Watershed Connections - February 2018

Watershed Connections

February 2018

Ag water quality certification grows to 300,000+ acres


The next time you happen to be cruising around the countryside, be on the lookout for signs of progress on agriculture and water quality. Literally, signs, like the one at right announcing that a farm has achieved Agricultural Water Quality Certification. More are appearing as the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture program is making steady progress. As of January 2018 more than 500 farms managing more than 300,000 acres have met the certification requirements with best management practices for water quality. In return they will be considered in compliance with any new water quality regulations for 10 years.

Financial incentives also help farm owners and managers take the step. Since 2014 more than $5 million in Clean Water Funds have been spent or committed through local partners such as Soil and Water Conservation Districts. In seven regions around the state technical service providers within SWCDs work with farmers on the application and required BMPs. Participating farmers are eligible for grants up to $5,000, and gain leverage for EQIP financial assistance, which brought more than $1.8 million last year.

Feedback from participating farmers so far has been very positive. Among the responses in a recent survey, many say they would be very likely to encourage other farmers to participate. The current goal is to have one million acres enrolled by 2020, says Brad Redlin, program director. A major step occurred recently when Land O' Lakes became an ally through its SUSTAIN program. In the Red River Valley the U of M's Northwest Regional Sustainability Partnership is helping out. "We really rely on many agencies and resources to make progress," says Marcie Weinandt, operations coordinator.

MAWQCP welcomes new staff

Clarissa Levi began working as the MAWQCP Agronomy and Conservation Services Coordinator in September 2017. Her primary responsibilities include development and implementation of a certified farm auditing process and providing technical support to field staff. Clarissa has more than 14 years of experience in agronomy and conservation work, including time with the Minnesota Pesticide Applicator Recertification Program, Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Pest Survey Program, Alaska’s Citizens Advisory Commission on Federal Areas, the Nevada Conservation Corps, and Caledonia Farmers Elevator. She holds a B.S. in Environmental Studies from Michigan State University and a M.S. in Agronomy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Danielle Isaacson started in December 2017 as the MAWQCP Program Development Specialist. Her primary responsibilities include program communications, operations, and partnership development. Danielle has a degree in Environmental Studies from Denison University and five years of experience in the environmental field. Most recently, she worked at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency with the MN GreenCorps program.

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Water Fee Advisory Committee meeting Feb. 12

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is considering an update to its water fees and has created the Water Fee Advisory Committee to provide input to the Commissioner on this important topic. The next Water Fee Advisory Committee meeting will be held on Feb. 12, noon-4 p.m. at the MPCA St. Paul office Board Room and via WebEx. The Advisory Committee meetings are open to the public.  

The MPCA will provide more information about this meeting and how to access the meeting via WebEx closer to the date. Please visit the Water Quality Fee Rule webpage for updates. The webpage also contains information about the water fees. Receive notices about the Water Quality Fee Rule by subscribing here.

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10th Minnesota River Congress set for May 17 at Mankato

Minnesota River Congress logo

The 10th Minnesota River Congress is scheduled for Thursday, May 17 in Mankato. Time and location will be announced later. About 75 people attended the ninth Congress Nov. 16 at Jordan, reviewing progress on resolutions, interest network teams and board activities. Resolutions approved at previous meetings include: Building soil organic matter, flow control in streams, connecting waterways, funding Minnesota River Basin Data Center, civic engagement, Granite Falls fish passage and whitewater park, state river trails, and paddler access. Patrick Belmont of Utah State University gave an overview of sediment and nutrient issues in the Minnesota River. Despite much effort and expense over the past decade, there have been no reductions in nitrogen or sediment, while phosphorus has dropped 33 percent, mostly due to improvements in municipal wastewater treatment.

The Congress board meeting Jan. 17 in Henderson welcomed two new members, Jordan Hedlund of St. Paul as one of two Recreation representatives, and Paul “Gus” Davis of St. Peter in the Business category. The board discussed and provided feedback on several topics and adopted resolutions:

  • Soil Organic Matter resolution includes formation of a team working with Linda Meschke to develop strategies to assist groups or individuals working to increase soil organic matter. Minnesota State University-Mankato awaits a decision on funding expected by mid-April impacting the soil organic matter resolution.
  • Update on progress regarding developing comprehensive river-related curriculum for students, by Kim Musser, Education Team leader.
  • Creation of a water quality trading program that when fully agreed upon, could be recognized by the state, by Jessica Nelson, Civic Engagement Team leader.
  • Support DNR fish management plan that includes direct reference to connectivity. Identification of such sites where actions regarding potential connectivity projects will be the next step.
  • Increase attendance at board meetings and full Minnesota River Congress events. Increase awareness of Congress, such as attending regional SWCD meetings or other groups and units of government.
  • Financial support for the Minnesota River Congress. Funds raised going forward would be given to the Friends of the Minnesota Valley to use as potential matching funds for an upcoming grant proposal to the McKnight Foundation.
  • Tell the story of the Minnesota River Congress development and accomplishments; establish a web site that goes beyond its Facebook page and blog.

