Water Resources Program

The Water Resources Program is responsible to ensure that the future of the Band’s water resources are preserved and retain the quality and quantity necessary to continue practicing the inherent traditional, cultural and spiritual ways of life of the people which are also protected by Treaties with the United States Government. Funding for these activities is authorized by Section 106 of the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act of 1972 was developed to address growing environmental and public health concerns related to water pollution. The act created mechanisms to regulate discharge of pollutants and to ensure appropriate water quality.

What We Do

Our responsibility includes a host of activities ranging from monitoring actual water quality and quantity through collecting data, to planning and implementation of projects, development and enforcement of regulations to consultation meetings with other natural resource management agencies to assure the Band’s needs are considered and incorporated when activities are proposed within the exterior boundaries of the Leech Lake Indian Reservation.

Main Tasks

  • Review and comment on permit applications pertaining to land use plan permits and proposed activities regarding wetlands and shoreland to minimize potential impacts to aquatic resources from proposed projects.
  • Environment outreach and education.
  • Water quality planning, assessments and studies: land and stream surveys including water quality, fish consumption reports (tissue samples for organic contaminants, mercury, dioxins and PCB’s, invertebrate bioassessments and other studies - all involved with current and continuous projects.
  • Individual Septic Treatment systems (ISTS) - Reviewing tribally permitted ISTS applications and perform inspections and inventory.
  • Wild Rice management.
  • Source water, surface water, ground water and wetland protection.
  • Development of water quality standards, watershed - based plans and total maximum daily loads (TMDLs)
  • We share the responsibility of the Summer Youth Experience (SYE), 1 or 2 LL Tribal College STEM interns for 10 weeks from June - August, we also take on short term college interns from LLTC, BSU & Itasca Community College (ICC).

We enjoy partnerships with the U of M Extension, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Cass, Beltrami and Itasca counties.




1. Leech Lake Watershed Study

Leech lake land consists of about 300,000 acres of lakes, 164,000 acres of wetlands and 260 miles of rivers/streams. Leech Lake is designated Tribe use as a walleye, whitefish and wild rice. Biological assessments of Leech Lake (Steamboat Bay, Sucker Bay, Waboose bay, Boy Bay, Walker Bay, Headquarters Bay and the main lake) and its tributaries (Sucker Creek, Leech Lake River, Boy River, Whipholt Creek, Shingobee River, Lake May Creek, Kakekona River and Steamboat River) are monitored on a monthly basis to evaluate a trend in nutrient loading and any other potential impairments.

The following physical, chemical and biological parameters are analyzed: temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, Secchi transparency, total phosphorus, TKN, color, turbidity, macroinvertebrates, phytoplankton, zooplankton and chlorophyll-a. Water chemistry is either conducted in the field or conducted at the Lab. Back to Top

2. National Lake Survey

Cass Lake is one of the lakes selected in a nation-wide survey. The main two goals of the Lakes Survey is to address two key issues: what percent of the nation's lakes are in good condition for key indicators of trophic status, ecological integrity and recreational value and also the relative importance of key stressors such as nutrients.

1. Trophic indicators: Secchi transparency, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen profiles, nutrient concentrations and chlorophyll-a.
2. Ecological integrity: sediment diatoms, mercury, phytoplankton and zooplankton composition/ abundance, shoreline and littoral physical habitat characteristics and macroinvertebrate assemblage.
3. Recreational indicators: fecal indicator (Enterococci) and algal toxin (Microcystins)

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3. Lake Monitoring

In the future we plan to survey additional lakes, streams and rivers as part of our surface water monitoring inventory. These lakes particularly are water bodies that are not currently monitored by state agencies, although are of importance to the Tribe as valuable resources. Collecting baseline data is essential when possible developments, such as, lake shore developments, pipe and gas lines travel through our reservation which could possibly cause impairments to our lakes, streams and rivers. Surface water monitoring for lakes and streams is vital in terms of both subsistence fisheries and wild rice production.

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4. Beach Monitoring Assessments

In addition to surface water quality monitoring, our program will begin Beach Monitoring Assessments starting summer 2007. There is a high number of lake shore septic systems that are non- compliant, both tribal and non tribal, therefore there is quite a concern in waterborne pathogens in lakes in which children swim. Many Native American children do not go to “designated” beaches, that are operated, managed and monitored, so in our efforts our program would like to inventory areas where these children swim and collected water samples to determine the levels of both E. coli using a certified laboratory.

