Watershed Connections - November 2018

Watershed Connections

November 2018

Monitoring season in review: Wet weather a challenge, several species of concern found

42-inch Muskellunge sampled on the Sturgeon River in the Little Fork River watershed in 2018

Water monitoring crews from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) were challenged by abnormally high rainfall patterns during the 2018 sampling season.

MPCA biologists divide into two monitoring teams – north and south – for monitoring fish and macroinvertebrates (bugs) in streams and rivers from mid-June through September each year. This year the north team focused on the Sauk and Little Fork River watersheds while the south team focused on the Redwood, Root, Le Sueur, Pomme de Terre, Mississippi River-Lake Pepin, and Snake River watersheds.

In the south, above average rainfall at the start of the sampling season hindered most work until July. In addition, more than 7 inches of rain fell in the Snake River watershed during a mid-July event while the Root River watershed received 5 inches of rain in a single August event.

The situation was similar in the north, where high river levels in the Little Fork River watershed prohibited sampling until mid- to late summer. From June to August, 12 inches of rain fell with 8 inches falling in June alone. Although specific large rain events avoided the Sauk River watershed, consistent rains throughout the summer kept the lower main stem of the Sauk River high throughout the watershed.

Due to the high flows across the state, several watersheds will have follow-up sampling performed in 2019.

In spite of the difficult stream flow conditions, MPCA crews were still able to collect good samples from a majority of locations:

  • Snake River: Several species of concern, including lake sturgeon, gilt darter, and northern brook lamprey.
  • Middle Branch Root River near Chatfield: 30 fish species collected.
  • Root and Mississippi River-Lake Pepin watersheds: Trout collected at 48 different stations. 
  • Cobb River near Beauford: 34 unique fish species collected at one visit.
  • Sauk and Little Fork River watershed: 67 fish species collected, with several stations approaching 30 individual species.

Biological monitoring helps detect water quality impairments that other methods may miss or underestimate. It provides an effective tool for assessing water resource quality regardless of whether the impact is chemical, physical, or biological in nature.

Monitoring by the numbers

  • North biological stations: 98 for fish and 112 for macroinvertebrates
  • South biological stations: 120 for fish and 147 for macroinvertebrates
  • Additional water chemistry data collected from: 114 lakes, 64 stream sections, 8 wells and 5 wild rice lakes
  • Local partners and citizen volunteers also contributed to the effort by collecting water samples from lakes and streams in many watersheds

For more information

Photo above right: MPCA biologist sampled a 42-inch Muskellunge on the Sturgeon River in the Little Fork River watershed this past season.

10 small watersheds selected for focused funding program

The MPCA has selected 10 watersheds for longer-term federal funding, starting in 2020. The selections are part of the transition in the federal Clean Water Act Section 319 program from one-time grants to more reliable funding focused on small watersheds. The goal of the program is to help local governments make measureable changes toward water quality improvements. Based on input from many local governments, the program is designed to provide a reliable and longer-term funding source to address all pollutants in small watersheds.

Chosen for prioritized funding in 2020, 2024, 2028 and 2032 are:

  • Martin SWCD, for the Fairmont Chain of Lakes and Dutch Creek
  • Mower SWCD, for Dobbins Creek
  • Redwood County SWCD, for Plum Creek Watershed
  • Hawk Creek Watershed Project, for Upper Hawk Creek and Wilmar Chain of Lakes
  • Scott County, Scott Water Management Organization, and SWCD, for Sand Creek
  • West Polk SWCD, for the Red Lake River – middle subwatershed
  • Carlton SWCD, for Skunk Creek
  • Buffalo Red River Watershed District, for Whiskey Creek
  • Rum River Watershed, for the Rum River – middle subwatershed
  • Pipestone County, for Split Rock, Mound, and Pipestone creeks

After 41 local government units applied for funding, the MPCA conducted telephone interviews with all applicants and chose 19 for site visits. The agency then chose 10 for funding based on criteria such as state priorities and collaboration, along with input from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

In 2019, 2020, and 2021, the MPCA will chose additional groups of 10 watersheds for prioritized funding.

For more information, or to state your interest for 2019, visit the program webpage.

Funding available for SWCDs to implement CREP in Minnesota

CREP restored wetland

Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) may apply to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources for funding for additional staff to implement the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) in Minnesota. To be eligible, SWCDs must be in one of the 54 southern and western counties that make up the CREP project.

