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  • 25 Nov 2014 2:06 PM | Anonymous

    Farm Practices Can Affect Runoff and Flooding

    By Kevin Strauss, Zumbro Watershed Partnership

     

    If you lived here in 2010, you probably remember the September 22-24 rains and the devastating 2010 Zumbro River Flood. The deluge dropped 8-10 inches of rain on wet soils, leading to over $64 million in damage and the loss of over 80 homes in southeast Minnesota along several rivers. And while there’s been a lot of coverage about the impacts of the flood on the communities of Pine Island, Zumbro Falls, and Hammond, there’s been less coverage of flood impacts on area farmers and on what some local farmers are doing to “Slow the Flow” of rainwater to let it soak into their fields and reduce future flooding events.

     

    The Problem:

    First, the bad news, in Dodge, Olmsted, Goodhue, and Wabasha Counties, farmers sustained thousands of dollars in crop damage, not to mention soil erosion, new gullies, and the new sand that covered floodplain fields.

     

    The speed with which rainfall goes from land to river depends on what the rain runs into. Rain that falls on grassland, pasture, forests, wetlands, and what Mazeppa Farmer Rod Sommerfield calls “healthy farm soil,” tends to soak into the soil and move slowly to the river. But rain that lands on most row crop fields and cities hard surfaces (pavement and roofs) flows quickly to the river. If too much rain flows too quickly to the Zumbro River, we get a flood.

     

    According to the National Weather Service, flooding events in southeastern Minnesota are becoming larger and more frequent over the last 100 years. From 1891 to 1930, the Zumbro had one major flood. From 1931 to 1970 it had six major floods. From 1971 to 2010, it had 7 major floods.

     

    One problem with flooding for rural landowners is that they can do everything “right” on their own land by using cover crops and building erosion control structures, but that might not be enough. According to Jim Hruska, retired Dodge Soil and Water Conservation District technician, if upstream landowners don’t control their runoff, downstream farmers are hit hard by overwhelming runoff from upstream farms.

     

    “You can’t stop a flood once it reaches Zumbro Falls,” said Pine Island Crop and Dairy Farmer Rick Alberts, who saw his fields flood in 2010. “We need to capture water on all the little creeks and gullies upstream.”

     

    Alberts would like to see more “mini-dams” or embankments up higher in the watershed, uphill from his farm. These dams, usually installed at the head of gullies create temporary ponds and slow the water as it drains to the Zumbro River. This slow release of water is less likely to erode soils, carry pollutants, or add additional water to rain-swollen rivers and streams.

     

    According to Alberts one of the reasons that we don’t see more of these small dams on farmland is the cost. According to Olmsted County Soil and Water Conservation District staff, these structures can cost $30,000 and even though the State of Minnesota offers a 75% cost share, (when funding is available), that still means a landowner would have to come up with the remaining amount to hold that water on their farm.

     

    Healthier Soils Could Reduce Flooding, Erosion

    In some cases, farmers assume that the only way to reduce runoff is to take at least some land out of production by constructing ponds or installing terraces and grassed waterways. But according to one Wabasha-area farmer, there are ways to both farm the land and soak up rainfall.

     

    While many farmers saw rutted fields, eroded waterways, and damaged dams after the September 2010 rains, Rod Sommerfield, a row crop farmer near Mazeppa was pleasantly surprised by when he saw his fields after the rain.

     

    “The water didn’t run. It just soaked into the ground. No gullies, no erosion,” said Sommerfield.

     

    “Since 1988, we’ve had four big rain events (over 6 inches). In the first three events, with 6-7 inches of rain, we saw thousands of gallons of water flow over our dam’s spillway. So when we got 13 inches of rain in September (2010), I thought we’d see a lot of damage. But when I got to the dam, there wasn’t any water flowing over the spillway,” said Sommerfield.

     

    What changed?

     

     Sommerfield’s farming methods.

     

    Starting in 2000, he had started farming his over 500 acres of conventional corn and soybean fields differently. Using strip-till and no-till farming practices that increase his soil’s organic material, increase water permeability, and increase overall “soil health” he has made his soil more porous and helped his soil particles stick together so it doesn’t wash out of the field and into the river.

     

    “Healthy soil infiltrates 85 percent of the water that rains on it, so only 15 percent runs off, “ said Sommerfield. “Unhealthy soil might only infiltrate 15 percent of a rainstorm, letting 85 percent run off.”