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5. Water quality parameters

Temperature: Temperature is important in water because both biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) factors are temperature dependent. Temperature directly and indirectly affects many fundamental effects on natural lake processes, such as, lake stability, gas solubility and biotic metabolism. The rate of chemical reactions generally increases at higher temperature, which in turn affects biological activity. An important example of the effects of temperature on water chemistry is its impact on oxygen. Warm water holds less oxygen that cool water, so it may be saturated with oxygen but still not contain enough for survival of aquatic life. Some compounds are also more toxic to aquatic life at higher temperatures. Fish are also dependent on certain temperature ranges. When temperatures are outside their range, they are exposed to stress. Colder waters can hold more oxygen than warm water and also support different fish species. Depth profiles are used mostly to determine temperature regime and the level of dissolved oxygen necessary to support aquatic life.

Dissolved oxygen: Dissolved Oxygen (DO) is the amount of oxygen present in the water. This is a key ingredient for lake life. Like terrestrial animals, fish and other aquatic organisms need oxygen to live. As water moves past their gills (or other breathing apparatus), microscopic bubbles of oxygen gas in the water, called dissolved oxygen (DO), are transferred from the water to their blood. Like any other gas diffusion process, the transfer is efficient only above certain concentrations. In other words, oxygen can be present in the water, but at too low a concentration to sustain aquatic life. Oxygen also is needed by virtually all algae and all macrophytes, and for many chemical reactions that are important to lake functioning.

Dissolved oxygen content of waters results from the photosynthetic and respiratory activities of the biota in open water, the diffusion gradient at the air-water interface and the distribution by wind driven mixing. Oxygen levels fluctuate on a daily basis in response to mixing and plant photosynthesis. According to the North America Lake Management Society, dissolved oxygen levels should be at five ppm or higher for aquatic fauna to sustain life. Although, different species have different requirements to survive, dissolved oxygen levels at and below four ppm becomes a marginal environment for survival, growth and reproduction. At three ppm, a fish kill is possible.

D.O. meter

pH: The pH of water determines the solubility (amount that can be dissolved in the water) and biological availability (amount that can be utilized by aquatic life) of chemical constituents such as nutrients phosphorus, nitrogen, and carbon) and heavy metals (lead, copper, cadmium, etc.). Ideal pH within a lake ecosystem generally ranges from pH 6.5 to 9, which is slightly acidic to moderately basic. Different species have different ranges of pH tolerance. One effect of acidification is that slight changes in acidity may favor one species over another and contribute to a change in lake biota. It is not the acidity itself that is usually the lethal factor, but as the pH falls other compounds in contact with the water may be chemically changed, releasing toxic elements. An increase in acidity may also lead to excess CO2 in the water because of the chemical reactions. A high pH is also associated with algal blooms which can cause fish kills. Moreover, pH reflects biological activity and changes in natural chemistry of waters, as well as pollution.

Phosphorus: Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for algae and aquatic plants. Therefore phosphorus is an important element of the food chain within a lake. Phosphorus is usually present in very small amounts in a lake and is considered a limiting factor' for algae and plant growth. Since phosphorous does stimulate plant growth, it often is measured in relation to excessive production of algae. Lake with low nutrient levels have a low trophic level and are not very productive (oligotrophic). Lakes with more, but not excessive, amount of nutrients are called mesotrophic and lakes over enriched with nutrients are called eutrophic. Typically phosphorous in waters is present in several soluble and particulate forms, including organically bound phosphorous, inorganic polyphosphates and inorganic orthophosphates. Phosphorous is a biologically active element, it cycles through many states in the aquatic system and its concentration in any one state depends on the degree of metabolic synthesis or decomposition occurring in that system. Naturally occurring phosphorous comes from the leaching of phosphate-bearing rocks and from organic matter decomposition, although the additional sources of phosphorous that are man induced are very critical, such as, fertilizers, domestic sewage and detergents. According to Wetzel (2000), the general trophic classifications of lakes in relation to phosphorus are as followed: mean total phosphorus (ppb) for eutrophic lakes is 84.4, a mesotrophic lake is 26.7 and an oligotrophic lake is 8.0. According to the EPA, phosphates should not exceed 50 ppb if streams discharge into lakes, 25 ppb within a lake and 100 ppb in flowing waters not discharging into lakes to control algal growth. When phosphorus concentrations are below 30 ppb, algal blooms are typically not observed (USEPA, 1986).

