2016 Annual Report for Cedar River Watershed District

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2016 Annual Report

Cedar River State Water Trail Austin Township

2016 CRWD Board of Managers

Steve Kraushaar Freeborn County Chair

Jim Gebhardt Mower County Vice Chair

Mike Jones

Mike Merten

Steele County Treasurer

Mower County Secretary

Members of the Cedar River Watershed District’s Board of Managers talk with staff during a regular monthly meeting at the CRWD/Mower SWCD office in Austin.

From the chair... Kevin Kiser

Susan Olson

Dodge County

Mower County

Jason Weis

Mower County

Cedar River Watershed District’s purpose is to reduce flooding and protect and improve water quality in the streams. CRWD/SWCD staff

Partnerships are vital to Cedar River Watershed District’s efforts to improve water quality and reduce flooding. This includes the partnerships our CRWD staff works hard to make with dozens of landowners in our watershed to discuss or implement projects on their land. CRWD is very fortunate for its partnership with The Hormel Foundation and Austin Vision 2020 that led to a $3.2 million grant for our major CIP water-quality initiative. An array of citizen volunteers also team up with CRWD every year to do the often dirty work of removing trash and debris from the Cedar River State Water Trail. Local governments in our watershed now work together more than ever before thanks to the state’s One Watershed, One Plan initiative that launched a Cedar River project in fall 2016 to create a watershed-based management plan. These are only a few examples of the partnerships the CRWD Board of Managers and staff strive to create to most effectively tackle our achievable yet ambitious goals for improving the Cedar River and its tributaries. We hope you find optimism in this 2016 annual report for our watershed’s future as well as discover a way that you might partner with us on our mission. Steve Kraushaar, Chair (2016) CRWD Board of Managers

Justin Hanson

Jeanne Crump

Cody Fox

James Fett


Admin. Assistant

Project Manager

Watershed Tech

Steve Lawler

Aaron Gamm

Tim Ruzek

Larry Callahan

Resource Specialist

District Tech

Public Outreach

District Tech

CRWD Website


1408 21st Ave. N.W., Austin, MN, 55912 Facebook www.facebook.com/cedarriverwd

Cedar River at Ramsey Mill Pond Lansing Township

507-434-2603 YouTube

Search for “Mower SWCD”

Check us out online: Twitter


2016 flood 7th-worst for Cedar; reminder of need projects Once again, the Cedar River Watershed experienced major flooding in September, with the event becoming the 7th worst known for the Cedar River in Austin. The Sept. 22-23 flooding was the third September event within the Cedar River Watershed’s top 10 list of worst-known floods, which include the record flood of 2004 that led to the formation of the Cedar River Watershed District. For Turtle Creek — a tributary to the Cedar River but not part of CRWD because it has its own watershed district — the September flood was its 3rd worst-known event. As for Dobbins Creek, known for flash flooding, the event was its 8th worst-known flooding for its gauge in Austin. CRWD staff took water samples and surveyed problem are-

CRWD’s Cody Fox and Aaron Gamm inspect a flooded crossing Sept. 22 in Red Rock Township on the North Branch of Dobbins Creek, southeast of Brownsdale.

as during the recent flooding, which caused damages but nothing near the level of bigger floods in the past 20 years due to the significant number of homes and businesses removed from flood-prone areas. CRWD was created in 2007 by local and state leaders to reduce flooding and improve water quality in the Cedar River Watershed, including through constructing projects in upland areas that hold and treat stormwater. CRWD’s five-year, $8.5 million Capital Improvement Plan launched in 2015 aims to significantly help with those goals by building 25 projects, mostly upstream of Austin, on farm land to hold stormwater and slowly release it.

Ducks swim Sept. 22 over a flooded stretch of Oakland Avenue in Austin, with a sign in the background showing the historic flooding mark from 2004 at the same site.