     

    What’s more, according to Sommerfield, he’s seeing that healthier soil means up to 50 percent lower input costs for crop returns that rival the other conventional methods farmers use in the region.

     

    Healthier farm soils are good for the farmer and good for the Zumbro River, so why is this kind of farming so rare? It’s more work to farm the way that Sommerfield farms. It can also take four years of lower crop returns to go from conventional, unhealthy, low organic material soil to healthier, higher organic material soil. When row crop prices are at record highs, it can be hard to convince farmers to change farming operations that could be perceived to only benefit neighbors “downstream.”



  • 21 Oct 2014 9:52 AM | Anonymous

    RAKE FOR THE SAKE OF OUR RIVERS AND LAKES

     

    Megan Duffey Moeller – Storm Water Educator, City of Rochester Public Works Department

     

    No matter how pretty, autumn’s falling leaves are not welcomed by their aquatic neighbors. If they fall or are raked onto the street, they will get washed into storm sewers and carried into our lakes and streams. As they decompose, phosphorus is released (the nutrient that turns our lakes and rivers green with algae) and oxygen is removed from the water. Just five 20-pound bags of leaves contain about one pound of phosphorus, which over time can fuel as much as 1,000 pounds of noxious algae blooms (Source: Freshwater Society).

     

    In natural settings, phosphorus in fallen leaves is recycled back into the soil. But this recycling system is bypassed in urban areas where hard surfaces are connected to storm sewers. Even when residents live blocks away from a lake or river, the runoff from their yard and street eventually reaches local water bodies.

     

    Keeping streets clean is one helpful way to keep our water clean. Raking leaves from the curbs and cleaning off storm drains will prevent leaves from traveling to waterways. In addition to degrading water quality, leaves can be a traffic hazard and they can cause flooding if they obstruct drainage ways or plug culverts, storm drains, or inlets and outlets to storm ponds. 

     

    Fall leaves aren’t only a problem on the streets. Residents should not dump large piles of leaves onto hillsides, drainage ways, or public lands. Unless they are actively managed, piles of leaves cannot decompose readily. As they slowly rot, they can attract nuisance insects and animals. They can also block runoff or get washed downstream with storms, becoming a nuisance for the people and places below.

     

    What you can do to help “Keep It Clean” this Fall:

    · Keep leaves out of the street, storm drains, and public lands.

    · Mulch leaves in your yard or make a backyard compost site for them.

    · Remove debris from the storm drain if rain is on its way. This will help prevent the drain from being clogged.

    · Grass, like leaves, will decompose and release phosphorus into the waterways. Sweep up clippings from all hard surfaces including sidewalks, driveways, and the streets.

     

  • 23 Sep 2014 10:40 AM | Anonymous

    Most Zumbro Watershed Counties Get Low Grades for Riverbank Protection

                 According to the Environmental Working Group, a community and environmental health research nonprofit, many Zumbro Watershed Counties get low grades for enforcement of the buffer zone rule, the requirement to maintain 50 feet of perennial plants on river and stream banks.

    Minnesota implemented the rule to reduce sediment, erosion, and chemical pollution from corn and soybean farm fields that sometimes extend to the edge of our public waterways. A grass “buffer” acts as a filter to keep soil and agricultural chemicals out of area rivers and lakes. But it only works if farmers install the buffers, and in about 1/3 of cases, farmers only install buffers if county staff remind them about the requirement and enforce violations. But in an era of budget cuts, county staff may not have time for yet another duty. There is currently no penalty for counties who don’t enforce the buffer ordinance.

    Dodge county led the region with a B, Olmsted County got a C and both Goodhue and Wabasha counties received a D in the report.  You can download and read the report at: http://www.ewg.org/research/broken-stream-banks

     

  • 18 Sep 2014 2:00 PM | Anonymous
    While Agriculture Industry Pollution is the overwhelming source of fertilizer and soil pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, state agriculture industry groups are fighting back against the EPA's attempts to regulate these sources of pollution.


    Currently agricultural businesses are exempt from the federal Clean Water Act, but that could change once the public realizes that farm pollution (mostly from chicken farms and other high-density animal feedlots) is responsible for over 60% of pollution in Chesapeake Bay.

