Duluth's urban trout streams hanging on, but need help

John Myers, Duluth News Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

DULUTH, Minn. -- There aren't many cities that can claim 50 streams running through their boundaries, like Duluth can, let alone a dozen or more clear and cool enough to hold native, wild trout.

From Mission Creek on the west to the Lester River on the east, the city is crossed by streams that start high over the hill and tumble down to the St. Louis River or Lake Superior.

Jeff Jasperson of Duluth likes to snorkel in these shallow, cool streams and look behind old logs in the water. He's finding not only small brook trout babies but also some bigger, breeding stock fish, in places that don't necessarily look like the trout streams we see in fly-fishing magazines or movies.

"I don't think many people in Duluth realize how many of these local streams still have wild trout in them," said Jasperson, a biologist for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in Duluth. "It's not just the bigger rivers. We're finding trout in tiny, cold-water tributaries you could jump across in one step."

When Jasperson isn't snorkeling for fun or monitoring streams as part of his day job, he likes catching trout with his kids. He's even captured some great underwater video of urban trout on his Go-Pro.

"The fact we can walk from our house in Duluth and catch a few trout and cook them up for dinner, the kids think that's so cool. So do I," he said.


But most of Duluth's urban trout streams are impaired, in some sort of trouble caused by the trappings of city life: Too much sediment from runoff, salt from winter road clearing and E. coli bacteria contamination from people and animals.

All that concrete and blacktop in town means water runs off, doesn't soak in, and is often too warm and too dirty, or turbid, to meet trout standards. Some Duluth streams are already too warm at times for trout to live. Worse, most are forecast by mid-century -- just 30 years from now -- to warm to levels that are fatal to trout, thanks to a warming climate.

That's why the PCA has developed a report on the status of those streams and released a plan on how to make 11 of them more hospitable to fish. The 11 are the streams with enough long-term data available to show what impairments are an issue.

The name is a mouthful -- the Duluth Urban Streams Total Maximum Daily Load -- part of the sometimes-obtuse federal mandate to apply the Clean Water Act to ground-level waterways. The effort establishes the amount of each pollutant, the load, that each stream can accept and still meet water quality standards. The process provides a snapshot of where streams are today and lays out a road map on how to improve water quality over the next 10-30 years. But it's going to take more than a plan to get there. Local governments, watershed districts and especially residents will have to spend time, money and effort.


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