Watershed Connections - October

Watershed Connections


Minnesota River Congress to organize Nov. 12

MN River basin

New Ulm, Minn. – The new, citizen-led organization being formed to promote the natural resource and economic health of the Minnesota River basin will meet again Nov. 12 and select its governing action board members.

The Minnesota River Congress has filed with the Minnesota Secretary of State for not-for-profit corporate status. This establishes the Congress as a recognized organization with governing structure and bylaws.

The fifth meeting of the full Congress is scheduled to begin with a networking fair at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 12 at Turner Hall in New Ulm. With the group being inclusive and open to all, you are welcome to participate.

Register by sending your name and address, and $15 registration fee (includes meal) to Minnesota River Congress, PO Box 488 New Ulm, MN 56073. Online registration is available at: https://payableform.appspot.com/forms/avm4p. To reserve a table for the networking fair, send $30 to the above address, or register online at https://payableform.appspot.com/forms/4q7bz.

The Nov. 12 Congress will conclude with a discussion of proposed legislation (Senate File 2204) creating a Minnesota River Commission. The commission would coordinate water quality work among the 13 watersheds in the basin. The current bill cites the Minnesota River Congress as serving as the citizen advisory committee and also having access to commission voting membership.

A meal will be served at 6 p.m., followed by two brief presentations: Wild River Academy report on the Paddle Forward excursion this past summer and fall down the entire 318-mile length of the Minnesota River; Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center overview of the Discovery Farms water quality research projects. 

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Watershed network fall meeting Nov. 19 in New Ulm

The Watershed Network fall meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 19 at the New Ulm Pizza Ranch. Topics so far include: Update by Paul Meints on water quality research of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, and report from Scott Sparlin on developing a Minnesota River organization. If you have ideas for meeting topics, please send to Forrest Peterson, forrest.peterson@state.mn.us, 320-441-6972. Topics from the 11 previous meetings are archived on the Watershed Network webpage. The meetings also provide an opportunity to meet and network with watershed professionals. The network is intended to help watershed professional staff share their experiences and learn how to make their outreach efforts more effective. It provides a monthly e-newsletter and hosts meetings in the spring and fall.


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Cover crop test plots take root in Renville County

Renco cover crop day

Sprinkled among the thousands of acres of harvested fields in Renville County, a small sample of cover crop plots hold promise for wider use in coming years. At least that's the hope of conservation agencies challenged with the goal of improving soil health and water quality on cropland.

A cover crop field day Oct. 21 in Renville County showed off rye grass, turnips and clover emerging in fields of corn and beans. They will help build up the soil, allow water to better infiltrate, reduce erosion, and fix nitrogen that may otherwise leach into surface water.

Several farm operators took a break from field work to join agency staff to see cover crops and soil structure demonstrations at four different sites. Joe Kristoff, of the NRCS office in Marshall, discussed the importance of soil structure and biology, and how it can be harmed by too much tillage. Soil is not 'dirt'. It teems with microbes and larger organisms - 8 to 15 tons per acre. Improving soil health is good for crops and the environment. It can reduce the need for tillage. "You have to till because you till," Kristof says.

Holly Hatlewick, Renville County NRCS district conservationist, demonstrated the differences between healthy and compacted soil for water absorption and infiltration. Healthy amounts of organic matter provide the 'glue' holding together the aggregates comprising soil. Farmers and land owners are being urged to stop in their local NRCS and SWCD offices to learn about cover crops and cost-share programs.

The field day was co-sponsored by Milborn Seeds, Hawk Creek Watershed Project (HCWP), Renville County, SWCD and NRCS. The cover crop cost-share program was developed by the Renville County NRCS and SWCD office. They offered technical assistance to farmers on what combinations of cover crops to plant and at what rate. HCWP is cost-sharing with 15 farmers on over 1,000 acres of cover crops planted this fall, and plans to offer the program again next fall.   

