Watershed Connections - April 2015

Watershed Connections

April 2015

Minnesota waters: Swimmable, fishable and fixable?

pollutant map

Poor water quality in southern Minnesota waters is a reflection of agriculture dominating their surrounding landscape. In heavily farmed areas, the lakes and streams tend to have high levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment that hurt aquatic life and recreational opportunities, according to a report released April 29 by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Urban areas also suffer some water pollution, but their acreage is far less than agricultural land in Minnesota.

While watershed professionals have long had a general sense of the problems facing our waters, they now have a much better understanding of the scale and sources. This supports creating better strategies for addressing the problems and getting more citizen involvement. Many citizen groups have formed in recent years to focus on their respective watersheds, and there are many examples of efforts by agriculture to address water quality problems.

The report highlights important points for citizens, landowners and decision-makers:

  • In watersheds dominated by agricultural and urban land, half or less of the lakes fully support the standard for swimming.
  • In areas with a high density of people and livestock – the developed and agricultural portions of the state -- less than half of the streams tend to fully support swimming because of bacteria levels.
  • Generally speaking, water quality is exceptionally good in the northeast part of the state and worsens moving toward the southwest.

The MPCA and partners have identified these stressors to water quality throughout Minnesota:

  • Low dissolved oxygen levels that make it hard to sustain fish and other aquatic life.
  • Excess nutrients that cause algal blooms and other problems.
  • Excess sediment that makes the water murky.
  • Altered hydrology from streams and land being changed to facilitate drainage.
  • Lack of habitat to sustain fish and other aquatic life.
  • Lack of connectivity, meaning obstacles like dams block the migration of fish.

In looking at stressors by region, the southern region of Minnesota has the highest numbers of stressors related to excess nutrients and sediment, lack of habitat and connectivity, altered hydrology, and impaired communities of fish and bugs.

After identifying stressors and healthy conditions, the MPCA and partners develop strategies to restore and protect waters:

  • Common strategies include stream buffers, nutrient and manure management, stormwater controls, and in-lake treatments.
  • While most strategies are tailored for their watersheds, some strategies do call for stronger and more targeted application of state and local laws on feedlots, shoreland, septic systems, stormwater controls, and wastewater discharges.

To view the full report, “Swimmable, Fishable, Fixable?”  visit the MPCA website at www.pca.state.mn.us.

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EQB, DEED conducting survey for economic profile of state's water industry

The Environmental Quality Board and the Department of Employment and Economic Development are working on a water report including results of a survey of water-related organizations in Minnesota. The survey results will help develop an economic profile that quantifies the current employment and wages in water-related organizations. The survey will go to public and private sector entities involved in the research, development, treatment, manufacture, assembly, installation, management, sales, support or distribution of water products or services. Link to survey.

The goal is to understand their present employment, revenue, and products in the sector. This will be combined with administrative datasets to build a profile of water employment and wages in the state. It follows a method laid out by MN Clean Energy Economy Profile. For more information, contact Anna Sherman, anna.sherman@state.mn.us., 651-259-7468, Dept.  of Employment and Economic Development, 1st National Bank Building, 332 Minnesota St., Suite E-200, St. Paul.

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Minnesota River Congress adopts mission statement

3rd MN River Congress

Progress toward a basin-wide organization for the Minnesota River took another step forward at the third Minnesota River Congress April 16 at New Ulm. The work will resume at a fourth congress July 23. More than 80 people voted on a mission statement, governing board structure, and ranked statements of purpose. Mission statement: Promote citizen participation from all communities of interest and take cooperative action to protect, conserve, and improve the Minnesota River system.

The organizing team will evaluate and further refine the results. A proposed organizational chart and a descriptive document will be brought to the 4th Minnesota River Congress July 23 for further review, discussion and potential adoption. “It was a clear success, and a huge ‘thank you’ goes out to sponsors, networking fair participants, organizing team, and all who came in person,” says Scott Sparlin of Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River. 

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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Learning and networking at spring watershed meeting

watershed network spring 2015

The 12th Watershed Network meeting April 23 in Redwood Falls provided learning and networking for 28 people from agencies, watershed organizations, and industry. Christine Yaeger of the Dept. of Agriculture introduced the Minnesota Water Research Digital Library. It is now available online to assist water research, share publications, and coordinate with water researchers. Beth Knudsen and Jon Lore of the Dept. of Natural Resources, presented the Watershed Health Assessment Framework, and High Island Creek projects, respectively.

Shawn Wohnoutka of Redwood-Cottonwood Rivers Control Area presented on Farmer Perspectives on Climate Variability, Scott Sparlin gave an update on progress of the Minnesota River Congress, and Forrest Peterson introduced a ‘Perspective on science – physical and social – for water quality’. Slides from the topics will be available on the Watershed Network webpage in the near future. The fall Watershed Network meeting is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 19 in New Ulm. Photo (from left): Paul Meints, Minnesota Corn Growers Association; Skip Wright, DNR; Jan Voit (seated) Heron Lake Watershed District; Barb Huberty, Legislative Water Commission; Jon Lore, DNR.

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Fernholz sisters receive CURE RiverKeeper award

Fernholz sisters

This year’s RiverKeeper award presented by Clean Up the River Environment went to Kay and Annette Fernholz. They were honored at CURE’s annual meeting with 150 people attending April 18 in Maynard. First awarded in 1994, the RiverKeeper goes to an individual(s), organization or government agency who has worked in an exemplary manner to carry out CURE’s mission “to focus public awareness on the Minnesota River Basin and to take action to restore and protect its water quality, biological integrity, and natural beauty for all generations.” The sisters grew up on the family farm near Madison, and both became Sisters of Notre Dam. As educators on their EarthRise Farm in Lac qui Parle County, Kay and Annette have connected hundreds of people to a story of caring for the land and creation stewardship.

With the theme, Growing Clean Water: Connecting Agriculture and Stewardship, the annual meeting day started with a presentation and roundtable discussion of redesigning farming and embracing sustainable approaches to food production, while still reaping real profits. CURE selected Gov. Mark Dayton for the Good Government Award because of his commitment to advance clean water goals, primarily through his steadfast support for the Buffer Initiative. Other award recipients included Lauri Wyum of Montevideo, recognized as CURE Volunteer of the Year. Ken Paulman of Fresh Energy received CURE’s Good Media Award for his work publishing Midwest Energy News. And Sally Finzel of Morning Sky Greenery, a nursery specializing in Minnesota native prairie wildflowers and grasses, accepted the Good Business Award. - Information from CURE website.

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Gulf hypoxia task force public meeting and webcast May 20

gulf task force logo

Registration is open for the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force public meeting and webcast, 12:30-4 p.m. Wednesday, May 20, at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Columbus Ohio. The program includes updates from USDA on the Mississippi River Basin Initiative and Regional Conservation Partnership Program, a nutrient stewardship panel, and activity reports from partner organizations. The task force was established in 1997 to understand the causes and effects of eutrophication in the Gulf of Mexico; coordinate activities to reduce the size, severity, and duration; and ameliorate the effects of hypoxia. Visit https://water-meetings.tetratech.com/Hypoxia/StaticPublic/index.htm to register, find meeting and location information, and download the meeting agenda and other materials (registration is free). If you have any questions about the meeting, contact: Kimberlyn Velasquez at Velasquez.Kimberlyn@epa.gov, or Hazel Groman at Groman.Hazel@epa.gov.

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