Sediment loads – the size of a city block filled to the height of the Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis – accumulate in Lake Pepin every year. With sedimentation rates 10x above normal, the lake is in a fight for survival. It has two water quality impairments and is expected to prematurely disappear in just a few generations. MEF member Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance (LPLA) is a grassroots organization dedicated to saving a disappearing Lake Pepin. LPLA’s work is one of our features this month, as we focus on our work to protect and restore clean water across Minnesota.  


Lake Pepin is a naturally occurring lake on the Mississippi River, spanning the 26-mile stretch from Red Wing to the Chippewa River delta. With an average width of 1.7 miles, it is the widest stretch of the entire Mississippi and covers nearly 30,000 acres.  The lake is a treasured and vital natural resource, home to hundreds of aquatic plant and animal species and a globally important flyway for migratory birds. It has also become the area’s economic backbone, fueling tourism and recreation industries that support communities along both sides of the lake. But sediments flowing in from upstream have been gradually decreasing the size of the lake over time, and the lake is expected to disappear prematurely in just a few generations. 

The Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance deploys the tools of community engagement, science, and public policy to improve water quality, habitat, and accessibility in Lake Pepin. 

They advocate for upstream sediment reduction and local sediment management. Sediment reduction from upstream sources is the only sustainable strategy, but local restoration is necessary to maintain current uses, reverse ecological degradation, and redirect incoming sediment to have less overall impact. 

Impact on Minnesota’s Water:

In 2019, Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance’s habitat restoration project was selected as one of ten projects nationwide – and the only project on the entire Mississippi River – to receive federal recognition and funding to support ecological objectives though a congressionally authorized pilot program. Construction on the project is expected to start in Spring/Summer 2022. 

LPLA spearheaded this project to improve water quality, fish & wildlife habitat, and recreational access at the head of Lake Pepin. The main features include:   

  1. Dredging:  
    • Large access channels to access the construction area and the Bay City Harbor. They will improve recreational access to the area after construction. 
    • Deep pools will be dredged to create habitat for overwintering fish. Bass, crappies, bluegills, and other recreational fish require at least 3 feet of depth, low water flows, and heathy oxygen levels during the winter. The deeper pools will also reduce wind and wave action that stirs up sediment from lake bottom (improve water clarity). 
  2. Peninsula Extensions will be constructed to create new habitat, guide local sediment deposition, and reduce wind and wave action that stirs up sediment from the lake bottom (improve water clarity). They are expected to change sediment deposition patterns locally, but not affect the overall rate of sedimentation in Lake Pepin. 
  3. Planting native vegetation will create new habitat and secure sediment in place to make it less vulnerable to being stirred up by wind and wave action (improve water quality).

Each feature on its own creates important habitat, but together, they work to reduce the wind and wave action that stirs up sediment from the lake bottom. The goal is that water quality improvements will spark additional ecological benefits. Construction is slated to begin on the project in early 2022.  

Get Involved: 

  • Hear locals tell the stories of their love for Lake Pepin 
  • Learn more about the problem 
  • Get your tickets to the Outdoor Legacy Concert, a family-friendly event to protect Lake Pepin, featuring live music, food truck fare, cash bar, trails, bonfire, and great company 
    • July 24th, 6-9pm @ Liberty Tree Farm, Stockholm, WI 

To learn more about how MEF members are working together for clean water across Minnesota, visit the Impact page of our website.