Up to $4.4 million is available, as provided by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund derived from lottery proceeds. The application period opened Oct. 1 and will continue as long as funding is available.

The purpose of this funding is to accelerate staff capacity to deliver the MN CREP. These funds must supplement any Farm Bill Assistance staff currently in place and may not be used as a substitute. SWCDs may choose to increase staff hours, realign staff priorities to focus on CREP, and/or secure new staff.

For more information, see the program webpage or contact Dusty Van Thuyne, CREP implementation coordinator, at dusty.vanthuyne@state.mn.us or 507.344.2819.

MN CREP is a voluntary, federal-state funded natural resource conservation program that uses a science-based approach to target environmentally sensitive land. The goal is to protect 60,000 acres by enrolling riparian and marginal agricultural land into conservation. Benefits include:

  • Restoring hydrology, increasing infiltration and providing flood mitigation
  • Providing habitat for wildlife, non-game species and pollinators
  • Reducing nitrate loading in drinking supplies

Use de-icing salt sparingly to protect Minnesota waters

How to scatter de-icing salt

As the first snow of the season arrives, Minnesotans start thinking about clearing snow and ice from pavement — sometimes with salt. But when the snow melts or it rains, the salt, which contains chloride, runs into storm drains and into nearby lakes, rivers, and groundwater.

People in the metro Twin Cities scatter an estimated 365,000 tons of salt each year. But it only takes 1 teaspoon of salt to permanently pollute 5 gallons of water. There’s no feasible way to remove chloride once it gets into the water, and scientists are finding increasing amounts of chloride in waters around the state. Salty water harms freshwater fish and other aquatic wildlife.

Scatter patterns

Though no environmentally safe, effective, and inexpensive alternatives to salt are yet available, smart salting strategies can help reduce chloride pollution in state waters. You might think more salt means more melting and safer conditions, but it’s not true! Salt will effectively remove snow and ice if it’s scattered so that the salt grains are about 3 inches apart (illustration above, courtesy of the Regional Stormwater Protection Team). A coffee mug full of salt (about 12 ounces) is all you need for a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares (roughly 1,000 square feet). Consider using a hand-held spreader to apply salt consistently, and use salt only in critical areas.

And sweep up any extra that is visible on dry pavement. It is no longer doing any work and will be washed away into local waters.

Additional tips for limiting salt use:

  • Shovel. The more snow and ice you remove manually, the less salt you’ll have to use and the more effective it can be.
  • 15oF and below is too cold for salt. Most salts stop working at this temperature. Use sand instead for traction, but remember that sand does not melt ice.
  • Slow down. Drive for the conditions and make sure to give plow drivers plenty of space to do their work. Consider purchasing winter (snow) tires.
  • Hire a certified Smart Salting contractor. Visit the MPCA's Smart Salting webpage for a list of winter maintenance professionals specifically trained in limiting salt use.
  • Watch a video. Produced by the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, it offers tools for environmentally friendly snow and ice removal.
  • Promote smart salting. Work together with local government, businesses, schools, churches, and nonprofits to advocate for reducing salt use in your community.

Learn more on the MPCA's Chloride webpage

Soil health expert to keynote MASWCD convention Dec. 9-11

The 2018 Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts annual convention will be Dec. 9-11 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Bloomington-Minneapolis South hotel in Bloomington. The convention will include recognition for outstanding SWCDs and individuals, breakout sessions, a trade show and silent auction, and a keynote address from renowned soil health expert Dr. Robin “Buz” Kloot of the University of South Carolin). Register online. 

Kloot started his professional life as a chemical engineer and spent 12 years in the mining and mineral processing industry in Namibia. In 1999, he joined the University of South Carolina and has been involved in various projects related to agriculture and environmental quality. His passion for soils has moved him into the roles of storytelling through video. His documentary, “Under Cover Farmers” and his series on the “Science of Soil Health” and “The International Year of Soils” are examples of his work and passion. He is currently an associate professor in the Environmental Health Sciences Dept. at USC’s Arnold School of Public Health and holds degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and an MBA and PhD from the University of South Carolina.

Be sure to stop at the MPCA booth during the trade show open throughout the convention.