How Grass Roots Advocates Built a Statewide Movement to Protect Lakes – A Case Study of the Keep It Clean Effort

by Robyn Dwight, Upper Red lake Association

Up at Lake of the Woods, straddling the Minnesota-Canadian border, concerned local residents have spent over a decade looking for sustainable solutions to a human waste problem that occurs every winter because of leftovers of human activity. More recently, advocates from Upper Red Lake and Mille Lacs Lake have echoed their concerns. Two and a half years ago we joined forces, under the umbrella of KEEP IT CLEAN – a volunteer organization whose mission was to protect and preserve our public waters, not just during summer angling and recreation, but all year round.

The North Star State brags that we live in an outdoor paradise. Thanks to technological advances in recent years, everyone can explore remote lakes in comfort, and for extended stays. Wheeled fishing shelters have become luxury RVs that arrive to our frozen lakes by the tens of thousands as anglers search for prized Minnesota Walleyes, and as many other visitors enjoy their winter glamping experience. Unfortunately, the industry has overwhelmed many communities’ ability to manage waste and garbage left behind on the ice, under the ice, or along the shorelines. 

As our Keep it Clean advocates did the hard work of coming up with solutions and looking for partners to help us, we turned to agencies and legislators.  We used grant funding to operate waste removal projects and gathered information about human behavior and about a general lack of education and awareness of the issue, scarcity of resources and infrastructure in local communities, and a need for specific regulation and enforcement on the ice. Our core group was very passionate about keeping our lakes clean, but we discovered that there were no rules about garbage on ice,  so,  we decided to write our own last fall. 

With a draft bill in hand, we invited the Red Lake Nation, Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts to endorse us, which they did. We reached out to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources to draw on their expertise to guide our efforts, which they did. We phoned and emailed countless legislators to ask for their help in navigating the political realm, which many did. We made presentations and attended conferences. We introduced ourselves to respected organizations like Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates and MNFISH, asking them to carry our message to the Capitol, which they did. Our bill passed through committee and reached the floor of the house last winter, at which time I represented Keep it Clean when I testified, alongside Representative Andrew Meyers, about the importance of a bill prohibiting the placement of trash and waste on, or under ice of state waters. Our group, now a rapidly growing state-wide coalition, had our voices heard and we were thrilled to have our KEEP IT CLEAN BILL (97C.363) passed into law with bi-partisan support in the spring of 2023. 

 It has been a whirlwind of activity for our coalition over the past few years, and we were all thrilled beyond belief to have such an important law passed, far overdue, but a game changer for Minnesota public waters. At this time our coalition invites anyone with clean water concerns to join us by signing up on our website at no cost: We have a suite of marketing materials to share that will help you to get the word out in your community that ICE IS NOT PLACE FOR GARBAGE AND WASTE- KEEP IT CLEAN. 

Currently, KIC Advocates are working with partners to develop language for a new bill that addresses the need for an agency-run KEEP IT CLEAN program and a sustained source of funding to communities across the state as they find ways to solve the winter ice garbage and waste problems in their own backyards. Our group is very grateful for the support and endorsement we have received and we are inspired to expand our efforts and build partnerships for the sake of our precious natural resource, our Minnesota Lakes and Rivers.