Watershed Connections - June 2015

Watershed Connections

June 2015

Paddle-in-a-day event highlights Minnesota River as a 'recreational gem'

MN River paddle in a day

Paddlers and paddling organizations teamed up June 13 in an attempt to collectively paddle the entire Minnesota River in one day. They covered sections adding up to more than two-thirds of the 318-mile distance. More than 100 people signed up among 13 groups, covering a total of 211.7 river miles within a total of 281.7 cumulative miles paddled. Group paddle organizers included Clean Up the River Environment, Mankato Paddling and Outing Club, Minneopa State Park, Wild River Academy, and Big Stone Natural Wildlife Refuge.

"You all helped affirm that the Minnesota River is a recreational gem along its whole length," says Alexander Watson, DNR southern region naturalist who helped initiate the event. "Let me know your thoughts on how to shine an even bigger light on the Minnesota River and of course get closer to accomplishing the group effort of paddling the river in a day."

The paddle the Minnesota River-in-a-day may become an annual event, and all groups in the basin will be encouraged to participate. More details can be found on the Paddle the Minnesota River in a Day website. For more information contact Alexander at 507-359-6062alexander.watson@state.mn.usPhoto: Paddlers near the finish of the Minnesota River from Memorial Park in Granite Falls to the Upper Sioux Agency State Park. From left: Andy Falk, Brian Wojtalewizc, Gavin Fernholz, Brad Fernholz. Midway through the stretch they had a fast, turbulent ride on the rapids through the site of the former Minnesota Falls dam.

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LeSueur River group to host paddle event, community meeting June 30

lesueur kayakers

The LeSueur River Watershed Network is hosting a community meeting and paddling event June 30, featuring Patrick Belmont, Utah State University professor and one of the lead scientists studying the river. The guided paddle will start at 4:30 p.m. at Blue Earth County Road 16 to Red Jacket Trail Park. Participants will have the opportunity to see firsthand, the erosion and sedimentation concerns in downstream sections of the watershed. Belmont will show areas he has been monitoring the last few years, along with natural formations in the channel and how they are affected by rapid increases in water level during peak flows.

The Mankato Paddling and Outings Club and Scott Kudelka, DNR, will be providing canoes. Space is limited; please RSVP to reserve a spot. Following the paddle, light snacks will be provided by the network’s steering committee. The community meeting will start at 6 p.m. with updates around the watershed, along with an introduction to one of the latest projects in the watershed – supporting a grant for a ditchshed (JD9 system).

The event is free and open to anyone interested in learning more about the watershed or the citizen-led watershed group. For more information about what local landowners in collaboration with local government and state agencies are doing, visit the Le Sueur River Watershed Network website: lesueurriver.org. Pre-register by Friday, June 26, by emailing or calling: jessica.nelson-1@mnsu.edu, 507-389-2704, or mrbscr@enventis.com 507-388-7023. Photo: Kayakers on the LeSueur River in 2012.

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Congress planners hear Minnesota River Commission legislative initiative

MN River congress logo

The evolving Minnesota River Congress could play a key role in proposed legislation being developed creating a new Minnesota River Commission. Linda Loomis, executive director of the Lower Minnesota River Watershed District, discussed the proposal at the Congress organization team meeting June 16 in Henderson. Along with Congress organizational documents, it likely will be discussed further at the fourth Congress July 23 at Turner Hall in New Ulm.

Sediment and dredging costs in the lower Minnesota River are driving the call for a Minnesota River commission, according to Loomis. Data show an increased need for water management to reduce sediment scoured from near-channel sources, using tools ranging from cover crops to upland water storage. The Lower Minnesota River Watershed District has voted to endorse the Minnesota River Congress and looks forward to participation and partnering sponsorship of future Congress functions.

The Congress organization team approved documents that will be presented and voted on by the full Congress meeting July 23: Action board structure and application form, organizational chart, and purpose statement rankings. The team agreed to stay with the name Minnesota River Congress because it has become familiar and well-known. The team agreed that development of Congress policy and position statements could start at the individual watershed level, go to the action board, and eventually the full Congress. Policy, coordination, communication, and civic engagement topped the list of purpose statements. The action board would be citizen-led and include wide range of private and public entities in the basin.

The congress is open to everyone interested in the economic, social, and natural resource vitality of the basin, encompassing nearly 11 million acres, more than 700,000 people, and thousands of farms and industries. Organizers believe there’s a need for a citizen-led entity that is inviting and all inclusive for the many different groups active in the Minnesota River Valley, including agriculture, industry, natural resources, recreation, economic development, tourism, all levels of government, faith communities, first nations, and watershed organizations. For more information, contact Scott Sparlin, 507-276-2280yasure@lycos.com; or Ted Suss, (507) 828-3377tedsuss@gmail.com.