Representatives needed for Action Board

If you or someone you know are interested in participating on the Congress Action Board, and can participate in at least three meetings during 2018, you are encouraged to apply now if you fall into one of the open categories listed below. It is a two-year commitment and applications are being accepted up to the Nov 16 next full congress session. Open seats include one of two available in: Agriculture, Local Government (includes SWCD supervisors) and one each in the Watonwan River Watershed, Minnesota River Headwaters, Pomme de Terre Watershed, Hawk Creek Watershed, Native American Communities (2). To receive the one-page application form contact Scott Sparlin, sesparlin@gmail.com, 507-276-2280.

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River Eutrophication Standards impact water quality trading

The following is an excerpt from the second of a two-part series on water quality trading. The first part, in the MPCA December 2017 On Point newsletter, explained water quality trading and how it’s worked in Minnesota so far. To date, Minnesota’s demand for water quality trading credits has been driven by dissolved oxygen and excess nutrient water quality objectives in the wastewater sector. But new standards and conditions will bring changes to water quality trading in Minnesota.

The River Eutrophication Standards (RES) will require that all trading activity must occur upstream of the waterbody of concern in order to achieve water quality objectives. Existing trading relationships that have been developed to address remote water quality concerns may be disrupted if new water quality assessments result in the designation of relevant water quality targets between an upstream buyer and a downstream seller. Impacted relationships may include Lake Pepin’s excess nutrients or the Lower Minnesota River low dissolved oxygen impairments.

An example of this situation is the current Minnesota River Basin General Phosphorus permit trading relationship between a buyer in the Redwood River watershed and a seller in the Middle Minnesota River watershed. The longstanding trading relationship is intended to benefit the dissolved oxygen impairment of the Lower Minnesota River. However, the MPCA listed the outlet reach of the Redwood River in 2016 as impaired for excess nutrients. So now the buyer will need to reduce phosphorus loading within the Redwood River watershed, either by reducing effluent loading or through trading or a combination of the two. Because the phosphorus reductions required within the Redwood River watershed are sufficient to satisfy the reductions requirements for the Lower Minnesota River, it is unlikely that the existing trading relationship will continue in the future.

For more information about water quality trading, contact Marco Graziani at the MPCA at 651-757- 2398 or marco.graziani@state.mn.us.

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MPCA to respond to court ruling rejecting proposed standard to protect wild rice

wild rice

An administrative law judge recently rejected the MPCA’s proposed changes to the standard to protect wild rice. The existing rule (or standard) limits sulfate to 10 milligrams per liter in water used for the production of wild rice. However, the MPCA’s new research indicates that sulfide – converted from sulfate by bacteria -  in the sediment in which wild rice grows is the pollutant of concern. The proposed rules were designed to limit sulfide to 120 micrograms per liter. 

The proposed changes would have established a process to identify the level of sulfate that would be protective for each wild rice water body. The proposal would have also identified wild rice waters in Minnesota. The ALJ agreed the proposed revisions were based on sound scientific evidence. The MPCA is now evaluating all available options following the ruling, and intends to proceed with the rule revision process, as prescribed by Minnesota state law. Related media coverage:

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Missouri basin TMDL sent to EPA for final review

missouri river basin watersheds

The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study for the Missouri River Basin major watersheds in Minnesota was sent to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for final review and approval.

This TMDL addresses 15 turbidity/TSS impairments and 28 bacteria (fecal coliform and E. coli) impairments on several main stem and tributary reaches in the Lower Big Sioux River, Little Sioux River, and Rock River Watersheds in the Minnesota portions of the Missouri River Basin. This TMDL also addresses nutrient (phosphorus) impairments for eight lakes in the Little Sioux River Watershed.

