Waterfront Bulletin for November 2016

Having trouble viewing this email? View it as a webpage.

Waterfront Bulletin

November 2016

Get the scoop on watershed funding with upcoming presentations

The MPCA expects to open this year’s Federal Section 319 funding round sometime after Jan. 1. Again this year stakeholder meetings have been scheduled in several MPCA offices to provide better assistance and understanding of the Clean Water Partnership loan and Section 319 funding processes to interested parties:

  • Tuesday, November 29, 9:30 a.m.: Rochester MPCA office, 18 Wood Lake Drive S.E., Rochester, MN 55904 (free parking in office lot and on street).
  • Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2:30 p.m.: Mankato MPCA office, 12 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 2165, Mankato, MN 56001 (parking for a fee in ramp and on street). This meeting will also be available via Web-ex with details posted later.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 30, 9 a.m.: Marshall MPCA office, 504 Fairgrounds Road, Suite 200, Marshall, MN 56258 (free parking in lot across the street).
  • Thursday, Dec. 8, 12:30 p.m.: Brainerd MPCA office, 7678 College Road, Suite 105, Baxter, MN 56425 (free parking available in office lot). This meeting will also be available by videoconference at the MPCA offices in Duluth and Detroit Lakes, as well as by Web-ex.

A presentation in St. Paul has not been scheduled yet.

Please email Pete Fastner of the MPCA (peter.fastner@state.mn.us) if you have further questions.

Open for comment: Project to restore St. Louis River habitat

Dredge on St. Louis River in Duluth

The MPCA invites comments through Dec. 14 on a proposal to improve fish and vegetative habitat in the St. Louis River at 40th Avenue West in Duluth. The project requires dredging about 350,000 cubic yards of clean sediment from the navigation channel and strategically placing it to restore 317 acres in an area affected by a century of industrial activity and shoreline alterations.

This is a collaborative effort between the MPCA and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Project details are included in a draft Environmental Assessment Worksheet, which the MPCA will use to decide whether a more complete Environmental Impact Statement is needed.

The worksheet covers site location details, nearby resources, and other environmental factors. These include land use, soils, water resources, existing sites with contamination, fish, wildlife, plant communities, sensitive ecological resources, historic properties, air and noise levels, and traffic.

Comments on the worksheet, which must be in writing, are due by 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 14 to Patrice Jensen, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road N., Saint Paul, MN 55155 or patrice.jensen@state.mn.us.

MPCA seeks comments on draft permit to address water pollution from mining basin

The MPCA invites comments through Dec. 16 on a draft permit to address groundwater and surface water pollution from the tailings basin at U.S. Steel’s Minntac Iron Ore Operations near Mountain Iron in northern Minnesota.

U.S. Steel mines, crushes, and processes iron-containing rock into taconite pellets at its Minntac facility. The crushed rock remaining after the iron is removed and the process water are disposed of in a large, aboveground impoundment called a tailings basin. This water and any precipitation that contacts the tailings are considered industrial wastewater, which is regulated by MPCA permits.

Taconite processing requires a lot of water, and the basin serves as a reservoir for water used in the plant. The basin covers roughly 8,000 acres and is located in the Rainy River watershed and two sub-watersheds within the Rainy system: Sand River to the east of the basin and Dark River to the west.

Water leaves the basin by seeping out the lower sides of the basin walls and through the bottom of the basin, impacting nearby streams and groundwater.

The draft permit includes requirements for the industrial wastewater that seeps or flows from the Minntac tailings basin:

  • Sulfate limits in the basin pool water
  • Water quality limits for additional pollutants
  • Expanded monitoring of pollutants in nearby surface and groundwater
  • Toxicity testing
  • Collection of all shallow surface seepage
  • Dates and schedules to reduce pollutants that seep to groundwater to levels that will protect the waters impacted by the facility

Comments, which must be in writing, should go to: Erik Smith, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Rd. North,St. Paul, MN 55155 or erik.smith@state.mn.us. Comments must include a statement of your interest in the draft permit, the specific action you wish the MPCA to take, and reasons supporting your position.

For more information, see the MPCA fact sheet on the draft permit.

Related media stories:

MPCA approves WRAPS for Mississippi River-Winona

Whitewater River in Mississippi River-Winona watershed

The MPCA recently approved the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies report for the Mississippi River-Winona watershed, including the Whitewater River, in southeastern Minnesota. An abundance of water, beautiful scenery, and widespread public areas make this watershed a popular destination for trout fishing, paddling, hiking, hunting, and other outdoor recreation. Whitewater State Park draws about 300,000 visitors annually.

This area of Minnesota is vulnerable to pollution because of its karst landscape. In karst, only a thin layer of soil covers the porous bedrock underneath and allows pollutants on the land to easily reach groundwater used for drinking.

The main issues for restoring the Whitewater River and other tributaries to the Mississippi in this watershed, which is mainly used for farming, include:

  • Reducing nitrate levels that can be harmful to human and environmental health via fertilizer applications and losses from cropland
  • Reducing sediment loss from upland areas and stabilizing flood plains, terraces and streambanks, especially on the main branch of the Whitewater River
  • Determining why bacteria concentrations remain high in many streams despite numerous efforts at reduction
  • Addressing physical habitat issues that are hurting fish and other aquatic life

Many areas in this watershed provide high-quality habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and need protection. Strategies that would both help protect and restore streams throughout the watershed include planting cover crops, installing buffers along streams, installing grassed waterways, using contour farming, implementing water and sediment storage, and managing crop residue.