Cedar 1W1P process begins for watershed-based plan Cedar River Watereshed District, Mower SWCD and partners made a major first step in 2016 toward a watershed-based management plan as required under a new state initiative. In August 2016, Mower SWCD — which is contracted annually to perform CRWD’s duties — and other local government units with the Root River One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P) pilot project received approval of the final plan. Root River 1W1P now moves into an implementation phase after about a two-year planning process. Mower SWCD was awarded a grant from the Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources (BWSR) to start the Cedar River 1W1P planning process. Mower SWCD will serve as the fiscal agent for the process. Dodge SWCD will lead. Under 1W1P, the state aims to create water-management plans based on watershed boundaries rather than smaller, political boundaries. It aims to ensure that the most-significant threats to a watershed’s water resources are addressed with practices providing the greatest environmental benefits. The plan will not add a new layer of government. Mower SWCD worked with neighboring agencies to submit the 1W1P application after receiving formal support from county and Soil & Water Conservation District boards in Dodge, Freeborn, Mower and Steele counties as well as the board members of the Cedar River Watershed District and Turtle Creek Watershed District. Staff from each of those local-government units will be part of a planning work group for Cedar River 1W1P. One board member from each of the organizations also will serve on a policy committee that oversees and guides the project. Offi-

Cedar River 1W1P planning area

cials from various state agencies and other stakeholder groups will provide feedback through an advisory committee. Overall, the Cedar River 1W1P boundaries will cover 462,295 acres. Most of the land – about 57 percent – is in Mower County, with 32 percent in Freeborn; 10 percent in Dodge; and 1 percent in Steele (includes Blooming Prairie). CRWD’s political boundaries are within the 1W1P area along with the Turtle Creek Watershed District’s area and the watersheds for the Little Cedar River, Otter Creek, Wapsipinicon River and Deer Creek (southeast Freeborn County).

Water quality progress: Rese

Photo by Austin Daily Herald CRWD watershed technician James Fett helps Austin seventh-graders to study aquatic life last fall at Dobbins Creek’s north-south confluence at Jay C. Hormel Nature Center.

CRWD, U of M continue extensive water studies on Cedar, Dobbins Extensive studies continued in 2016 on the water quality of the Cedar River and its tributaries within the watershed. Dobbins Targeted Watershed During the past several years, CRWD has gathered data on the restoration and protection needs of the entire watershed. One main challenge found through this effort is the Dobbins Creek subwatershed, which has north and south branches converging at Austin’s Jay C. Hormel Nature Center before flowing to East Side Lake. A tributary to the Cedar River, Dobbins has characteristics making it particularly challenging for water-resource management. This makes Dobbins a focus for monitoring and implementing projects. Focused data Agricultural watersheds can be complex and pose various water challenges. Dobbins Creek is no different. CRWD has studied local water chemistry for several years. In 2015, CRWD expanded its sampling while adding a biological-monitoring component under a $2.1 million project that involves work by University of Minnesota students.

Austin High School mentorship students help in fall with water monitoring on the Cedar River, east of Blooming Prairie.

“If we’re going to really improve our streams, we need to pay attention to what lives in them,” CRWD administrator Justin Hanson said. CRWD watershed technician James Fett has led an effort to establish water data collection that better evaluates changes due to CRWD projects. University of Minnesota is a partner in this $2.1 million project started in 2014 due to Dobbins’ state listing as “impaired” for aquatic life and water clarity. Dobbins goals In the next few years, CRWD hopes to saturate land-improvement projects at targeted sites in the Dobbins watershed. These projects will treat stormwater runoff by trapping it before reaching streams. CRWD will track the water-quality results and response by macroinvertebrates (“living bugs”) and fish in Dobbins. Staff hope to show and better understand the benefits of land treatment on the stream’s overall health. These 2016 efforts were successful, and protocol is set to comprehensively study Dobbins. There are few efforts statewide that

A University of Minnesota student measures a fish from Dobbins Creek’s north branch in Red Rock Township.

