MINNEAPOLIS - There are many projects being tackled across Minnesota to maintain or improve the quality of the state's so-called "10,000 Lakes" and streams.
Many involve pollution, but others deal with the problem of invasive species. Wildlife is a major asset of Minnesota but that asset is threatened by other wildlife, specifically the Asian carp.
"There are three main areas that we're focusing in terms of trying to stop the fish from moving upstream," said Steve Hirsch, Director of Ecology and Water Resources for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "We have a project going on at Coon Rapids Dam that is in the design phase now where we're trying to make some structural improvements to the dam, but also serve as a better fish barrier."
"Secondly, we are working with a private consultant and the Army Corps of Engineers to do a preliminary design for an electric barrier at Lock and Dam #1 or the Ford Dam. So, those two projects together would help keep Asian carp from moving into the upper Mississippi River watershed which is very important to Minnesota because that's where a lot of our lakes are," Hirsch added.
"Then we have a third area that we are working on, actually, in a totally different part of the state and that's southwest Minnesota. We have Asian carp that have the potential to move up from the Missouri River system. So, we actually have five areas identified that would protect the Little Sioux River watershed and the Des Moines River watershed from Asian carp, five barrier sites and then an additional site that we are going to cost-share with the state of Iowa to protect Asian carp from moving up from their upper Iowa-Great Lakes region," Hirsch concluded.
There is a bill in Congress to close the upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam in Minneapolis if adult carp are found north of Hastings, or if juvenile carp are found north of Alma, Wis. Hirsch said the ultimate method of keeping carp out of northern lakes via the Mississippi is to close the locks.
Each of the projects has a different approach. The Coon Rapids Dam, which already exists, needs structural improvements along with attention to the height of the pool above the dam. The work is designed to prevent the jumping fish from getting there.
The electric barrier at Locks and Dam #1 raises questions about public safety. The cost is unknown; however, the DNR estimates it would cost millions.
A project underway in southwest Minnesota project involves multiple structures like smaller dams, according to Hirsch. Others will only require an embankment to prevent carp access during flooding of the relatively flat area. Those projects are still in the planning stages.
As for pollution of the water itself, the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council has been working to fund and coordinate programs to keep water on Minnesota's landscapes and not running off into the state's rivers and streams.
"A major one is Wetland Reserve Program. That's run by the Board of Water and Soil resources. It recreates wetlands," said William Becker, Executive Director of the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. "Wetlands are integral to keeping water on the land. Keeping water on the landscape is integral to clean water. It allows the nutrients to be absorbed by plant life and things of that sort. So, that is one of the major water quality programs."
"In addition, we have programs run by the Department of Natural Resources to acquire, restore and enhance prairies and grasslands. They are extensive holdings of 160 acres or more and generally marginal lands. So, that it's not affecting the agricultural economy a great deal," Hirsch said.
Becker said the prairie acquisition program is "primarily in the Prairie Pothole region" of Minnesota. He pointed out that only one percent of native prairie remains unbroken by the plow.
"It has significant water quality benefits and it is important to protect it. So, we have programs that seek willing sellers of land, grass land, adjacent to that native prairie or willing sellers of native prairie and we protect that in perpetuity."
Becker said the council spends about $90 million each year on the programs, money that is funded by a portion of the state sales tax.
One of the major new water quality projects is right under foot in the Twin Cities. It is in the land bordering the Central Corridor Light Rail project currently under construction along University Avenue in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
"As part of the Central Corridor project, in order to treat their storm water management, Met Council and city of Saint Paul and Capitol Region Watershed District designed a system that infiltrates storm water using trees and structural soil to put water back into the ground," said Forrest Kelley, Regulatory and Construction Program Manager of the Capitol Region Watershed District.
The most visible piece of the Central Corridor water quality puzzle is the permeable pavers along the sidewalks. Unlike other pavers, these blocks allow water to seep through into the structural soil beneath, where it can water the numerous trees along the street. However, the effort does not stop at the curb.
"To augment storm water management in the central corridor area, the CRWD decided to take a look at the side streets to University Avenue and design and implement other green infrastructure practices like rain gardens and storm water planters in the corridor," said Anna Eleria, Capitol Region Watershed District Water Resource Project Manager.
"We took a look at all side streets north and south of University Avenue and in total we found 11 sites that are suitable for additional storm water management. Four of those sites have rain gardens that are treating runoff. There are curb cut inlets into our rain garden, and there is also the ability for rainwater from the sidewalk to enter the rain garden. These systems include native pollutant tolerant plants as well as trees to take the water in, translate water and then clean it up so that there's no polluted or it minimizes polluted runoff going to the Mississippi River."
Some of our largest bodies of water are the most vulnerable, including wide sections of our largest rivers. Lake St. Croix is the section of the St. Croix just south of the Interstate 94 bridge.
"Lake St. Croix, in 2008, was listed as impaired by Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Wisconsin DNR for excess nutrients, too much phosphorus coming into the Lake," explained Christopher Klucas, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Project Manager for Impaired Waters in the Saint Croix Basin. "As part of that issue, we're required to do a study to determine where the phosphorus is coming from and how much and what it needs to do to meet the standards."
The St. Croix drains a watershed that stretches from northern Wisconsin and Minnesota down to the southern part of Washington County and all the way to Prescott, Wis.
"Right now, we're seeing that most of the regulated sources, like waste water treatment plants are really meeting their goal (of lowering phosphorus runoff)," said Klucas. "Now, it is working on this non-point source issue that we need to address. So, it's the local citizens, these land owners, throughout the watershed really wanting to step up and start taking the next steps to improve their local water bodies and Lake St. Croix."
There is a bottom line in all this text and information; Water quality in Minnesota is a project that involves all Minnesotans.