Buffalo River WRAPS also approved

Buffalo River Watershed

The MPCA recently approved the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) report for the Buffalo River watershed in northwestern Minnesota. This watershed, mostly used for agriculture, covers more than 1,100 square miles in portions of Clay, Becker, Wilkin and Otter Tail counties in western Minnesota.

Water quality problems in this area include:

  • Excess nutrient levels that can cause algal blooms that hurt aquatic life like fish and recreation like swimming
  • Bacteria levels that can make the water unsafe for swimming
  • Sediment – soil and other matter -- that clouds the water and may make it unsuitable for aquatic life and recreation

The poor water quality conditions reflect the intensely farmed landscape, human changes to hydrology, intensive drainage, and lack of buffers around lakes and streams. Restoration strategies will need to focus on reducing phosphorus, sediment, and bacteria through livestock management, nutrient management, wind breaks, buffers, and other best management practices.

 As the report summary says, “Pollutant reductions needed to correct impaired waters are large and will be challenging to accomplish. A coordinated, long term, sustained effort will be needed to both restore the impaired waters and to protect the others from being degraded down to an impaired condition.”

Water/Ways moves to Audubon Center in Sandstone

Water/Ways exhibit at Sandstone

The Audubon Center of the North Woods in Sandstone is hosting Water/Ways, a traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian's Museum on Main Street program. The exhibit will run through Dec. 31 with a New Year’s Eve dinner and presentation on the final day.

Visiting groups can book a tour and lesson. Hours for drop by visitors vary; please check the website.

Water/Ways reveals the central nature of water on our lives by exploring 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.

As Governor Mark Dayton mentioned in his 2016 Water Summit speech, “We have critical water quality problems in Minnesota . . . we cannot ignore them. We have to face up to them and work together, to solve them.” Water/Ways addresses water resource issues while seeking active solutions to real water problems in the host communities and our state.

Explore this collection of stories about water to learn more about the community in and around Sandstone.

Watershed districts hold annual meeting Dec. 1-3

The Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts will hold its annual meeting Dec. 1-3 in Alexandria. Program topics include stormwater treatment, addressing increased flows in the Minnesota River, One Watershed One Plan, new approaches to TMDL studies, and updates to the Minnesota Public Drainage Manual. See details on the association website.

MPCA among MASWCD convention trade show exhibitors

Various programs of the MPCA will be represented at the trade show of the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts convention Dec. 4-6. The main trade show occurs on Monday, Dec. 5. A new feature this year will occur Tuesday, Dec. 6, the "Conservation Information Fair" from 7:30 a.m. to noon. Businesses and agencies participating in the fair "will have the opportunity to meet with the award-winning landowners, farmers, sportsmen, and conservation leaders from around the state." The MPCA will be participating in both events.

In the past, MPCA programs represented in the Monday trade show included feedots, construction stormwater, citizen monitoring, subsurface sewage treatment systems, nutrient reduction strategy, and Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies. The convention program includes business meeting, awards, and a variety of concurrent education sessions. The Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts represents the 89 soil and water conservation districts of Minnesota.

Presenting: A paddler’s view of the Zumbro River

Zumbro River in southeast Minnesota

Canoe veteran and author Dave Lind will present his view of the Zumbro River, Thursday, Dec. 8, at 6:30 p.m. in Rochester. Using photos and maps, Lind will take the audience down the main stem from Zumbro Falls to the Mississippi River as well as travels on the North, Middle and South forks, a total of 182 miles of river canoeing and kayaking routes, including both routes covered by outfitters as well as many less traveled routes. Discover how the Zumbro has changed over the years and how the increase in recreational canoeing, kayaking, and fishing is changing how people view the river.

This talk is part of the Zumbro Watershed Partnership’s “Water Ways” Speaker Series that takes place the second Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Cascade Meadow Wetland and Environmental Science Center in Rochester. For more information, contact ZWP Education Coordinator Kevin Strauss at education@zumbrowatershed.org or at 507-993-3411.

Apply now for U of M watershed specialist training

The University of Minnesota is accepting applications for the Watershed Specialist Training spring 2017 session: Jan. 17-April 30. The training is designed to help staff from SWCDs, WDs, tribes, counties, and cities strengthen their ability to protect water resources. It is entirely online so you save travel costs and interact with professionals from around the state. Gain practical skills to apply immediately and to build your career. Learn about:

  • assessing the community and stakeholders to more effectively engage them in problem-solving,
  • identifying social and physical data needs so you can design a monitoring or evaluation program,
  • writing a communication strategy and effectively getting your message across to diverse audiences,
  • justifying implementation activities that will best address the local water resource issues, and
  • pulling it all together into a work plan that could be used for a grant proposal.

For more information contact Ann Lewandowski, WST Program Coordinator, University of Minnesota Water Resources Center, St. Paul, MN, 612-624-6765.

MPCA website offline for maintenance Dec. 9-12

The MPCA website will be under maintenance and offline starting Friday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. All web-based services will be unavailable until Monday Dec. 12. If you use the MPCA website, web-based applications or e-Services, these will be unavailable from Dec. 9-12. The MPCA recommends finishing any required business before Dec. 9.

If you have questions, please contact public information officer Cathy Rofshus at the email or phone number below.

In the news and online: Mississippi, buffers, fish recovery