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Watershed news briefs

Powerful GSSHA model development approaching readiness for wider use

After several years of development in two pilot projects, a powerful model for studying watersheds and identifying water management practices could be available for wider use later this year or early 2016. Greg Eggers of the DNR gave an update on the Gridded Surface Subsurface Hydrologic Analysis (GSSHA) model at the Shakopee Creek Headwaters Project meeting Thursday at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center near Spicer. Shakopee Creek is a subwatershed of the Chippewa River. Using a 30-meter grid, the model will quantify hydrologic changes in great detail, including multiple soil-type layers, and indicate the most effective water management practices at a field scale. The information will help to reduce uncertainty in more broad-based models such as Hydrological Simulation Program Fortran. Along with the Shakopee Creek headwaters in northern Kandiyohi County, the other pilot project is in the Seven Mile Creek watershed near St. Peter. Initially developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the model is being developed by Eggers and the DNR as a tool for the Minnesota River Integrated Watershed Study being led by the USACE, where Eggers was an engineer for many years before joining the DNR.

Chippewa River lines up projects with CWP and in-kind funds totaling nearly $700k

The Chippewa River Watershed Project (CRWP) recently signed a Clean Water Partnership grant agreement with the MPCA for $296,965 over three years. Along with $402,076 in loans and in-kind resources, a total of $699,041 will be available for implementation projects such as buffer strips, shoreline restoration, streambank stabilization, livestock exclusion, and monitoring. Low interest loan dollars for septic system upgrades included $200,000 for Kandiyohi County and $150,000 for Chippewa County. The CRWP is organized as a joint powers agreement with Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Pope, Grant, Stevens, Douglas, and Swift counties.

CWP grant to fund terrain analysis tools in West Fork Des Moines

The Heron Lake Watershed District (HLWD) received a Clean Water Partnership grant of $21,955 to build upon terrain analysis products developed by Southwest Prairie Technical Service Area 5. Working through the West Fork Des Moines River Targeting and Prioritizing Endeavor, it will provide datasets, summary maps, and a technical memorandum describing the suitability for BMP placement, the effect of targeted implementation on priority resources, and the measurable cost-effectiveness to implement BMPs. They will provide decision-makers with more detailed data, allowing for targeting implementation efforts, and ultimately making better use of public funds. The HLWD and other local government entities will be able to leverage the results of the WFDMR Targeting and Prioritizing Endeavor for more concise and effective grant applications, and provide better information for more effective outreach to potential landowners. For more information contact the HLWD.


Heron Lake Watershed District hires summer interns

Two interns are spending the summer working for the Heron Lake Watershed District. Originally from Washington, Michelle Chapel attends Montana State University studying conservation biology and ecology with a minor in water resources. "I am looking forward to serving as an intern this summer for Heron Lake Watershed District and North Heron Lake Game Producers Association." Following her freshman year she was as a park ranger intern in Great Falls, Montana. The following summer she traveled with a team to Altai Republic, Russia researching the local ecology and connecting with the native Altayan people.

A Dundee, Minn. native, Cole Sinnamon graduated from Fulda high school in 2011, and attended the University of North Dakota to study meteorology until he decided to change majors. Currently, he is finishing general courses at Minnesota West in Worthington, and plans to transfer to another university and major in environmental science or environmental management. "I am really looking forward to working with the Heron Lake Watershed District and North Heron Lake Game Producers Association this summer, and doing things such as water sampling, goose banding, and helping out the various organizations they work with."

Great River Greening notes highlights in annual report

Recently celebrating 20 years, Great River Greening has released its annual report noting highlights from 2014. Great River Greening was founded in 1995 as part of the St. Paul Foundation to restore the downtown St. Paul riverfront. In 1999, it incorporated as its own nonprofit and now works throughout the entire Twin Cities metro area and beyond to mobilize community volunteers to restore native landscapes. Over 20 years Great River Greening has recruited 35,000 volunteers, planted 110,000 trees, and restored 12,000 acres. It leads the Seven Mile Creek Watershed Partnership, composed of more than 25 agriculture, conservation, community, business, and government partners.

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Compromise on ditch buffer initiative becomes state law

dodge ditch buffer

The ditch buffer legislation passed in the legislative special session will be in Minnesota Statutes 103F.48, and will appear in the upcoming 2015 Statutes publication. The DNR website provides background reports and information on implementing the ditch buffer initiative.

Provisions of the law (summarized in the Star Tribune June 13):

• The Department of Natural Resources will map all public waters and ditches that will be subject to buffers by next July, and will be given $650,000 from the Clean Water Fund to do so.

• Fifty-foot buffers must be installed on public waters by November 2017 and 16½-foot buffers on public ditches by November 2018. Dayton had wanted the buffers by 2016.

• Many small streams, headwaters and ditches aren’t “public.” Dayton’s original proposal would have required that some of them, too, have 50-foot buffers. Now it will be up to the state’s 90 county soil and water conservation districts to identify those that need buffers.

• Over the first two years, the districts will share $22 million from the Legacy Amendment’s Clean Water Fund for technical assistance costs. That’s an average of about $242,000 for each district. After the first two years, funding comes from the state’s general fund.

• The state Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) can withhold funds to soil and water conservation districts that fail to implement the law. The agency has been allocated $5 million from the Clean Water Fund to help with implementation.