     


    http://www.agweek.com/event/article/id/24035/

    In late July, Washington Post reporter Darryl Fears wrote an article, “Alarming ‘dead zone’ grows in Chesapeake” that summarized the concern of Virginia and Maryland officials who “said the expanding area of oxygen-starved water is on track to become the bay’s largest ever.”

    A dead zone is created when excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus enter a waterway in quantities sufficient to lead to the rapid growth of algae, competing with other aquatic life for the available oxygen. As Fears puts it, “dead zones suck out oxygen from deep waters and kill any marine life that can’t get out of the way.”

    The water quality problems in the Chesapeake Bay have a long history. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture June 2014 Economic Research Report Number 166, “An Economic Assessment of Policy Options To Reduce Agricultural Pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay” by Marc Ribaudo, Jeffrey Savage and Marcel Aillery, the situation in 1976 was such that “Congress directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to undertake a comprehensive study of the Bay’s condition and what measures would be necessary to restore it to its former health.”

    Despite 30 years of work to improve the water quality, “a 2007 evaluation concluded that insufficient progress was being made toward load reductions.” As a result, the “U.S. EPA established a Total Maximum Daily Load for the Bay…. It sets emission limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment across the Bay jurisdictions that are believed necessary to meet applicable water quality standards in the Bay and its tidal rivers and embayments.”

    According to the USDA report, “Agriculture is the largest contributor of nutrients and sediment to the Bay. Crop production and animal operations contributed about 38 percent of total nitrogen loads, 45 percent of total phosphorus loads and 60 percent of total sediment loads in 2007.”

    A report by the Environmental Integrity Project undefined DC Office, “Poultry’s Phosphorus Problem” says, in Maryland’s Eastern Shore watersheds, the contribution of agriculture is even greater than for the Chesapeake Bay basin as a whole. In the report, EIP writes, “agriculture is the source of 60 to 73 percent of the nitrogen and 68 to 84 percent of the phosphorus in the Eastern Shore watersheds.” Much of that comes from the 1,339 chicken farms that call the Eastern Shore home. These farms generate “over 1 billion pounds of manure containing an estimated 30.2 million pounds of phosphorus in Eastern Shore watersheds.”

    In late 2013, a couple of farm-related organizations and a home builder association filed an appeal of a ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia that the EPA was operating within its legal authority to work with the states contributing water to the Chesapeake Bay to set limits on the discharge of nutrients and sediments into the bay.

    While point sources of pollution such as industrial plants and municipal wastewater treatment plants can be regulated by the EPA, agricultural discharge of water is exempt from regulation by the EPA. In general, agricultural activity is a nonpoint source of pollution. Water coming off agricultural land can, however, be regulated by the states, thus the lawsuit against the current process by which the EPA sets the limits for the affected states which the states then allocate among polluters, including agriculture. Some in the agricultural community believe the appeal of the Philadelphia Court’s decision questions the authority of the EPA to effectively determine where farms can operate and homes can be built.

    Whether or not the appellants prevail in the legal courtroom, they are likely to lose in the court of public opinion when John Q. and Jane Public read about the extent to which agriculture contributes to the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. A change in public opinion could lead to action by Congress that would eliminate agriculture’s exemption under the Clean Water Act.

    A better solution would be for agricultural organizations to get out ahead of the problem by designing and implementing programs and systems that will enable agriculture to meet increasingly stringent nutrient and sediment discharge limits. This likely will require public financial support, but with a proactive strategy to solving pollution problems that affect everyone, the chances of gaining that support are enhanced.

    Editor’s note: Ray is the director of the University of Tennessee’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center. Schaffer is a Research assistant professor at APAC.

    Tags:

    - See more at: http://www.agweek.com/event/article/id/24035/#sthash.555L5TOy.dpuf

    Chesapeake Bay, EPA and agriculture

    In late July, Washington Post reporter Darryl Fears wrote an article, “Alarming ‘dead zone’ grows in Chesapeake” that summarized the concern of Virginia and Maryland officials who “said the expanding area of oxygen-starved water is on track to become the bay’s largest ever.”

    By: Daryll E. Ray and Harwood Schaffer, Agweek

    In late July, Washington Post reporter Darryl Fears wrote an article, “Alarming ‘dead zone’ grows in Chesapeake” that summarized the concern of Virginia and Maryland officials who “said the expanding area of oxygen-starved water is on track to become the bay’s largest ever.”

