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LEGACY AMENDMENT NEWS PACKET                                                               Oct. 30, 2013
All news releases are available in the DNR’s website newsroom at www.mndnr.gov/news.
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IN THIS ISSUE-CLEAN WATER FUND
New computer modeling aimed at watershed cleanup
Legacy dollars at work in the Buffalo River watershed communities using Clean Water
   Fund grants to address water quality issues
Clean Water funds accelerate geologic atlases in Benton, other counties

NOTE: Minnesota voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment on Nov. 4, 2008, by voting to increase the state’s sales tax. Tax dollars are dedicated to four funds: Outdoor Heritage Fund, Clean Water Fund, Parks and Trails Fund, and Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. On the fifth anniversary of the Legacy Amendment vote, the Department of Natural Resources is issuing three news release packets describing projects supported by the natural resources funds. This is the last of three news packets issued today. The releases in this packet describe Clean Water Fund projects.

DNR NEWS - FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

New computer modeling aimed at watershed cleanup

In west-central Minnesota, the Shakopee Creek headwaters chain of lakes has long attracted tourists, cabin owners and recreationists to its picturesque shores.

But runoff from agricultural drainage on the surrounding land is carrying excessive pollutants to some of these prized Kandiyohi County lakes, such as West Norway Lake, where nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, and sediment levels are now too high. The pollution threatens to spread through connecting waterways to other lakes further down the chain including Norway, Games, Andrew and Florida.

“There have been a lot of improvements made in the watershed but not enough to improve the conditions of West Norway Lake,” said Skip Wright, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) district manager in Spicer. “If more isn’t done to reduce runoff rates and pollutant loads then that condition will eventually cascade down to the other lakes in this very important lake chain.”

As part of a larger effort to identify and target key actions necessary to reduce the flow of pollutants that threaten the lakes, streams, and wetlands that make up the Shakopee Creek headwaters watershed, the DNR is developing a computer model that can be used to track water flow through the 70-square mile area. “It’s a much more advanced way of trying to characterize the hydrology of a watershed than tools we’ve had available in the past,” said Wright, who works for the DNR’s Ecological and Water Resources Division.

Shakopee Creek is just one example of how money from the Clean Water Fund is being used to restore the state’s waters. In the past four years, the DNR has received $640,000 to develop computer models to address hydrologic change.

Using this creek as a case study, researchers are integrating detailed elevation information into the new computer model to create an accurate picture of how water and pollutants are moving from the land into the water. 

With the watershed model, the movement of a raindrop can be traced from the point it falls, routing it through features on the land like wetlands – accounting for nutrients and sediment – and following its path to streams or ditches. Watershed physics can be studied down to scales of one acre or less and researchers will be better able to track how changes in land use and climate have contributed to stress on the state’s bodies of water.

Equally important, scientists can use watershed physics to understand where wetland restorations, modified drainage practices, and other agricultural best management practices should be targeted to most effectively address identified pollution problems. They will use that knowledge to develop a strategy for cleaning up West Norway Lake and reducing the flow of pollutants to the chain of lakes below.

“There is no other model I am aware of that can do what this model does,” said Greg Eggers, the DNR drainage engineer who is working on applying this physically-based computer model to the Shakopee Creek watershed. “It is a paradigm shift in the way we look at watersheds.” 

The traditional computer models lump soils, land use and elevation traits into one unit, regardless of the variations in particular plots of land. With these less sophisticated models, unique land characteristics such as vegetation, slopes and surface roughness are lumped into an empirical relationship that approximates how these characteristics relate to each other.

The new model creates a series of maps of the watershed over time. Scientists will be able to use the model to visually explain an outcome or series of outcomes from some certain change in land use, such as putting in controls to stop water flow out of farmland drain tiles at certain periods of the year. Scientists will be able to see the effect of that one change and other changes like that on the entire watershed.

“The more we study these systems, we’re finding that the volume of water and the rate of water coming off the land is causing erosive conditions in rivers, lakes and streams,” Wright said. “This model will help show where the best areas are to moderate the runoff and improve water quality.”

