Watershed Connections - September 2015

Watershed Connections

September 2015

Feedlot inventory completed in West Fork Des Moines

feedlot inventory

The Heron Lake Watershed District (HLWD) recently completed a four-year project to inventory feedlots in the West Fork Des Moines River (WFDMR) watershed. The project, funded by a 319 grant, was part of the implementation plan of a Total Maximum Daily Load study for the WFDMR and Heron Lake. "The watershed is plagued with waters impaired with high E.coli levels," states the report. "Runoff from feedlots is a major contributor to E.coli in surface waters."

The inventory helps to identify sources of bacteria and nutrient loading from feedlots. HLWD and project partners will use the inventory as a basis for grant applications. It is hoped that this will lead to cost-share and other assistance for improvements to feedlots. "Open feedlots that are non-compliant with high indexes should be targeted for implementing feedlot fixes. Reducing open feedlot runoff from these sites will be the most beneficial in reducing E.coli levels in impaired streams," states the report.

More than 80% of the feedlots were inspected: 44 in Cottonwood County, 142 in Nobles County, 190 in Jackson County, and 216 in Murray County for a total of 592. MinnFARM (Minnesota Feedlot Annualized Runoff Model) was used to determine compliance for open feedlots and assign a priority index. Results showed that the majority of open lots inspected were not compliant. See a summary of the report on the HLWD website

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Minnesota River Congress to file for not-for-profit corporation status

Henderson, Minn. – The Minnesota River Congress organizing committee approved of filing with the Minnesota Secretary of State for not-for-profit corporate status. This would establish the Congress as a formal organization with governing structure and bylaws.

The organizing committee met Sept. 10 in Henderson to prepare for the fifth Congress event scheduled for Nov. 12 in New Ulm. Creation of the Action Board governing the Congress will be a primary goal.

The Action Board would be composed of one representative from each of the basin’s 13 watersheds, 14 people from sectors including business, agriculture, recreation, and local government, and six state agency staff. It will set policy, goals, and objectives for the Congress.

Congress organizers will be recruiting candidates for the Action Board. The one-page application form asks for watershed residence and sector, and a brief statement of interest and qualifications. Action Board membership will be named at the Nov. 12 Congress.

The Action Board will then name a management committee to handle administrative tasks, such as finance, communications, membership, and legal matters. The goal is to have the Action Board and management committee established by year’s end.

The Nov. 12 Congress event will also address the proposed legislation creating a Minnesota River Commission. The Congress organizing committee had supported the bill, but a formal endorsement at the July 23 Congress meeting was tabled.

The Congress is cited in the bill (SF 2204) as serving in a citizen advisory role. An updated version of the bill will be made available for review prior to the Nov. 12 event.

Congress organizers believe there is a need for a basin-wide organization following the dissolution of the former Minnesota River Board. Action board application forms are available by contacting Scott Sparlin, sesparlin@gmail.com. More information about the Minnesota River Congress is available at: www.watershedalliance.blogspot.com/.

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Funding shortfall delays some watershed work

Monitoring biology as part of watershed approach

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) received $2 million less than requested in legislative funding this year for the fiscal year 2016-17 biennium, leading to delays in some watershed work. The agency was on track to monitor and assess Minnesota’s 80 major watersheds on a 10-year cycle. That timeline now shifts to an 11-year cycle because of reductions in summer help, full-time staff, and aid to local partners.

Less funding means less monitoring will be done each year. Also, the agency has fewer staff members and contactors to work on developing strategies to restore and protect water bodies.

Called the watershed approach, the cycle consists of:

  • Monitoring and assessing rivers and lakes in major watersheds to see if they meet water quality standards.
  • Identifying stressors to water quality and conditions fostering healthy waters.
  • Developing Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) to restore and protect water bodies.
  • Implementing projects and activities to restore and protect water quality.

Cycles are staggered with an average of 8 watersheds beginning a new cycle each year. With the funding shortfall, the following watersheds in the Minnesota River basin will see a delay of 1 to 2 years in monitoring and 6 months to 1 year for their strategy development:

  • Redwood River
  • Cottonwood River

The following watersheds in southern Minnesota will see a delay of 6 months to 2 years for their strategy development (WRAPS):

  • Watonwan River
  • Minnesota River - Mankato
  • Des Moines River
  • Lower Minnesota River
  • Minnesota River Headwaters
  • Lac Qui Parle River

With this plan, the MPCA is striving to minimize disruption to local projects and to complete the first cycle in all 80 watersheds before starting the second one.

For more information about the watershed approach, visit the agency website or contact Glenn Skuta, statewide water monitoring supervisor, at 651-757-2730.

Related information:

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Cannon River watershed: High nutrient levels in lakes, streams a top concern

Cannon-Wolf confluence

Phosphorus in lakes and nitrates in streams are a top concern in the Cannon River watershed, according to intensive water monitoring and assessment by the MPCA and Cannon River Watershed Partnership. Other concerns include bacteria in the water, soil and other particles clouding the water, and mercury levels in fish.

High levels of nutrients that cause algal blooms are hurting aquatic life and recreation in many lakes in this southeast Minnesota watershed. Nitrate levels in four trout streams are high enough to violate the standard for coldwater streams (the same standard is used for drinking water). Nitrates are a concern because of karst areas in the watershed -- where the bedrock is porous and pollutants can easily reach groundwater.

Few of the water bodies studied in the Cannon watershed fully meet the swimmable and fishable standards. The vast majority fail to meet standards all the time.

