Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance (LPLA) is a local grassroots organization initiated to protect the lake and its communities. LPLA brings together education, science, and collaborative action to mitigate pollution from upstream sources and protect Upper Lake Pepin from irreversible damage. We advocate for healthy ecosystems, recreational and commercial navigation, boater safety, and strong local economies.
Our goals are to:
1. Reduce excess sediment accumulating in Lake Pepin from upstream sources, primarily the Minnesota River.
2. Restore Upper Lake Pepin to improve ecosystems, boater safety, and navigational access for recreational and commercial vessels.
3. Monitor conditions in Lake Pepin and sediment reductions from the Minnesota River.
4. Create an united Lake Pepin community by amplifying and empowering local voices.
5. Ensure all local, state, and federal agencies are aligned and responsive to the public, for protecting the lake into the future.
It was one of those times of low water on the Mississippi. Feeding at the edge of a Lake Pepin mud flat was a gaggle of gulls, black-winged pelicans, a couple of herons and a few bald eagles. One of the founders of the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance looked out a window at an island that had grown in a relatively few years from the size of a couple of soccer fields to a willow-covered stretch of some half mile. She mused: Is it inevitable that Lake Pepin will become just a narrow navigation channel flanked on both sides by marshy swamp? Or, can something be done to slow the sedimentation from upriver that is choking the lake?
So it was that four families came together to explore two questions:
1. What is the scope of the process that is creating a lake that is two miles wide but which in places is mere inches deep?
2. Can the process be reversed?
The group founded an ad hoc citizen committee and eventually named it the Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance. Some half dozen years have passed since the beginning. And much has been done to (1) define the problem and (2) give a qualified “yes” to the idea that not all hope has been lost.
Today, the Alliance (LPLA) has some 800 citizen and government followers in Minnesota and Wisconsin who depend on it to carry the flag for a cause which is undisputed in scientific and natural resource communities but which remains somewhat removed from the public eye. A major research study commissioned by LPLA and conducted by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls reveals that lack of awareness is one of the most serious handicaps facing the organization. Accordingly, a key goal of LPLA is to spread the word up and down the three rivers (Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix) that make up the watershed.
LPLA believes it is critical to not only slow the current flow of sediment and nutrients into the lake but also to undo at least some of the damage that’s been done over the last several decades. LPLA is engaging with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the natural resource agencies of both Minnesota and Wisconsin to develop a restoration strategy for Lake Pepin. The Corps of Engineers has received $200,000 in federal funding to complete a feasibility study to determine the best approach for restoring habitat and water quality in the upper part of the lake.
The restoration strategy must take into account the enormous amount of sediment flowing into Lake Pepin from the Minnesota River, which contributes some 80 percent of the material settling at the head of the lake. To help slow the movement of sediment, the public will be able to draw on a unique and hugely ambitious study already completed by LPLA. It is a mapping project that describes in detail the sedimentation reduction efforts of the 30 plus counties that make up the Minnesota River Basin.
One of the great strengths of LPLA is its ability to work effectively among both private and public entities, including the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, farm organizations, city and county officials, numerous citizen groups involved with water quality, recreational boaters, hunters and wildlife experts as well as businesses and property owners.
The founders have supplied much of the organization’s start-up funding, with current projects being supported by grants from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the McKnight foundation, the Katherine B Anderson Fund, the Red Wing Area Fund, the Phillip S. Duff Endowment, the Wacouta Firefly Fund, and the Evelyn Sweasy Charitable Fund. A next step will be to seek a broader funding base, including strengthening paid memberships. Much of the work is voluntary with day-to-day efforts handled by a single staff person.