Through a cooperative effort with watershed residents, government, and conservation groups, much has been done to clean up the watershed in the past two decades. In the northwestern part of the watershed, many wetlands and some grassland habitats previously converted to row crops have been restored.

Also much has been done to address failing individual wastewater treatment systems and animal feedlot runoff, throughout the watershed. Riparian buffers adjacent to streams and ditches have been installed to help slow down the water run-off and act as a filter. Monitoring shows water quality has improved in these areas. But now, the focus is on the southwestern part of the watershed that enters West Norway Lake, where less has been done to improve water quality.

The Shakopee Creek study is part of a larger effort to develop water quality strategies specifically tailored for the Minnesota River Basin.

“This case study is one of several across a diverse Minnesota River watershed that will help us figure out where to strategically target restoration measures and conservation practices so we can put the limited resources we have to best use in the clean up our lakes, river and streams,” Eggers said.

The watershed modeling efforts are part of a long-term partnership with federal agencies, local government, conservation groups and agriculture to restore and protect the state’s water resources through better, more sustainable resource management.

The modeling portion of the Shakopee Creek case study will be completed by the end of December. A 2014 report will be part of the larger Minnesota River clean-up and reporting effort.

The Clean Water Fund receives 33 percent of the sales tax revenue from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, approved by voters in November 2008. The Clean Water Fund’s purpose is to protect, enhance and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater.

For more information on the Legacy Amendment, visit www.mndnr.gov/legacy.

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DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                           Oct. 30, 2013

Legacy dollars at work in the Buffalo River watershed communities
using Clean Water Fund grants to address water quality issues

The Buffalo River watershed begins in a forested and lake-rich region in western Minnesota, but the landscape transitions to cropland and rangeland where drainage causes runoff of sediment and nutrients that affects the water quality of the river and its adjoining downstream waters. 

The watershed covers 709,400 acres and comprises 166 lakes and 41 streams.

With grants from the Clean Water Fund and the Legacy Amendment, local landowners and resource managers have partnered to put in place conservation practices on the land to reduce erosion -- and ultimately pollution.

Buffalo River is one of the 10 major watersheds in the Red River Basin. These watershed districts manage flooding and water quality issues within their geographic boundaries and receive grants to do so through the Clean Water Fund.

For Bruce Albright, administrator of the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District (BRRWD), selecting the protection and restoration practices that will be the best investment for clean water requires a robust understanding of how streams, lakes, wetlands and groundwater interact with the areas of land that drain to them and how nearby land use practices impact water health. This effort is known as “the watershed approach” and involves partnerships with agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

Dave Friedl, DNR northwest region clean water specialist, and Bruce Paakh, MPCA northwest region watershed ecologist, are two such partners. Both gather information about where the biggest pollution problems lie to help prioritize and target money to the places that need it most.

“Using the watershed approach, I am able to target funding to the areas contributing the most pollution to the river,” Albright said. “This gets us the most bang for the buck.”

In 2009, Friedl and Paakh began field work in the Whisky Creek watershed in Clay and Otter Tail counties and the upper south branch Buffalo River watershed in Wilkin County, both of which drain into the Buffalo River. The goal of their work is to find the best locations for conservation practices that reduce runoff that contributes to water quality problems.

They identified possible problem sites using stream power index, an analysis that uses detailed elevation maps to estimate the erosive power of overland water flow as a function of local slope and upstream drainage area.

“This mapping exercise allowed us to predict which spots would have the highest potential for forming gully erosion, and then do a field check to gather more information,” Friedl said. “These sites were off the main stem of Buffalo River. It is often these smaller channels that can contribute large sediment loads to the river systems.”

During the field check, Friedl and Paakh looked at the condition of each site, measured the erosion, identified erosion potential, documented the condition of the stream channel and assessed the health of nearby wetlands and buffer areas adjacent to water. Many of these sites were labeled as problem areas with high potential for forming gully erosion leading to sediment runoff into the stream system.

Local government and citizen groups were also encouraged to do volunteer monitoring and local projects were supported that addressed the water health and quality in the Buffalo River Watershed.

