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Minnesota pollution agency seeks public input on restoring Sauk River watershed

The comment period ends May 31.

OSAKIS โ€” Minnesota environmental leaders are looking for public feedback for its efforts to restore and protect the Sauk River watershed, which begins in Douglas County just west of Nelson.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has issued two reports for the watershed. The first looks at pollution in 10 impaired stream reaches and three impaired lakes within the watershed. The second report looks at what to do about water quality that has been harmed by straightening streams and extensive ditching.
"The impacts of climate change are amplifying these conditions," the agency says.
Lake Osakis is the headwaters of the Sauk River, although the watershed encompasses a much larger area. It's part of the Osakis Lake Management District, which the agency says "offers some of the best fish and wildlife habitat in the (watershed), but also has significant water quality challenges." The district includes Smith and Maple lakes.
Flat with poorly drained soil, the area is heavily used for agriculture.
Most water courses have been altered, and the district has the most miles of public-drainage systems in the watershed. Many wetlands have been eliminated, and runoff from upstream farms has hurt remaining wetlands.
One of the main problems for the Osakis Lake Management District is Judicial Ditch 2, which the agency says contributes 30% of the district's phosphorus pollution.
The report calls for restoring natural hydrology in the Crooked Lake Ditch near the Judicial Ditch. It also recommends upgrading septic systems around Lake Osakis.
Smith and Maple lake need to encourage farmers to use practices that will keep soil and nutrients from running into the watershed, the agency said. Those practices include conservation tillage, cover crops, high-quality buffers and better septic systems.
The state says it is necessary to create a place to hold water as climate change brings wetter weather to Minnesota. It is recommending the creation of an area that can hold 1,561 acre-feet of water (about the size of 1,561 football fields) in the Osakis lake district. Restoring wetlands should help with that, its reports say. It also wants to expand and improve habitat protection areas, restore stream habitat, and restore native vegetation.
These changes rely on voluntary cooperation by farmers, residents, and others who use the land.
To view the full reports, visit mpca.commentinput.com , then choose Douglas County in the drop boxes at the top of the page.
Comments are due by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, May 31.

Reporter Karen Tolkkinen grew up in Plymouth, Minnesota, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a journalism degree in 1994. Driven by curiosity and a desire to learn about the United States, Karen Tolkkinen has covered local news from Idaho to New Hampshire to Alabama and landing at the Echo Press in Alexandria in 2017.
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