duplicate the project’s approach or detail. Water monitoring overall For overall water monitoring, CRWD collected samples in 2016 at 10 sites on the Cedar River or a major tributary. Samples are analyzed for total suspended solids, turbidity, total phosphorus, ortho phosphorus, nitrates, E. coli, temperature, dissolved oxygen and conductivity. Many sites were set in 2008 by CRWD to study the local streams’ health from year to year; identify which are contributing the most pollutants to the Cedar; and evaluate pollution trends. Findings of elevated pollutants at the sites help CRWD target specific watersheds for projects. In 2016, the watershed had a fairly normal spring, with little to no flooding followed by above-average rain amounts in May to October. This created many rain events with varying amounts of surface runoff. The Sept. 21-22 rainfall (over 4 inches) led to widespread flooding and the season’s highest stream gage readings. Once analyzed, 2016’s results will be posted on the CRWD's website.

CRWD district technician Larry Callahan reads a gauge testing the water-quality of Woodbury Creek in the watershed.

University of Minnesota students do an electrofishing survey on Dobbins Creek’s north branch in Red Rock Township.

CRWD project manager Cody Fox and others watch Nov. 15 as a crew digs for a new stormwater retention structure in Red Rock Township on Dobbins Creek’s north branch.

Path toward water-quality progress begins in upper Dobbins Crews dug into the ground in late fall 2016 for the first of 25 projects CRWD is planning to build over the next several years to hold and treat stormwater to improve water quality and reduce flooding. Following more than a year of planning and landowner talks, CRWD’s nearly $8.5 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) officially began its construction phase in November with its Oelkers project along the North Branch of Dobbins Creek in Red Rock Township, southeast of Brownsdale. A majority of the work on the nearly $50,000 stormwater retention project was done in 2016 but the onset of winter prevented its full completion. Remaining work will resume in the spring. Compared to others planned for CIP , the Oelkers project is one of the smaller ones but still will be highly effective. CRWD project manager Cody Fox, who is leading the CIP efforts, expects several other projects to be constructed in

2017, including the initiative’s largest project planned near the Dobbins north branch’s headwaters in Dexter Township. CIP is the result of CRWD forming a Top 25 priority list in 2015 of potential projects for water quality and flood reduction in the watershed. Based on extensive analysis and data, the projects range in size, complexity and location but mostly relate to stormwater detention, ravine stabilization and floodrisk reduction. Most of the CIP projects planned at this point are upstream from the City of Austin to utilize the upland areas of Dobbins Creek and the Cedar River. Many projects are focused on the Dobbins subwatershed because it is prone to flash flooding, contributing greatly to waterquality concerns and flooding. Building control structures with earthen berms will reduce peak flood flows by detaining stormwater, reducing damage to downstream crops, buildings and infra-

structure, such as bridges. These structures detain and treat stormwater by creating a basin or pond at a strategic location often adjacent to rivers and other waterways. Basins collect and treat stormwater runoff from drainage areas before releasing the water at a slow, controlled rate. This reduces flooding and downstream erosion as well as remove sediment and debris from inflows.

Problem: Soil erosion

Concern: Dobbins Creek

Solution: Stabilized outlet

Project effects since ’14 in Dobbins Creek watershed 31 projects 100 acres CRP/grassland installed Prevented from entering Dobbins:

240 tons per year of sediment 280 pounds per year of phosphorus

Progress made for State Water Trail Various efforts led by the CRWD in 2016 enhanced the public’s ability to more safely and easily paddle the Cedar River State Water Trail. Last spring, CRWD helped the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to update and improve the Cedar River State Water Trail’s map and brochure. CRWD also supported the DNR’s online launch of riverlevel gauge information. As of last summer, the public could view the Cedar River’s flow and water levels at two points — north and south of Austin — to get an interpretation on the ease of paddling for those conditions. Paddling by canoe and kayak also increased in 2016 on the Cedar River State Water Trail thanks in part to the first full season by the Cedar River Canoe & Kayak Rental Service of Austin. With that, CRWD heard from the public more than ever about navigational issues on the river, particularly fallen trees. CRWD

One of two new DNR gauges on the Cedar River.

worked with the DNR to create a plan for addressing problems as soon as possible and encourage the public to report issues. Better accessibility on the Cedar River State Water Trail continues to be a goal for CRWD, DNR and the Austin Vision 2020 initiative. In late 2016, CRWD and Vision 2020 successfully applied for a $2,000 grant from the Austin Area Foundation to create a walk-in access with rock material in Austin’s Lafayette Park. The City of Austin will design the access that will be built by DNR in 2017. The Cedar River has been one of the DNR’s state water trails since 2012 following CRWD’s successful efforts in 2011 to gain legislative approval.

