After outbreak, Minnetonka boaters face tighter sewage rules

Sunset sailing on Lake Minnetonka
Sunset sailing on Lake Minnetonka in August 2019. Around the Fourth of July holiday, nearly 200 people reported vomiting and diarrhea after boating near a popular gathering spot on the lake.
Paul Huttner | MPR News file

Boaters on Lake Minnetonka will face new sewage restrictions after an outbreak of illness last summer.

Health officials aren’t certain what sickened nearly 200 people who reported vomiting and diarrhea after boating near a popular gathering spot on Lake Minnetonka around the Fourth of July holiday.

But the Lake Minnetonka Conservation District, which has regulatory authority over the lake, has been researching ways to reduce the risk of such outbreaks.

As part of those efforts, the district passed a stringent ordinance last month, requiring pumps on marine toilets to be removed from boats and the discharge valves locked so the sewage can only be removed by an on-land disposal system, not into the lake.

"This does definitely provide an added level of protection, and it prevents the accidental or intentional discharge of sewage into the water,” said Vickie Schleuning, the district's executive director.

The district also plans to focus on education. Schleuning said Lake Minnetonka has many new boat owners, who may not even realize that the valve needs to be closed to prevent discharge.

State and federal regulations already prohibit dumping sewage into lakes. Although Minnetonka is a large lake — 14,000 acres, with 125 miles of shoreline — it’s also very busy and popular with boaters and swimmers, Schleuning said. “So dumping in the lake is not really an option, and definitely not in the public’s best interest,” she said.

The ordinance was a collaborative effort between the conservation district, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and marina owners, and they will work together to enforce it, Schleuning said. Boaters who violate it could face a petty misdemeanor charge.

In addition, businesses that provide launching, sewage pumping or recovery services are required to report to the conservation district if they are aware of a watercraft not following the rules.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.