The TMDL study was open for public comment from Sept. 25, 2017 to Oct. 25, 2017. We are also including supporting documentation and information with this submittal, under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act. Approval of this TMDL study is an important step towards reduction in the current levels of turbidity (TSS), bacteria, and nutrient pollutants in the Missouri River Basin major watersheds in Minnesota.

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Section 319 funding round open to requests for proposals

Applications for the federal fiscal year 2018 Federal Clean Water Act Section 319 (Section 319) funding round are being accepted and must be submitted by 4:30 p.m., Friday, March 2. During the application period, any contact with Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) staff can result in disqualification.

The Section 319 grant program provides funding to address nonpoint source (NPS) pollution. The MPCA passes through approximately $1.4 million dollars to local governments and organizations to implement best management practices and adopt strategies to mitigate NPS pollution.

If you have questions during the application round, please submit your questions to 319.Grant.PCA@state.mn.us. For complete information, the request for proposal and application, please see the MPCA's Section 319 funding round web page.

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DNR's watershed health webpage gets makeover for 2018

dnr whaf logo

With winter and a new calendar year the DNR Watershed Health Assessment Framework team has been busy revising its webpage content and navigation. They hope a more streamlined approach helps new users more easily find important content, and existing users quickly feel right at home. On the new WHAF main page you can select from three main areas:

  • What is it?  Look here for information about the WHAF project, the 5 component framework, health scores and key concepts.
  • Use it.  This links to the WHAF Map, Map Help materials, and Use Cases.
  • Supporting Resources.  Look here for Major Watershed reports, more about GIS data, scientific references and suggested readings.

In 2018, you can expect to see some changes to the WHAF mapping experience. In our push to create an easier, more intuitive user experience, our online map is going through a major overhaul. Our application designer is hard at work, making the application faster and smarter, so it is more adaptable and stable in the future. 

We are working hard to make the switch as painless as possible for our current users, while adding new functions that will help you more easily review health information for your location of interest. Send an email to Whaf.dhr@state.mn.us if you have thoughts to share or ideas to help make us better:

  • Is it easy to navigate between content areas?
  • Can you find what you are looking for?
  • Is anything missing or hard to find that you were using before?

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News briefs

Huberty departs LWC for MPCA-Duluth and St. Louis River Area of Concern

Barb Huberty is the new St. Louis River Area of Concern (SLRAOC) Coordinator in the MPCA Duluth office.  She is assigned the task of coordinating with local, state, and federal partners and stakeholders on the implementation of the SLRAOC Remedial Action Plan. This work will include managing budgets, contracts and grants associated with the identified remediation sites.  Additionally, she will prepare the removal packages for the remaining beneficial use impairments, which are slated for delisting by 2025. 

Barb comes to the MPCA with many years of local and state environmental program management experience.  She has remediated contaminated sites, planned for and implemented environmental permit programs, developed regulations and policy, and administered multi-million dollar budgets.  Prior to coming to the MPCA, Barb was the Director of the Legislative Water Commission, the Manager of the Rochester Public Works Department Environmental Division, and the Environmental Analyst for the Olmsted County Public Works Department Solid Waste Division. Learn more about the SLRAOC here: St. Louis River Area of Concern.

Joel Larson named Associate Director of U of M Water Resources Center 

Joel Larson, a top-level manager at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has been named associate director of the Water Resources Center, effective Jan. 29. Larson recently directed the USDA Southeast Climate Hub, where he coordinated with university Extension and other science programs to provide stakeholder-relevant education on conservation planning related to climate change and water management.

Water Conference topics spill over into media, ag, public health and tribal roles in creating water policy

The 2017 Minnesota Water Resources Conference offered a variety of water topics to the record-breaking 787 attendees who gathered amid the fall color display along the Mississippi River. Tribal water management, discovering the source of harmful microorganisms in our recreational and drinking water and using media to bring problems and solutions to the public were just a handful of topics offered. Read more.

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The Farm Bill, conservation, and the environment

American Enterprise Institute, Erik Lichtenberg, Nov. 13, 2017
From the beginning, conservation provisions in the farm bill have been linked to farm income support. In the past few decades, spending on conservation programs in the farm bill has both risen and remained relatively stable even in the face of budget retrenchments, so that conservation now accounts for roughly a third of direct farm program payments. The stated rationales for conservation programs in the farm bill are (1) to prevent farmland degradation to preserve productivity and (2) to mitigate environmental externalities, notably damage to water quality, wildlife habitat, and air quality. Summary and link to full report.

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