    A dead zone is created when excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus enter a waterway in quantities sufficient to lead to the rapid growth of algae, competing with other aquatic life for the available oxygen. As Fears puts it, “dead zones suck out oxygen from deep waters and kill any marine life that can’t get out of the way.”

    The water quality problems in the Chesapeake Bay have a long history. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture June 2014 Economic Research Report Number 166, “An Economic Assessment of Policy Options To Reduce Agricultural Pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay” by Marc Ribaudo, Jeffrey Savage and Marcel Aillery, the situation in 1976 was such that “Congress directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to undertake a comprehensive study of the Bay’s condition and what measures would be necessary to restore it to its former health.”

    Despite 30 years of work to improve the water quality, “a 2007 evaluation concluded that insufficient progress was being made toward load reductions.” As a result, the “U.S. EPA established a Total Maximum Daily Load for the Bay…. It sets emission limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment across the Bay jurisdictions that are believed necessary to meet applicable water quality standards in the Bay and its tidal rivers and embayments.”

    According to the USDA report, “Agriculture is the largest contributor of nutrients and sediment to the Bay. Crop production and animal operations contributed about 38 percent of total nitrogen loads, 45 percent of total phosphorus loads and 60 percent of total sediment loads in 2007.”

    A report by the Environmental Integrity Project undefined DC Office, “Poultry’s Phosphorus Problem” says, in Maryland’s Eastern Shore watersheds, the contribution of agriculture is even greater than for the Chesapeake Bay basin as a whole. In the report, EIP writes, “agriculture is the source of 60 to 73 percent of the nitrogen and 68 to 84 percent of the phosphorus in the Eastern Shore watersheds.” Much of that comes from the 1,339 chicken farms that call the Eastern Shore home. These farms generate “over 1 billion pounds of manure containing an estimated 30.2 million pounds of phosphorus in Eastern Shore watersheds.”

    In late 2013, a couple of farm-related organizations and a home builder association filed an appeal of a ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia that the EPA was operating within its legal authority to work with the states contributing water to the Chesapeake Bay to set limits on the discharge of nutrients and sediments into the bay.

    While point sources of pollution such as industrial plants and municipal wastewater treatment plants can be regulated by the EPA, agricultural discharge of water is exempt from regulation by the EPA. In general, agricultural activity is a nonpoint source of pollution. Water coming off agricultural land can, however, be regulated by the states, thus the lawsuit against the current process by which the EPA sets the limits for the affected states which the states then allocate among polluters, including agriculture. Some in the agricultural community believe the appeal of the Philadelphia Court’s decision questions the authority of the EPA to effectively determine where farms can operate and homes can be built.

    Whether or not the appellants prevail in the legal courtroom, they are likely to lose in the court of public opinion when John Q. and Jane Public read about the extent to which agriculture contributes to the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. A change in public opinion could lead to action by Congress that would eliminate agriculture’s exemption under the Clean Water Act.

    A better solution would be for agricultural organizations to get out ahead of the problem by designing and implementing programs and systems that will enable agriculture to meet increasingly stringent nutrient and sediment discharge limits. This likely will require public financial support, but with a proactive strategy to solving pollution problems that affect everyone, the chances of gaining that support are enhanced.

    Editor’s note: Ray is the director of the University of Tennessee’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center. Schaffer is a Research assistant professor at APAC.

    Tags:

    - See more at: http://www.agweek.com/event/article/id/24035/#sthash.555L5TOy.dpuf

    Chesapeake Bay, EPA and agriculture

    In late July, Washington Post reporter Darryl Fears wrote an article, “Alarming ‘dead zone’ grows in Chesapeake” that summarized the concern of Virginia and Maryland officials who “said the expanding area of oxygen-starved water is on track to become the bay’s largest ever.”

    By: Daryll E. Ray and Harwood Schaffer, Agweek

    In late July, Washington Post reporter Darryl Fears wrote an article, “Alarming ‘dead zone’ grows in Chesapeake” that summarized the concern of Virginia and Maryland officials who “said the expanding area of oxygen-starved water is on track to become the bay’s largest ever.”

    A dead zone is created when excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus enter a waterway in quantities sufficient to lead to the rapid growth of algae, competing with other aquatic life for the available oxygen. As Fears puts it, “dead zones suck out oxygen from deep waters and kill any marine life that can’t get out of the way.”