CRWD farmers certified by state’s new Ag Certainty program Four farm families in Mower County — three operating in the Cedar River Watershed — got certification in September from a new state water-quality program. Officials with the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program honored the families — the first in Mower County — at a soil health field event at the Cotter farm in Austin Township.

Overall, the Mower County families are enrolling more than 2,200 acres in the program. Certified farmers within the Cedar River Watershed were Tom & Michael Cotter (Austin Twp.); Bruce & Jackie Barnum (Red Rock Twp.); and Arvid & Jon Jovaag (Austin Twp.).

Ag Certainty farmers from Mower and Freeborn counties get certified.

Watershed gets prescribed burns at conservation sites More than 652 acres of conservation land under permanent easements in the Cedar River Watershed received prescribed burns in spring 2016 through a first-time initiative. Conservation Corps Minnesota (CCM) conducted successful controlled burns – at no cost to the landowner thanks to state Clean Water Legacy funds – starting in mid-March on 19 different properties in western Mower County. All sites are under permanent or perpetual easements in which the land cannot be farmed or developed in other ways. CRWD staff worked with CCM to set up the arrangement, working in advance to get landowner approvals. CCM planned and conducted the burns. “This was an excellent opportunity for Mower County landowners to get maintenance on their native prairies at no cost,” said CRWD’s watershed technician James Fett, who oversaw the prescribed burns. Some sites never had received a prescribed burn, including properties under an easement for 15 years or more. Ideally, permanent easement sites should get a prescribed burn every five years but the process can be costly to the landowner. All 2016 sites were in the Cedar River Watershed but Mower SWCD and CCM plan a similar partnership on prescribed burns in 2017 for permanent easement sites in eastern Mower County in the Root River and Upper Iowa River watersheds.

Mower County prescribed burns in CRWD 652 acres 19 permanent easements

One of the prescribed burns in 2016 at a permanent easement site in Lyle Township.

Conservation Corps Minnesota crew after a prescribed burn last year in Mower County.

Enjoy, promote, improve: Outreach involves CRWD, community

AIS survey finds invasive snails Mower SWCD led the first year of work in Mower County to detect and raise awareness about aquatic invasive species. Funded entirely by AIS funds from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the work in 2016 included survey work on the Cedar River (Austin Mill Pond) and Dobbins Creek at East Side Lake. Chinese Mystery Snails were found along the southwest and north access sites to Austin Mill pond.

Chinese Mystery Snails found in Austin.

They are AIS but don’t lead to an “infested waters” designation by the DNR. More surveying for aquatic invasive species is planned for 2017, including in the Ramsey Mill Pond area of the Cedar River.

CRWD’s Aaron Gamm and intern David Wick of Minnesota Conservation Corps survey the Cedar River State Water Trail in July at Austin Mill Pond for aquatic invasive species.

Cedar River Watershed District 1408 21st Ave. NW Austin, MN 55912 507-434-2603 www.cedarriverwd.org

CRWD permits total 23 for ’16 In 2016, CRWD issued 23 permits, with lesser activity in Dodge and Freeborn counties. Some projects in Dodge and Freeborn, however, were working on developing permit applications in early 2017. CRWD staff are available to help with permit questions and strive to make the permitting

process as speedy and efficient as possible. Permitting information for projects in the watershed district are on CRWD’s website at: www.cedarriverwd.org/permits.html

In 2010, the CRWD Board of Managers adopted rules for the Cedar River Watershed District rules and revised those rules in 2014. Below is a summary of all CRWD permits granted in 2016.