Alarmed about the rising levels of contamination in Minnesota's lakes, rivers and wetlands, Gov. Mark Dayton said he'll convene a statewide water quality summit in February.

Dayton made the announcement Saturday at annual meetings of the Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota Farmers Union.

"We have critical water quality problems in Minnesota and in many areas, metro and rural, they are getting even worse, " Dayton said. "We cannot ignore them. We have to face up to them and work together to solve them."

The summit will include water quality experts, farmers, lawmakers, regulators, the business community, members of the public and local leaders.

Dayton said aging wastewater treatment plants and farming all contribute to the state's water problem.

"Modern farming practices, especially the use of nitrogen fertilizer, both chemical and animal manure, are among the contributors to the serious, and in some areas, critical water quality problems that we face," Dayton said. "The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) reported last spring many of the lakes and streams in southwest Minnesota are unsafe for both people and fish to swim in."

Dayton said urban areas are not immune.

"I want to stress this is not a rural crisis alone. Many of the metropolitan areas White Bear Lake and others are suffering extreme water issues," Dayton said.

The governor said the summit is not about laying blame but about finding solutions.

In the past year, state scientists have released a series of reports that indicate Minnesota's waters are in peril.

Half the lakes and rivers in southern Minnesota are too polluted much of the time for safe swimming and fishing, according to a MPCA study released last spring.

The agency concluded that the problems are worsening and will require 20 to 30 years to address.

This fall, another MPCA study concluded that with the exception of the northeastern part of the state, wetlands are largely degraded, polluted with nutrients from fertilizer in the agricultural areas and by chloride from road salt in urban areas.

Depletion of groundwater has also caused water disputes across Minnesota. Many regions in the state have reached the point where people are using water, and then sending it downstream, faster than the rain and snow can replenish it. Frustrated over lower water levels, White Bear Lake homeowners filed suit in recent years accusing the state government of failing to protect its most precious resource — water.

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804