    The water quality problems in the Chesapeake Bay have a long history. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture June 2014 Economic Research Report Number 166, “An Economic Assessment of Policy Options To Reduce Agricultural Pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay” by Marc Ribaudo, Jeffrey Savage and Marcel Aillery, the situation in 1976 was such that “Congress directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to undertake a comprehensive study of the Bay’s condition and what measures would be necessary to restore it to its former health.”

    Despite 30 years of work to improve the water quality, “a 2007 evaluation concluded that insufficient progress was being made toward load reductions.” As a result, the “U.S. EPA established a Total Maximum Daily Load for the Bay…. It sets emission limits for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment across the Bay jurisdictions that are believed necessary to meet applicable water quality standards in the Bay and its tidal rivers and embayments.”

    According to the USDA report, “Agriculture is the largest contributor of nutrients and sediment to the Bay. Crop production and animal operations contributed about 38 percent of total nitrogen loads, 45 percent of total phosphorus loads and 60 percent of total sediment loads in 2007.”

    A report by the Environmental Integrity Project undefined DC Office, “Poultry’s Phosphorus Problem” says, in Maryland’s Eastern Shore watersheds, the contribution of agriculture is even greater than for the Chesapeake Bay basin as a whole. In the report, EIP writes, “agriculture is the source of 60 to 73 percent of the nitrogen and 68 to 84 percent of the phosphorus in the Eastern Shore watersheds.” Much of that comes from the 1,339 chicken farms that call the Eastern Shore home. These farms generate “over 1 billion pounds of manure containing an estimated 30.2 million pounds of phosphorus in Eastern Shore watersheds.”

    In late 2013, a couple of farm-related organizations and a home builder association filed an appeal of a ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia that the EPA was operating within its legal authority to work with the states contributing water to the Chesapeake Bay to set limits on the discharge of nutrients and sediments into the bay.

    While point sources of pollution such as industrial plants and municipal wastewater treatment plants can be regulated by the EPA, agricultural discharge of water is exempt from regulation by the EPA. In general, agricultural activity is a nonpoint source of pollution. Water coming off agricultural land can, however, be regulated by the states, thus the lawsuit against the current process by which the EPA sets the limits for the affected states which the states then allocate among polluters, including agriculture. Some in the agricultural community believe the appeal of the Philadelphia Court’s decision questions the authority of the EPA to effectively determine where farms can operate and homes can be built.

    Whether or not the appellants prevail in the legal courtroom, they are likely to lose in the court of public opinion when John Q. and Jane Public read about the extent to which agriculture contributes to the pollution of the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, and the Gulf of Mexico. A change in public opinion could lead to action by Congress that would eliminate agriculture’s exemption under the Clean Water Act.

    A better solution would be for agricultural organizations to get out ahead of the problem by designing and implementing programs and systems that will enable agriculture to meet increasingly stringent nutrient and sediment discharge limits. This likely will require public financial support, but with a proactive strategy to solving pollution problems that affect everyone, the chances of gaining that support are enhanced.

    Editor’s note: Ray is the director of the University of Tennessee’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center. Schaffer is a Research assistant professor at APAC.

    Tags:

    - See more at: http://www.agweek.com/event/article/id/24035/#sthash.555L5TOy.dpuf
  • 08 Sep 2014 11:21 AM | Anonymous

    Greenspace: Photo essay to focus on changes to Zumbro River


    Posted: Monday, September 8, 2014 10:41 am


    "Nothing endures but change."

    Good old Heraclitus of Ephesus might have been onto something there.


    Change is a constant. At least that's what you'll see during Brenda Wiech's presentation at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Cascade Meadow.

    As part of a thesis project, Wiech, a visual artist living in Mazeppa, has photographed the changes to the waterways of the Zumbro River Valley, examining how the watercourses have changed during the last 150 years to give us the fast-moving river we have today.

    "I have photographed old farms and plowed up waterways," Wiech said. "It's a mixture of the towns and the landscapes."

    Wiech said she has focused her project on how the changes in the towns have affected the landscape.

    For example, cities like Mazeppa and Zumbro Falls used to have their own grocers, butcher shops and mercantiles. But today those towns serve more as bedroom communities for Rochester or the Twin Cities. That change has also come with more large-scale farming instead of individual farmers. And that has changed the land.