“People have extensively changed the land in the watershed with farming, drainage, building towns and applying fertilizers, which have all taken a toll on lakes and streams. While much has already been done in the Cannon watershed, additional work is needed to restores its lakes and streams,” the report concludes.

Bright spots in the watershed include five lakes that are fully supportive of water quality standards:  Beaver, Dudley, Fish, Kelly, and Roemhildts. These lakes need protection strategies to maintain their high quality.

The Cannon River Watershed Partnership is holding a series of meeting to gather input on developing the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies for the Cannon. See the details on the partnership’s website.

For more information on the watershed’s intensive monitoring results, visit the MPCA website.

Photo above: The Wolf-Cannon river confluence shows the problems of high sediment and nutrient levels.

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Do you have water quality data to share?

Grants available for water quality projects

The MPCA is asking for your data to help assess the condition of lakes and streams and build a national database of water quality.

The MPCA is specifically interested in these southern Minnesota watersheds because we will be determining whether these water bodies meet state water quality standards in early 2016:

  • East Fork Des Moines River
  • Lower Des Moines River
  • Lower Minnesota River

The MPCA is also looking for data on the Minnesota River from the headwaters to the Mississippi River.

If you have data from outside a priority watershed or one of these areas, the agency will also accept it.

Deadline: Submit project, lab, and field data now through Nov. 2.

Deadline: By Dec. 15 you will need to review the data entered by the MPCA.

Find out more on the MPCA's surface water data website.

Your role in collecting these data is important to Minnesota’s effort to identify impaired waters, as well as those waters in need of additional protection. Thank you for your help.

For more information on submitting data:

  • Nancy Flandrick, 651-757-2361 (St. Paul, Duluth, Rochester, and Mankato regional offices)
  • Jean Garvin, 651-757-2378 (Brainerd, Willmar, Marshall, and Detroit Lakes regional offices)

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Green Lands Blue waters conference Nov. 3-4 in St. Paul

green lands logo

The 2015 Green Lands Blue Waters Conference will be held Nov. 3-4 on the third floor of the Coffman Memorial Union at the Minneapolis-East Bank Campus of the University of Minnesota.

The theme this year, "Buffers and Bridges, Farms and Cities,” responds to the growing interest in Continuous Living Cover farming sparked, in part, by Minnesota’s new buffers law, the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit, and the larger than expected dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico this summer. 

Conference speakers include:

  • Wes Jackson, founder and president of The Land Institute
  • Joan Nassauer, professor of Landscape Architecture, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan
  • Don Wyse, professor of Agronomy and leader of the Forever Green Initiative, University of Minnesota
  • John Jaschke, executive director, Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources
  • Wayne Anderson, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Mississippi River Gulf of Mexico Nutrient Task Force
  • Mark Tomer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, National Laboratory for Agriculture and the Environment, Ames, Iowa
  • John Baker, USDA Agricultural Research Service and adjunct professor in the Department of Soil, Water & Climate at the University of Minnesota

Registration for the conference, which offers Continuing Education Units, is available online.

Smithsonian water exhibition will debut in Minnesota


Six Minnesota communities have recently been selected by the Minnesota Humanities Center to host Water/Ways, a new traveling exhibition and community engagement tool from the Smithsonian:

Water/Ways will focus on how Americans use water, how water unites communities, how water affects every element of life, and how Americans care for our water and protect this valuable resource for the future.

Each local host community will use the national water story in the Smithsonian exhibition as a jumping off point to tell their local water stories. Events and programs will accompany the exhibit, to create a rich set of exhibits, stories, conversations, and new relationships around water.

The Water/Ways project is meant to bring wide-ranging organizations together to learn and discuss an issue that is central to community. If you live in or near one of the host cites, consider how your business, faith community, school, lake association, or nonprofit could help with creating accompanying programs and events during the exhibition. Contact the local host organization (linked above) to get involved.

Watershed news briefs

jon morales

Jon Morales joins Middle Fork Crow staff

Jon Morales is the new hydrologic technician with Middle Fork Crow River Watershed District. He graduated in 2009 from the U of M-Duluth with a degree in environmental studies. While there he worked with the Center for Sustainable Community Development studying and promoting community wind development. After graduation he worked in Yellowstone National Park GIS department to develop a hydrological survey of Grayling Creek to improve native fish populations. Most recently he worked at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning center as an educator, coordinator for the Youth Energy Summit Program, and building and grounds steward.

New wetland data map available

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has released updated wetland map data for 36 counties in southern Minnesota. The newly-released data are the first updates to the National Wetlands Inventory (NWI) for southern Minnesota. The new data cover a 23,900 square-mile area. A total of 49 Minnesota counties now have updated NWI data, including the 36 in southern Minnesota and 13 previously released counties in east-central Minnesota.

cover crop event

Hawk Creek staff at cover crop event

The Hawk Creek Watershed Project staff were among visitors to the Steven Spanier farm southwest of Belgrade for a cover crop field day Sept. 25. Working with Kandiyohi County NRCS, Steven has planted a cover crop cocktail of six to seven plant species on three acres to use as educational purposes. Several of the mixes are specifically for grazers and others are for promoting soil health and erosion control. The Renville County NRCS also is reportedly planning a cover crop field day sometime in November. Test plots are located on land of Hawk Creek project field technician Dean Dambroten, and SWCD board member Kathryn Kelly. Spanier built a home-made planter that can plant cover crop seeds in standing corn up to six feet tall (Photo below). Details will be announced later. Photo: Steven Spanier (in gray shirt); Hawk Creek project staff Heidi Rauenhorst (left), Jordan Austin (right), and Dean Dambroten (second from right).

cover crop planter

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