WALKER-Northern Minnesota is renowned for its lakes, and an upcoming gathering will focus on making sure it stays that way.

The Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates will host a two-day conference June 17-18 in Walker to coincide with the organization's 25th anniversary. Under the title "Water Connects Us All Conference," it will include legislative speakers, among others, and will address "various critical issues facing the state's natural resources," according to a release about the conference.

"We are really excited to bring people from across the state to shine a light on the projects, partnerships and efforts being done by our lake associations in Cass County," Linda Blake, president of the Association of Cass County Lakes, said in a statement about the conference.

The meeting is open to members of the Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, The Minnesota Coalition of Lake Associations, and the Association of Cass County Lakes. Tickets may be found at www.mnlakesandrivers.org.

State Rep John Persell, D-Bemidji, and State Sen. Carrie Rudd, R-Breezy Point, both of whom chair environment-based committees in the Minnesota Legislature, will speak at the conference about work that is either being done or can be done at the state-level to help support Minnesota's 10,000-plus lakes.

According to Jeff Forester, executive director for Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Advocates, there's plenty of room for improvement in the condition of the state's water systems. They may not all be facing the same issues, but 40 percent of Minnesota's lakes and streams are "impaired" to some degree, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

"It's at a level where they're not swimmable or fishable," Forester said about the impaired lakes. "That's a big deal."

Forester said there are potential ways to rehabilitate impaired lakes, even if they may never be completely restored to their original status. That's why he says the time to act is before they reach that point in the first place.

"With lakes, prevention is like 99 percent of the game," Forester said. "Any rehabilitation you do is not completely successful and incredibly expensive."

Although it will undoubtedly take an army to help keep Minnesota's waters pristine, or at least usable, the various lake associations throughout the state already represent a strong movement in that direction. Forester said lake associations spend $6.2 million annually to protect and enhance lakes in Minnesota, and their members volunteer 1.25 million hours.

Forester said among those counties that have a coalition of lake associations, Cass County is one of the regions that is leading the way to protect Minnesota's environment.

"That's why we're having it in Cass County-to feature an area of the state that is working pretty well. And then bring other people from around the state to see what a robust association of county lake associations can accomplish," Forester said.