    Those individual farmers tended to have a variety of fields on their land. Some were row crops, which tend to promote faster-moving water across the landscape, and some were fields with grasses for livestock. Those grasses tended to slow the water during runoff events.

    But today, that land is planted more and more with row crops. Small waterways in the fields have been plowed under, meaning the water has nowhere it can be absorbed.

    "If you plow up this waterway, it took billions of years to create that," Wiech said. "You'll never be able to replace that. And suddenly the ground doesn't absorb the water anymore."

    Kevin Strauss, education coordinator with the Zumbro Watershed Partnership, said the facts back up what Wiech sees in her photographs.

    "Our river systems have become high pressure systems," Strauss said. "From 1910 to 1980, the flow through the Zumbro Rover has increased 40 percent."

    And if the average flow has increased, then like the circulatory system of someone with high blood pressure, any event that stresses that system will cause a problem.

    "It cuts the banks and causes erosion," he said. "The increased pressure, it either digs a deeper river or wider river. And this is happening in every river in southern Minnesota."

    And, like Wiech said, those secondary waterways used to help alleviate that stress. But today, we see topsoil erosion and increased flooding.

    "I hope that viewers are inspired by the knowledge I can bring forth," Wiech said. "I hope my work educates them and inspires them to take their own power to make positive changes."


    http://www.postbulletin.com/life/lifestyles/greenspace-photo-essay-to-focus-on-changes-to-zumbro-river/article_3922cad5-612f-5041-9ff2-cb993da34d00.html

  • 08 Sep 2014 11:15 AM | Anonymous


    Back Roads: Watershed campaign is sign of things to come


    By John Weiss, Rochester Post-Bulletin


    SALEM CORNERS undefined A web of water weaves through southeastern Minnesota. It's an intricate system of springs, tiny creeks, streams and rivers that makes up the 912,337-acre Zumbro River watershed.

    The Zumbro River is how Native Americans and early settlers often traveled. Power generated by the river or the transportation paths it offered were reasons why many towns were founded along its banks.

    At normal water levels, the Zumbro River is a place where thousands of people canoe, kayak, fish and enjoy nature. At flood stage, the river is a dangerous, devastating force of nature.

    Yet for many people, the river is nearly invisible.

    Most people can't define what a watershed is (it's all the land that drains into a river system), said Kevin Strauss, education coordinator for the Zumbro Watershed Partnership.

    That's why the Partnership has launched a public relations campaign based around a "Slow the Flow" theme. The Partnership is trying to get people in cities and rural areas to slow how much water rushes into the river, especially after rain, he said.

    Today's Zumbro is more "flashy" than in the past. It rises quickly because there's not enough grasslands and wetlands to slow down runoff.

    "We're really, really good at draining water," Strauss said.

    But that comes at a cost. The number of major floods, even taking the amount of rainfall into account, has risen dramatically in the past few decades, he said. The average flow is of the Zumbro River is 50 percent higher than a century ago.

    The first step of the Partnership's campaign is simply letting people know which creeks and rivers are where, alerting them that they live in a watershed. It goes back to a basic biological truism undefined you won't try to save a plant or animal if you don't know it exists, Strauss said.

    The Partnership was awarded a Legacy Amendment grant to put up more than 120 signs in Dodge, Goodhue and Olmsted counties (Wabasha County wasn't interested) telling passing drivers that they are crossing a certain creek or river. It has also put up bigger signs at places such as the main picnic area of Oxbow Park north of Byron with more details about the watershed and why there are more floods, he said.

    Many think that because they don't live on the banks of a stream or river, they have no impact on it, he said.

    But everything comes down to water. What you put on the land and how you use the land, no matter where, can affect the water with sediment or pollution.

    "Little bits of these problems happen all over the watershed," he said.

    The partnership plans to get people thinking about what it means to live in a watershed, he said. Little things, such as rain barrels, can help, but what's needed is large groups working together to change government policies.

    For now, however, there are the signs, the first signs of things to come.


    http://www.postbulletin.com/news/local/back-roads-watershed-campaign-is-sign-of-things-to-come/article_3eff4c5d-d730-5e44-9efe-ee1b1f4c8ad3.html

  • 04 Sep 2014 5:27 PM | Anonymous

    http://www.toledoblade.com/local/2014/08/31/Corporate-farms-get-blame-as-key-water-pollution-culprit.html 

     

    Researchers in Ohio are trying to figure out where excess phosphorus is coming from in western Lake Erie. While a small amount of the chemical may be coming from urban source, the majority seems to be coming from crop fields and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). 