These watershed problems in the Whisky Creek and south branch of the Buffalo River watersheds are being addressed through a joint effort involving MPCA, DNR and local partnerships through the Clean Water Fund.

Over a 10-year period, 81 watershed restoration and protection projects will be developed through state and local partnerships throughout Minnesota.

The Clean Water Fund receives 33 percent of the sales tax revenue from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, approved by voters in November 2008. The Clean Water Fund’s purpose is to protect, enhance and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater.

For more information, visit

http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/whaf/about/scores/geomorphology/soil_erodibilty.html

http://legacy.leg.mn/projects/regional-technical-assistance-and-statewide-coordination-clean-water

For more information on the Legacy Amendment, visit www.mndnr.gov/legacy.

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DNR NEWS – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                      Oct. 30, 2013

Clean Water funds accelerate geologic atlases in Benton, other counties

Minnesota may be hailed as the land of picture postcard lakes and streams, but the waters of the state that can’t be seen or photographed – its underground aquifers – also are important.  Now that groundwater, which provides water for drinking, irrigation and other uses, is getting added attention with accelerated funding for mapping as a result of the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment approved by voters five years ago this fall.

Making a map of groundwater isn’t quite as simple as mapping the lakes and rivers and streams in an area. It takes several years and gets developed in two phases. The Minnesota Geological Survey at the University of Minnesota gathers information about an area’s bedrock formation and glacial sediments where water is located underground in aquifers. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) then collects water samples from a variety of wells in the area and analyzes them to understand how the groundwater moves, how long the water has been in the aquifer and how sensitive the aquifers may be to pollution.

The analysis can look at a variety of indicators, such as water hardness, the concentration of common contaminants like nitrates, and the presence of indicator isotopes such as tritium. A radioactive isotope of hydrogen, tritium began appearing in increasing amounts in the 1950s and 1960s as a result of nuclear weapons testing. Whether or not it’s present in groundwater can tell researchers if the water entered the aquifer within the past 50 years. Groundwater samples that are believed to have entered the aquifer hundreds or thousands of years ago may be dated by testing for the presence of carbon-14, another radioactive isotope of a common element, often used to find the age of archaeological relics. By learning the age of a groundwater sample, scientists can better understand if the groundwater system is old and relatively protected, or young and relatively sensitive. A shallow groundwater system containing more recently replenished water can be more easily contaminated.

Once the data are compiled and processed using geographic information system computer tools, the result is what’s known as a county geologic atlas: a collection of maps and other information that describe an area’s aquifers, including where and how water moves through them underground. That information is critical for protecting water resources, responding to contamination, and planning for long-term sustainable water use, said Jan Falteisek, a DNR hydrogeological supervisor.

“This is foundational information,” Falteisek said. “Having this information allows us to make intelligent resource management decisions.”

In Benton County, for instance, a recently completed atlas is helping resolve conflicts between groundwater use for irrigation and the health of a groundwater-fed trout stream. In Pine County, information provided by a county geologic atlas helped the city of Askov determine where to locate a new wastewater lagoon (and where not to). In Olmsted County, the atlas helped the city of Rochester determine where to relocate a land fill that was contaminating local aquifers. 

The atlas, which identifies where areas of pollution sensitivity may be and where the groundwater might most easily be contaminated, has many uses. It’s critical information for communities to have as they plot their future, said Jason Moeckel, who manages the inventory monitoring and analysis section of the DNR’s Ecological and Water Resources Division. That’s why decision makers have been increasing funding and accelerating the pace at which the atlases can be completed.

Originally paid for from the state’s general fund, the county geologic atlas program has been augmented by lottery proceeds, and more recently the program’s capacity has been enhanced with Legacy funds. The first atlas was published in 1982, covering Scott County. To date, atlases have been completed for 20 counties, and another 19 are underway. Eventually the entire state will be mapped, a process that at current rates could take another 15 years.

The Clean Water Fund receives 33 percent of the sales tax revenue from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, approved by voters in November 2008. The Clean Water Fund’s purpose is to protect, enhance and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater.

For more information on the Legacy Amendment, visit www.mndnr.gov/legacy.

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