• Counties, watershed districts or BWSR will enforce the law, and fines up to $500 can be issued; multiple fines could be issued. “You can’t just pay to not have a buffer,” said John Jaschke, BWSR executive director. (Under Dayton’s original proposal, the DNR would have enforced the law.)

• No new money is in the bill to pay landowners to take cropland out of production and plant buffers, but there is $33 million from the Clean Water Fund and the Outdoor Heritage Fund available for easements and other financial assistance to help landowners meet or exceed buffer requirements. The federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and state Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) program can provide annual or easement payments.

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Lake Shaokatan: A prairie lake with improving water quality


Addressing feedlot runoff, farming and urban sources of pollutants, and failing septic systems are helping heal Lake Shaokatan in western Minnesota.

Plagued by toxic blue-green algal blooms for several years (photo at right), the lake is now recording all-time lows of phosphorus, the nutrient that causes algae, and showing other signs of improvement, according to Steve Heiskary, research scientist with the MPCA.

Typical of many shallow lakes in agricultural watersheds, Lake Shaokatan’s condition shows that long-term efforts can make a difference. This 995-acre lake near the town of Ivanhoe in Lincoln County has a maximum depth of 10 feet.

Dating back to 1991, the Yellow Medicine Watershed District, state and federal agencies, local groups, and local units of government have worked to study the lake and implement restoration efforts. Signs of a healthier lake include:

  • Lower levels of phosphorus and chlorophyll-a, the pigment that makes algae green;
  • Less frequent and less severe algal blooms;
  • Greater water clarity; and
  • Rooted plants growing in the lake.

In 2008, the MPCA included Lake Shaokatan in another long-term monitoring program, Sustaining Lakes In a Changing Environment (SLICE). SLICE lakes are monitored more often to assess physical, chemical, and biological characteristics, and to gauge the current health of habitats and fish in Minnesota lakes.

“It is too early to tell if the 2014 phosphorus and chlorophyll-a concentrations will become the new norm for Shaokatan. However, continued monitoring in 2015 through SLICE will provide an opportunity to track changes in the condition of this lake,” Heiskary said. Photo: Steve Heiskary takes a water sample from Lake Shaokatan.

Read the full story about Lake Shaokatan on the MPCA website.

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CTIC tour Aug. 11-12 to visit southeast Minnesota ag conservation sites

ctic tour logo

The eighth annual Conservation in Action Tour will visit southeast Minnesota Aug. 11-12 for an up-close look at innovative practices and partnerships in conservation farming.

With the Mississippi River flanking the southeastern counties and the state’s buffer initiative, Minnesota farmers are under pressure to reduce off-farm nutrient flow, limit erosion and develop systems that are both economically and environmentally sustainable. Their collaborations, nutrient management plans and technology provide outstanding models of the power of partnership and voluntary conservation practices that can be adopted nationwide.

At the opening social on August 11 and throughout the August 12 tour, you’ll be joined by farmers, agricultural retailers, government agency personnel, legislators, researchers, conservation group partners, and news media. During the tour, you’ll meet a wide range of farmers and their partners committed to conservation agriculture. To register, go to the online registration page. There’s also hotel information, a tour schedule, and sponsorship opportunities on the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) website. Register before June 30 to take advantage of the early-bird discount.

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Holstein Association resolution supports reducing non-point source water pollution

At their annual meeting in March, the Minnesota Holstein Association approved a resolution addressing non-point source pollution and water quality: Resolution No. 1:

Whereas, several watersheds throughout the state of Minnesota have been classified as impaired waters, and;
Whereas, Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) are being used as a measure to improve water quality in those watersheds,
Therefore, be it resolved, that the Minnesota Holstein Association supports being proactive in the legislative process and in implementing agricultural best management practices to reduce non-point source pollution.

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MAWRC offers free water sample nitrate testing at Farm Fest

Water sample testing for nitrates is being offered at no charge during Farm Fest Aug. 4-6. Bring water samples from wells, ditches, streams or tile outlets to the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center (MAWRC) booth in the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute tent. The confidential screening takes about 20 minutes. "There’s a lot of attention being paid to nitrates in groundwater and surface waters,” says Warren Formo, MAWRC executive director. “We want to make it easy for farmers to get a better idea about water conditions on their own farms.” Details on the sample collecting process are found on the Minnesota Cornerstone web page. Regarding samples from ditches, streams, and tile outlets, nitrate levels can be directly influenced by rainfall and flows. July and early August typically see lower rainfall amounts with little or no flow in tile outlets and smaller water ways, and water samples taken then may show lower nitrate levels compared with spring or fall.

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USDA seeks partner proposals to protect and restore critical wetlands

The USDA announces that $17.5 million in financial and technical assistance is available to help eligible conservation partners voluntarily protect, restore and enhance critical wetlands on private and tribal agricultural lands. Funding will be provided through the Wetland Reserve Enhancement Partnership (WREP), a special enrollment option under the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program's Wetland Reserve Easement component. It is administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Proposals must be submitted to NRCS state offices by July 31, 2015. More information....

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