  • 05 Aug 2014 2:01 PM | Anonymous

    While agricultural fertilizer pollution is nothing new in Midwestern rivers (the federal Clean Water Act specifically exempts agricultural pollution from regulation), people are starting to take notice when that pollution leads to drinking water pollution. Recently, Toledo, Ohio residents couldn't drink their water because of algae pollution caused by farmer phosphate pollution.


    We see similar problems with fertilizer pollution in drinking water in Lewiston, Minnesota and Pipestone, Minnesota.


    http://enewspf.com/latest-news/science/science-a-environmental/54510-following-lifting-of-drinking-water-ban-in-toledo-senator-brown-announces-that-ohio-will-be-considered-for-new-federal-funds-to-improve-water-quality-in-western-lake-erie-basin.html

  • 21 May 2014 12:20 PM | Anonymous

    Do you shop at Amazon.com?


    Would you like Amazon.com to make donations to ZWP for every purchase you make on the site?


    Follow the directions below to sign up for "AmazonSmile". It's free and easy.


    A. Go to: https://smile.amazon.com/           

                                                                        

    B.      Choose “Zumbro Watershed Partnership” as you charity


    C.      Visit www.smile.amazon.com to shop on Amazon. That way your purchases will be credited and Amazon will send 0.5% of your purchase amount to ZWP. This donation comes from Amazon and adds nothing to your purchase costs.

  • 08 May 2014 11:49 PM | Anonymous
    http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/health/256920531.html

    Who's protecting Minnesota's rural rivers?

    Detailed maps show that many farms lack protective “buffer strips” to keep runoff out of streams and rivers.


    Four-fifths of the cropland that butts up against the streams and rivers of southern Minnesota is missing at least some of the legally required natural borders that are the first step in safeguarding waters that flow to the Mississippi River, Lake Pepin and eventually the Gulf of Mexico, according to the first detailed mapping of the region’s rivers.


    Overall, the southern third of the state earns a “C” because most of the waterways have modest protections, according to the Environmental Working Group a national watchdog group that conducts scientific research to promote environmental action.

    But a set of precise aerial maps compiled by the group also reveal widespread violations and large disparities from one watershed to another.

    Those borders of wild grasses, trees or shrubs undefined 50-foot buffer strips required by state law undefined are nature’s way of filtering agricultural pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus, while also providing critical refuge for birds, bees, turtles, frogs and other wildlife. They are considered the first step in conservation in an area of the state where row crops take up more than half the landscape.

    Minnesota’s rule has been in place for years and is one of the few such laws in the country. The aerial photo maps created by EWG specifically for Minnesota are the first comprehensive look at how well it’s being implemented at a time when the state and the nation are becoming increasingly concerned about agriculture’s impact on water.


    The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that agricultural runoff degrades more than 125,000 miles of rivers and streams across the country. Minnesota is spending millions in state tax dollars in a watershed-by-watershed effort to make major reductions in agricultural pollution by 2025.

    But enforcement of the state’s buffer rule has long been a sore point with environmental groups. They argue that the state and county governments, which are charged with implementing it, rarely use one of the few but very effective regulatory tools they have to protect vulnerable streams and rivers.

    “Laws do work,” said Kris Sigford, a water quality specialist with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, a nonprofit environmental law firm. The fact that most of the rivers are partly protected is evidence of that, she said, adding, “But they are not self-implementing.”


    ‘Useful’ information

    The state’s top environmental officials, who reviewed the findings, said EWG’s methodology and results are accurate and show that many places need attention. In particular, they said, EWG found that nearly half of the missing ­buffers are along the small streams that form the headwaters of Minnesota’s great rivers.

    “It’s very useful,” said John Linc Stine, Commissioner of the Pollution Control Agency. “We are going to use this to inform local governments.”

    Local officials said that many farmers plant healthy buffers voluntarily, while others are more reluctant. Planting buffer strips can mean a difficult choice to take productive land out of production, especially in recent years as corn and soybean prices have spiked, said Tom Muller, a farmer who serves on the ­Cottonwood County soil and water board.