Nitrogen: Nitrogen is mostly known as a nutrient found in fertilizer to promote plant growth. Excess nitrogen can enter into our lakes and rivers from the over use of fertilizers. Nitrogen is found in many forms and can be converted from one form to the other under certain environmental conditions: ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, organic nitrogen and atmospheric nitrogen. Ammonia is the most reduced form of nitrogen and is the product of organic decomposition, while nitrate and nitrite are the most oxidized forms resulting from nitrification (bacterial oxidation) of ammonia. Organic nitrogen consists of both dissolved and particulate organic nitrogen. Moreover, atmospheric nitrogen is available to aquatic organisms only through the activity of a few species of green-blue algae that are capable of fixing this source into a form available to the remainder of biota through a process called nitrification. Most plants, including diatoms and green algae, can use the essential nutrient nitrogen only if it is present in certain forms like nitrate or ammonia. The typical mean total nitrogen (ppm) for eutrophic lakes is 1.875, mesotrophic lakes is 0.753 and oligotrophic lakes is 0.661 (Wetzel, 2000).

Specific conductance: is a measure of water's capacity to conduct an electric current, although it is a good indicator of water fertility. Specific conductance is the reciprocal of resistance for which the standard unit is an ohm. Generally, the higher the specific conductance means that the lake is more productive.

Turbidity: Turbidity refers to how clear the water is. The greater the amount of total suspended solids (TSS) in the water, the murkier it appears and the higher the measured turbidity. Turbidity in water is caused by suspended matter such as clay, silt, and organic matter and by plankton and other microscopic organisms that interfere with the passage of light through the water. The interference of light passage through water is noticeable by visual observation in excess of 5 NTU.

The most used method to measure transparency (water quality) is a Secchi disk. Secchi transparencies have been used to describe the euphotic zone, at the depth to which light penetrates to promote plant growth. A body of water that looks clear to the observer means a less nutrient- rich body of water, therefore the reading will be high. This typically means there will be less algal blooms as well. The Secchi disk visibility is useful as a means of comparing the transparency of different bodies of water.

Chlorophyll-a: is the pigment produced by the plants. Excess algae growth is one of the main culprits of poor water quality. Monitoring algae levels is done by measuring the amount of chlorophyll in the water column. Too much chlorophyll means poor water quality. Chlorophyll is the pigment that allows plants including algae to convert sunlight into organic compounds in the process of photosynthesis.

Macroinvertebrates: is aquatic invertebrates including insects (larval Ephemeroptera and Trichoptera), crustaceans (amphipods), molluscs (snails) and worms in which inhabit a river channel, pond, lake and wetland. Their abundance and diversity have been used as an indicator of ecosystem health and of local biodiversity. They are a key component of the food chain. The macroinvertebrates traditionally seen as being pollution sensitive include: mayflies (Ephemeroptera), caddisflies (trichoptera), and stoneflies (Plecoptera). The macroinvertebrates that have been traditionally considered pollution tolerant include: aquatic worms (Oligocheata), leeches (Hirudinea) and blood worms (Chironomidae).

dragonfly (Odonata), cranefly, mayfly and damselfly, Snail (Unionidae)


Plankton: These are any drifting organism that inhabits the water column of bodies of fresh water. Moreover, phytoplankton live near the water surface where there is sufficient light to support photosynthesis. Among the more important groups are the diatoms, cyanobacteria and dinoflagellates.

Zooplankton: are made up of crustaceans and other animals that feed on other plankton. Some of the eggs and larvae of larger animals, such as fish, crustaceans, and annelids, are included here.

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Contact Us

(218) 335-7400 DRM

Name Title Phone
Brown, Levi Environmental Director 335-7417
Harper, Jeff Water Resources Program Manager 335-7415