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Water quality improving but not in the clear

Echo Press graphic from data provided by Sauk River Watershed District.

A 10-year comprehensive plan with more than 200 projects on the waiting list dominated discussion of the Sauk River Watershed District (SRWD) presentation at a recent Douglas County commissioners' meeting.

The plan, updated once every decade, aims to educate and to monitor programs that will actively protect and improve the lakes, rivers and streams in the watershed. Revisions are being made to the current plan that will be implemented between 2013-2022.

The SRWD was developed in 1986 to address water quality concerns in the chain of lakes; it affects Douglas, Todd, Pope, Stearns, Morrison and Meeker counties.

FUNDING AND PROGRESS

Between 1995 and 2011, SRWD has distributed $2.5 million in grant funds to area counties. Douglas County received $204,730, $821,354 was given to Todd County, $1,457,771 to Stearns County and $54,953 to Pope County. Loans have also contributed to project costs in the amounts of: Douglas $271,772, Todd $1,462,287, Stearns $4,512,302 and Pope $24,488.

"Grant funding and apply-ing for grants is not always an exact process," said Holly Kovarik, SRWD administrator. "Some years you're successful and some years you're not." Last year, SRWD received a spike in loan dollars.

Bob Mostad said the district has brought in more than $20 million in grants over the past 26 years. Mostad sits on the SRWD board of managers and is up for reappointment this year.

"In 2011, the district provided technical support and-or financial support to about 100 projects," Kovarik said.

Nine loan projects and 69 cost-share projects were completed in the district. Septic system projects comprised the majority of grant and loan funded projects.

Kovarik said a focus has been placed on projects in areas that tend to have resource issues. The Osakis Shoreland Enhancement Continuation is included in the 2011 funding review.

"We've had a lot of projects implemented in the Osakis area," Kovarik said.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

In 2010, almost 40 inches of precipitation were recorded. Trends in precipitation have shown upticks separated by a few years of lower levels. Over the past two decades, the low levels have risen and the years in between peaks have decreased.

"We're getting rain events that are greater in volume," Kovarik said. Heavier rains are happening more frequently, according to data compiled by SRWD.

As water levels rise, the same is true of pollution. The SRWD reported 48 lake impairments and 62 stream stretch impairments within the district. The most common contamination issues are excessive nutrients, turbidity (poor water clarity) and E. coli bacteria. Kovarik said E. coli will be a major discussion item in the plan update.

"We have a huge, huge task ahead of us," Kovarik said.

Kovarik said targeted efforts are being placed on suspended solids. Since 1995, total phosphorus has maintained levels. Kovarik said it's not getting any worse, but it's also not getting any better. Significant decreasing trends have been seen regarding sediment.

Kovarik said there are improvements evident in water quality but there's still a lot of work to be done.

"This is not something that in one, two, three years you're going to completely address. It's going to take time," she said.

EDUCATION

Seventy percent of public and private schools in the watershed district participate in SRWD youth education programming. Classroom and field event participation has increased from 2,910 students in 2008 to 5,500 students in 2011.

"Since 2008, we've pretty much almost doubled our numbers as far as outreach to our youth," Kovarik said. "They are going to be our stewards for tomorrow, so we need to continue to educate them about what they can do to help improve things."

Kovarik said that the SRWD has a small staff but it is not atypical for three staff members to be out educating on the same day in opposite ends of the district.

"We have a lot of programs available to the schools where we go into the classroom, present the topic and then hit the field," Kovarik said.

Water festivals called WaterFests presented by the district gained in popularity with students so much during May and September that an off-season festival called FrozenFest is held at St. Cloud State University and celebrated in the winter months.

Adult education is also essential to spreading the word about water resource issues. The SRWD has partnered with the Minnesota Master Gardener program to help further its reach.

For more information on the SRWD, visit www.srwdmn.org. View the 2011 Annual Report and 2012 Plan of Operations at http://bit.ly/KXyqbu.

MINNESOTA POLLUTION CONTROL AGENCY IMPAIRED WATERS LIST

33 lakes have excessive nutrients

15 streams have E. coli bacteria

14 streams listed for fish bio assessment

14 streams listed for aquatic macroinvertebrate

5 streams have dissolved oxygen

Information provided by Sauk River Watershed District

DeyCrystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.

Crystal Dey

Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.

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