, Board of Soil & Water Resources, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, U.S. Forest Service, Itasca Community College and ISD #318.

IWLP has also received generous financial support from several lake associations, other nonprofits, businesses and individuals.



When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.
Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richards Almanac 1746


"Team Up for Clean Waters" is an initiative of Itasca Water Legacy Partnership (IWLP), a community coalition who care about Itasca County waters.