Photo: Holly Hatlewick shows turnips from a cover crop plot in a corn field. Discovery Communications article: Earth could lose a third of its topsoil.

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Cover crop demonstration Nov. 10 near Heron Lake

archuleta - soil field day

The Heron Lake Watershed District (HLWD) will be hosting Conversations about Cover Crops 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10 at the American Legion Hall in Okabena. The event will include 2015 cover crop results with southwest Minnesota farmers, as well as a site visit to harvested cover crop fields. Photo: Ray Archuleta digs into the soil on the Jerry Ackerman farm on a cover crop field day near Heron Lake in November 2014. 

With a 319 grant for the "Third Crop Phosphorus Reduction Effort," the HLWD is working with four farm families over a three-year period to establish cover crops and gather residue, nutrient, and infiltration data. In addition, information will be gathered about the needs, wants, and perceptions of watershed landowners as they relate to cover crops.

The West Fork Des Moines River and Heron Lake Total Maximum Daily Load report found North and South Heron Lake to be impaired for phosphorus. This grant provides an opportunity to decrease phosphorus levels by using cover crops to reduce sediment, nutrients, and pesticide movement to surface water. The root systems of the cover crops would break up compaction to allow for better water infiltration.

Coffee and cookies will be served. The event will be held rain or shine. Dress accordingly for the weather and be prepared to walk. To register, send an email to jan.voit@mysmbs.com or call 507-793-2462.

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Water policy report: How to move forward on Minnesota’s water challenges

EQB Water Policy Report 2015

The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board’s Water Policy Report is organized as a menu of options to move beyond the status quo on water challenges. It provides a framework to continue a broad conversation on water policy with local and state implementation partners. The report includes voluntary and regulatory solutions as well as proposing system changes that harness market forces and look to change cultural expectations. Finally, in some areas, more study is needed to best determine how to take action.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Minnesota is a global leader in water: Water concerns are a global issue and Minnesota water technology industries are leading the way in innovations to clean, reuse, and more efficiently use water for the whole world. This sector employs more than 13,500 Minnesotans, pays above average wages, and puts Minnesota in the top 10 in technology export and patents.
  • Minnesotans need to protect their waters: Living plant cover and green infrastructure reduce runoff and increase infiltration on urban and agricultural lands. These practices hold water on the landscape, filter contaminants, and reduce runoff.
  • Minnesotans need to identify vulnerabilities and increase the resilience of all communities. Flooding is becoming a reality for more Minnesotans as extreme rainfall events increase. And while not all parts of the state have water supply issues, many wells have shown decreased water levels in recent years.

The Environmental Quality Board is made up of nine Minnesota agency heads and five citizen members. In addition to other duties, the board provides leadership and coordination across agencies on priority environmental issues that are multi-jurisdictional and multi-dimensional, as well as provide opportunities for public access and engagement.

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Study examines relationship between retired ag land and health of aquatic life in Minnesota River basin

MN River aquatic life monitoring site map

The U.S. Geological Survey announced the release of "Relations between Retired Agricultural Land, Water Quality, and Aquatic-Community Health, Minnesota River Basin," by V.G. Christensen, K.E. Lee, J.M. McLees, and S.L. Niemela, published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality. The study demonstrates importance of agricultural land retirement on water quality and aquatic-community health in the Minnesota River Basin.

Eighty-two sites were examined in cooperation with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. The study examined nutrient concentrations, measures of aquatic-community health, and environmental factors. The importance of the proximity of agricultural land retirement to streams also was determined by examining land retirement in riparian zones.

The index of biotic integrity (IBI), a measure of the health of the fish community in a stream, was not correlated to the percentage of agricultural land retirement at the basin scale; however, IBI was correlated to retired land percentage in the 50- to 400-m riparian zones surrounding the streams, indicating that riparian agricultural land retirement may have more influence on aquatic-community health than does agricultural land retirement in upland areas.

