River Connections for July 2014

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River Connections

July 2014

1st farmer certified in water quality program in Elm Creek area

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Rural Advantage have certified the first farm family, Darwin and Sandy Roberts, in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program for the Elm Creek Pilot Area.

The Roberts have a corn and soybean operation near Granada, Minn. Their operation borders the pilot waterway, Elm Creek, and they have installed a number of conservation practices along the creek, including woodchip bioreactors, treatment wetlands, and cover crops. Darwin serves on the Martin County Soil and Water Conservation District board and partners with the University of Minnesota to do agricultural conservation research on his operation.

This voluntary certification program is designed to accelerate adoption of on-farm conservation practices that protect Minnesota’s lakes and rivers. Producers who implement and maintain approved farm management practices will be certified and in turn assured that their operation meets the state’s water quality goals and standards for a period of 10 years.

The Elm Creek Pilot Area was selected as one of four pilots throughout the state to test and refine the program. This pilot area includes parts of Faribault, Jackson and Martin counties.

Mayflies, another sign of Mississippi rebirth


Though it can be a bit unsettling to see, the mayfly hatch is an annual summer rite that the Mississippi River has long missed. So much so that the recent return of mayflies should be a welcome sign of a healthy river and improved water quality for communities along the Mississippi River.  

From the 1960s to the 1970s little or no treatment of sewage water meant that cities were flushing their toilets down the Mississippi River. As Minnesota’s population increased, so did the amount of sewage. In fact, there were often reports of "cakes of fecal matter" floating on the river’s waters.  

For the delicate mayfly — which is sensitive to chemical pollutants, increases in sediment, and decreases in oxygen levels in the water — pollution ensured the collapse of their populations. By the 1980s, mayfly hatches had disappeared from rivers and streams in Minnesota. The collapse of mayflies from the aquatic food chain also meant the disappearance of stoneflies, caddis flies, and even some species of fish from the Mississippi River.

Adult mayflies spend 99 percent of their lives as nymphs on the water, being fed upon by other invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, and mammals. MPCA water quality expert Will Bouchard explains, “The larvae or nymphs spend a year burrowed in the sediments of the river and during this relatively long larval cycle they can be exposed to toxic chemicals in the sediment or low levels of dissolved oxygen.  As a result, this mayfly can be a good indicator of water quality because these forms of pollution can kill the larvae.”    

Today, modern sewage treatment facilities and chemical disposal regulations have brought back mayfly populations. “The large swarms of mayflies emerging from the Mississippi River are an indication that the river has recovered considerably since the days when it was essentially an open sewer,” says Bouchard.

See the full story on the MPCA website.

Minnesota River Congress: Majority support creating basin-wide entity

The first Minnesota River Congress June 19 drew about 100 people and at least 22 organizations to the Turner Hall in New Ulm. Many supported the idea of creating a basin-wide entity with citizen leadership. It would help coordinate efforts of the many diverse groups and agencies working in the basin, and create clout in political and economic circles. Other themes that emerged included: More recreation on the Minnesota River, support for land set-aside easements, more people aware of the river, and much good work has been done.

A series of regional meetings will be organized later this summer and fall to share information from the congress. A follow-up congress would be convened later in the fall to review the actions and steps resulting from the first congress, and to move forward as appropriate.

Minnesota River Watershed Alliance to recap congress

A report on the recent Minnesota River Congress will be a main discussion topic at the quarterly meeting of the Minnesota River Watershed Alliance scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 12, at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson. A potluck meal begins at 6 p.m., followed by the meeting at 7 p.m. Everyone is welcome to attend.

The Minnesota River Watershed Alliance is a watershed-wide network of individuals from private organizations and public agencies, and citizens who meet quarterly and work on projects that support and benefit the Minnesota River basin. The Aug. 12 agenda also includes a status report of the National Blueway designation project for the Minnesota River, and other general updates.

How’s the water? Click to find out with new web feature

How's the Water

Showing how land use directly affects water quality just got easier with a new feature called “How’s the Water?” By clicking through maps, graphics and concise information, browsers can easily see the challenges facing Minnesota waters. They can also access the science and data – in layperson’s terms – behind the issues.

For example, clicking on “lakes” leads to a page explaining the threats of runoff, erosion and sediment, along with road salt and invasive species:

“Runoff from agricultural land and lakeshore development raises the amount of phosphorus in Minnesota lakes, which in turn causes algae to grow. Algae-covered lakes are less attractive for fishing and swimming — highly valued pastimes in Minnesota and uses that are protected under the federal Clean Water Act. In addition, phosphorus can fuel toxic blue-green algal blooms, which are harmful to people and pets.”

Other information on the page explains how road salt can contaminate lakes and streams, and how invasive species are hurting Minnesota waters.

The MPCA developed the “How’s the Water” feature to offer a snapshot of water quality across the state in four areas: lakes, rivers and streams, wetlands, and groundwater. The MPCA gathers and analyzes a huge amount of environmental data, but often that data is embedded in long and technical reports. “How’s the water?” offers a broad and accessible look at the threats to state waters, the current water quality in regions around the state, and the steps the MPCA and other groups are taking to restore and protect our water resources.

Browsers can also access details about specific water bodies, including water quality data, MPCA projects in the area, maps of land use and water monitoring stations, watershed overviews, recent reports, agency contacts and fish consumption advisories. They’ll also learn how they can help waters across the state, a difficult and long-term effort that must happen at all levels, starting with individual farm fields, homes and businesses.

Register with SWIFT for water quality monitoring grants

If your organization is interested in submitting proposals for MPCA surface water monitoring grants later this year, be sure to register now with SWIFT. All of the required materials for the Request for Proposal (RFP) process must be submitted through the SWIFT e-supplier portal for the 2015 Surface Water Assessment Grants (SWAG) and Watershed Pollutant Load Monitoring Network (WPLMN) Sampling Grants .

In order to view 2015 Request for Proposal (RFP) materials and apply for grant funds, proposers are required to have a SWIFT Vendor ID and Supplier Portal Account. Detailed registration directions are available on the SWIFT e-supplier portal. Potential proposers should be aware that it can take several days to receive a required Vendor ID from SWIFT and are encouraged to register now. For additional information regarding this application and process, please see this SWIFT message. If you need technical assistance for the SWIFT e-supplier portal, please contact the SWIFT helpdesk line: 651-201-8100, option 1.

All SWAG and WPLMN proposals must be electronically submitted through the SWIFT e-supplier portal. Proposals received after the established deadlines will not be considered. Additionally, grant recipients must use SWIFT to review and approve, through electronic signature, their final contract and work plan. The authorized representative within each organization that is awarded a grant must obtain a SWIFT user ID to perform the electronic signature.

The MPCA is responsible for carrying out and overseeing the monitoring of Minnesota’s lakes and streams using Clean Water Legacy funds. The SWAG and WPLMN grants channel these funds to local organizations to assist with these activities. Additional information for both programs can be found at the SWAG webpage and the WPLMN webpage.

Eco Experience: Largest wad of paper, changing climate and more

Eco Experience

The Eco Experience at the Minnesota State Fair Aug. 21-Sept. 1 will feature the world’s largest wad of paper to highlight the need to recycle more paper. Other exhibits will focus on Minnesota’s changing climate, garden pollinators, green building products, and much more.

A partnership between the Minnesota State Fair, the MPCA, and more than 120 organizations and businesses from across the state, the Eco Experience has become the second most popular exhibit at the fair. It won the 2013 People's Choice award for "Best Attraction.” The Eco Experience is in the Progress Center building at the corners of Randall and Cosgrove.