    County officials say attention to the issue is on the rise, but acknowledge that many county boards are simply unaware of the rule or are reluctant to create controversy in small agricultural communities. But they also say the report illustrates the scope of problems on the landscape that have been frustrating them for years.

    “I live a half mile from Watonwan River,” said David Bucklin, a technician for the Cottonwood County Soil and Water Conservation District in southwest Minnesota. Decades ago a 3-mile segment was straightened, and now giant farm equipment plows right up to its banks. “It looks more like a ditch,” he said.


    A simple barrier

    Buffers, which have been around as long as farming itself, are part of Minnesota’s Shoreland Protection Act, the law that lays out protections for its thousands of lakes and thousands of miles of rivers and streams. Environmentalists say the rules applying to farmers are the least explicit and most lenient; some lakes require up to 350 feet of protective natural vegetation, while farm buffer strips are only 50 feet.

    Still, buffer strips are as functional as they are simple. A stand of prairie grasses, shrubs or trees creates a barrier that stops soil from running off fields into the streams, where it clouds the water, killing fish and some plant life. Much of that chemical-laden sediment then flows into the Minnesota River and eventually dumps into Lake Pepin. But more important, excess phosphorus finds its way into the water when it attaches to the soil. And phosphorus, a fertilizer that causes excess plant growth and toxic algal blooms, is one of the key pollutants in the Mississippi River that has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of ­Connecticut.

    “It’s very effective for phosphorus,” said Matt Helmers, a soil scientist who studies buffer strips at Iowa State ­University.


    Craig Cox, a vice president at EWG, said the buffer analysis was a natural because new mapping and photography technology makes it possible, and because Minnesota is the only state in the Midwest to have such a law.

    “In the heart of the Corn Belt, I don’t know of any other state that has comparable protection,” he said. But such laws and their enforcement are critical “to strike a balance between what taxpayers pay for and what should be the basic responsibilities that go with the rights of land ownership,” he said.


    ‘I didn’t even know’

    Drawing on federal land-use data as well as high resolution aerial photographs from 2012 and 2013, EWG found that only 18 percent of the waterways adjacent to cropland earned an “A,” meaning that 100 percent of the acres within 50 feet of the water were covered by natural vegetation. About a third had less than 70 percent. But there were major differences among counties, watersheds and even the same stream.

    “It’s really a checkerboard, and kind of inexplicable,” Cox said.

    Some county environmental officials disputed EWG’s grading system. Julie Conrad, land use planner for Blue Earth County, where three major rivers merge into the Minnesota River, said EWG judged their water protection efforts purely on agricultural land, and not on land with other owners or uses. The county’s mapping shows that when considered as a whole, their waterways are quite well protected, she said.

    Cox said the study focused on farms “because that’s where the pollution comes from.”


    One problem, county officials said, is that in many places, farmers, county and zoning officials don’t even know the law exists.

    “I didn’t know about that ordinance, even though I sit on the soil and water board,” said Muller, who helps run a family farm of about 2,600 acres of corn and soybeans in Cottonwood County. He rents some cropland that borders a “nice creek” that is planted with natural grasses as part of a federal conservation program.

    But there is resistance as well, Muller added. “It’s kind of a nuisance thing,” he said. “A lot of farmers, especially if they are renters, they say, ‘Let’s get as much out of this [land] as we can.’ ”


    In addition, enforcement is a difficult and politically fraught problem, said several county environmental officials. It requires the backing and funding of a county board, which usually includes farmers or retired farmers for members.

    “If this is ever going to be taken on on a larger basis, it has to come down from the state,” said Bucklin.


    State environmental officials say that putting their weight behind the law requires a delicate balancing act.

    “We’ve been careful not to push the counties over the edge of the cliff in their work,” said Rob Collett, water resource manager for the Department of Natural Resources’s southern region. “But I do think we could do a better job on seeking enforcement and follow-up.”

    When counties do take action, they can be very effective. Conrad said that in 2012, the county launched a new effort to increase protections “because our rivers are highly valued.” They identified 336 landowners who need to install or improve their buffers, and so far 227 have started putting that land into conservation ­programs.

    But now the hard part starts, she said undefined persuading landowners who are reluctant. “The backing of the county board is essential,” she said. “And the county attorney’s office has to be willing to prosecute it, too.”


    Josephine Marcotty • 612-673-7394


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