Best Practice

Optional Best Practice for Step 3 Recognition

Category A, B and C cities that have at least one public water body within their boundaries subject to MN shoreland rules: implement this best practice by completing action 4 and one additional action.

Category A, B and C cities that have no public water body subject to shoreland rules: implement this best practice by completing any one action.

Optional Metric for Step 4 Recognition

Metric # 12: Surface Water


A city, working with another unit of government such as a watershed district (or Watershed Management Organization), can take direct actions to improve the water quality of lakes, streams and wetlands within its boundaries. Implementing an existing TMDL implementation plan is one example. In addition, a number of other action options are found in other GreenStep best practices, for example, in the Stormwater Management best practice. And a number of actions to improve water quality are required through Minnesota's regulatory agencies.

In some cities and for some water bodies, however, the actions of shoreland owners and nearby farmers will be the most effective means toward water quality improvement, which bolsters property values and property tax receipts for the city. This best practice focuses on building community capacity for public involvement in watershed projects, where the city supports actions taken by local lake or river associations, farmers, city residents and other businesses.

Greenstep Advisor

Best Practice Advisor Photo

Daniel Petrik, Land Use Specialist, MN Dept. of Natural Resources: 651/259-5697,

Connection to State Policy

  • As TMDL (total maximum daily load) allocations for pollutants are established for specific water bodies in the state, implementation of this best practice is one means of implementing the TMDL plan to improve the water body.
  • In February 2017 Governor Dayton announced a goal for Minnesota to cut down on water pollution by 25% by 2025, covering all pollutants, with a particular focus on nitrogen, phosphorus, chloride from road salt, E. coli bacteria and sediment.
  • Minnesota Statutes allow local citizen initiatives to create lake improvement districts with taxing authority in order to address specific concerns within a lake watershed that cannot be addressed under normal governmental actions.
  • 2015 & 2016 legislation requires permanent vegetative buffers - 50 feet (on average) on lands adjacent to public waters, 16.5 feet adjacent to public ditches, or alternative water quality practices.


Major Benefit

  • 40% of Minnesota lakes and streams are not good enough for swimming, fishing or drinking. And three out of four Minnesotans get their drinking water from groundwater sources, but groundwater is threatened by overuse and contamination in some places (nitrates from septic systems, fertilizers, and manure in some places; chloride from road salt and water softener backwash). The benefits of improving surface waters and storm water that affects groundwater are so pronounced that state agencies are working on a goal for Minnesota to cut down on water pollution by 25% by 2025.
  • The US EPA's Watershed Management Optimization Support Tool (WMOST) models the environmental effects and costs of practices related to stormwater, combined sewer overflows, stream restoration, water supply, wastewater, low-impact development  and land conservation.  
  • Successful implementation of a lake or river management plan will achieve, at a minimum:
    • Increased and managed native vegetation in the shoreline zone.
    • Improved water quality.
    • Reduction of aquatic invasive species.
    • Increased or maintained healthy fish stocks.
    • Stabilized or increased property values and property tax receipts for the city. See a 2003 Bemidji State University study of property value increases per shoreland foot per increased meter of lake clarity. The overall finding was that a 3 foot decrease in water clarity for northern MN lakes translates to a decline of 22% in property value, or the loss of $70/shoreline foot. The study was updated with 2016 data that show clairty of water is the most important explanatory factor in lakeshore property value. Data also show that it is much cheaper to prevent damage to water quality than to mitigate damage, and that some damages are irreversible.
  • Conversations and reporting about local water quality, which most importantly must involve any existing citizen lake and river associations, can result in potentially far-reaching benefits:
    • Better relationships among community members including farmers and outdoor enthusiasts.
    • Development of a common community vision grounded in trust among community members and focusing on a sustainable built and natural environment, and on sustainable land use.
    • Improved natural resource quality and tourism.