Statistical models indicated that other environmental factors (such as drainage area and lake and wetland features) commonly were correlated to aquatic-community health measures, as were in-stream factors (standard deviation of water depth and substrate type). These results indicate that although agricultural land retirement is significantly related to fish communities as measured by the IBI scores, a combination of basin, riparian, and in-stream factors act together to influence IBI scores. The full report can be obtained from the Journal of Environmental Quality. For more information on the study, contact Victoria Christensen (vglenn@usgs.gov). Full report.

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Watershed news briefs

paint with Crow

Crow River group paints pictures of water quality

Painting, meeting with friends, and learning about the South Fork Crow River occurred at a "Paint with CROW" event in Hutchinson Oct. 14 at the Paint Factory. The Crow River Organization of Water (CROW) hosted the event to give people the opportunity to learn about the river and water quality, while producing a painting. With an instructor providing tips and tricks, the painters were focused on creating their own masterpiece. A discussion followed about personal experiences and who influenced us in making water quality decisions.

North Fork Crow One Watershed-One Plan meeting Nov. 2

The North Fork Crow River watershed partners are hosting a discussion Nov. 2 on the watershed's One Watershed-One Plan project. You can attend in person or online for the meeting and question-answer session, and help develop local water management priorities. The meeting is at 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov 2. at the Wright County Board Room, 10 2nd Street NW, Buffalo 55313, or visit https://www.co.wright.mn.us/AgendaCenter to access the link to the live web stream. A recording of the meeting will be posted and questions will be received within the 21 days following at diane.sander@mn.nacdnet.net. 

Hawk Creek WRAPS meeting Nov. 18

The Hawk Creek Watershed Project is hosting the second workshop Nov. 18 on its Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy, 10 a.m. at the city hall in Clara City. A total of four workshops will provide information and feedback on the WRAPS report as it is being developed. The report is one step in the Watershed Approach as mandated to the MPCA by the MN Legislature (2014 Statute 114D.26). For more information on the Watershed Approach, click here.  Workshop participants will review technical information and provide input on the Hawk Creek Watershed, while also providing feedback on the report content and organization to make the report most usable for local conservation planning efforts. For more information call (320) 523-3666.

Chippewa River photo contest entries due Nov. 13

The Chippewa River Watershed Project photo contest entries are due Nov. 13. Winning photos of the river, lakes and tributaries will be published in a 2016 calendar and featured on the Chippewa River Watershed Project website and other publications. The Best in Show winner will receive $50. Anyone is eligible to enter; it is not necessary to live in the watershed. Color photos from all seasons are encouraged. Entries are limited to a maximum of three photos per person. Digital photos are preferred but paper photos will be accepted. For more complete contest rules and registration forms, visit the Chippewa River Watershed Project’s website www.chippewariver.org or call 320-269-2139 ext 120.

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EPA approves nearly $2.5 million for Clean Water Act projects in Minnesota

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently approved almost $2.5 million in federal Clean Water Act Section 319 funding for 13 projects in Minnesota. Contingent on the availability of federal funds, these projects will begin this fall and will continue for five years.

The funding ranges:

  • From $37,400 to the Kanabec Soil and Water Conservation District for its "Ann Lake Watershed BMP and Internal Load" for practices to control runoff and erosion and along with a feasibility study on reducing phosphorus within the lake;
  • To $300,000 each to Sibley County for "High Island Creek Rush River TMDL - Dissolved O2" that targets ag practices such as buffer strips and the St. Croix River Association for "St. Croix Implementation Project" to engage citizens in implementing best management practices.

Other recipients include:

  • Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources
  • Greater Blue Earth River Basin Alliance
  • Buffalo Red River Watershed District
  • Ramsey Washington Metro Watershed District
  • Sauk River Watershed District
  • Regents of the University of Minnesota
  • Shingle Creek Watershed Management Commission

The next Section 319 funding round is scheduled to open this winter. Check the MPCA website for updates. For more information, contact Peter Fastner at .651-757-2349.

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