2019 Annual Report for Cedar River Watershed District

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2019 Annual Report

CEDAR RIVER STATE WATER TRAIL Ramsey Mill Pond by Carter King

2019 CRWD Board of Managers

CRWD administrator Justin Hanson (center) talks in October 2019 to state legislators at a CIP project nearing completion in Red Rock Township.

Setting sights on our sites CRWD Board of Managers (left-right) Mike Jones (Steele County); Jim Gebhardt (Mower County); Mike Merten (Mower); Susan Olson (Mower); Jason Weis (Mower); Kevin Kiser (Dodge County); and Steve Kraushaar (Freeborn County).

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

2019 CRWD/SWCD staff

CRWD staff (left-right) Paul Hunter, Tim Ruzek, James Fett, Steve Lawler, Jeanne Crump, Larry Callahan, Justin Hanson and Cody Fox. Not pictured: Alex Block.

Sign up for CRWD’s monthly e-newsletter The Cedar Reader at: tim@mowerdistrict.org

By Justin Hanson, CRWD administrator In 2015, CRWD was fortunate to be a part of a local community initiative called “Vision 2020.” With this effort, the Cedar watershed community rallied around accelerating water-resource improvements in our state water trail. Results have been greater than we ever imagined, and we enjoyed the opportunity numerous times in 2019 to show the public, media and partners some of our projects out in the countryside that will help us meet our goals of flood reduction and improved water quality. We’re finding that landowners are receptive to opening their land for projects that benefit the watershed. This has allowed us to build bigger projects, creating efficiencies for making progress toward our stormwater-runoff goals. We are excited about the opportunity to build projects with tangible flow results and long-term benefits to our watershed community. In 2020, we will work on Phase 2 of CRWD’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). At the same time, we’re reinventing new ways to set projects on the ground that lead to improvements to the land and water. Our watershed has an extraordinary community of people and organizations who are setting an example for others in Minnesota and beyond on how to work together to improve and protect our natural resources. I can't wait to see what we all can accomplish together in the next decade!

Volunteers help CRWD clean litter from waters, shorelines

2% For Conservation (Cedar River in Lyle Township)

Riverland Community College FFA Club (Cedar River at Austin Mill Pond)

Spruce Up Austin & AHS wrestlers (East Side Lake in Austin)

Jay C. Hormel Nature Center volunteers (Cedar River in southeast Austin)

Work begins on CIP’s phase two When heavy rain fell in September 2019 in Dobbins Creek’s uplands, CRWD’s largest flood berm stored stormwater that was the equivalent of a 40-foot-deep pool the size of a football field. Much more stormwater even could have been stored, if necessary, behind the Dobbins 1 upstream berm built in 2018 by CRWD, southeast of Brownsdale. The berm’s control mechanism worked as planned, with stormwater being detained for up to two

days. The project slowly releases water compared to a “tidal wave effect” of most water rushing through the site in two or three hours. In its first year, Dobbins 1 was tested six times with stormwater or snowmelt. To date, CRWD has built 13 of 25 projects planned for its Capital Improvement Plan initiative. CIP’s goals are to reduce flooding in rural areas and the City of Austin as well as improve water quality. CIP projects are funded by

Dobbins 1’s upstream berm handles stormwater from a major rain in September 2019.

CRWD’s Cody Fox (center) explains how CIP structures control stormwater at an Oct. 16 “thank you” event for The Hormel Foundation board of directors and other local leaders.

a $3.2 million Hormel Foundation grant with nearly another $3 million thus far in funding from state grants and bonding. Up to $1 million from a CRWD local project levy is available, if needed. CIP berms capture and slowly release large amounts of stormwater, allowing much of its sediment — often containing excess nutrients, chemicals and bacteria — to settle in the project’s basin. During 2019, CRWD gave several tours of CIP sites to

groups, state legislators, media and The Hormel Foundation, which CRWD thanked at an Oct. 16 event at Dobbins 1’s upstream berm. At the end of 2019, CRWD has CIP structures in place to treat stormwater flowing from more than 2,200 acres of mostly cropland in Dobbins or about 8 percent of the land in the subwatershed of the Cedar. To view CRWD drone video of CIP projects working in fall 2019, visit CRWD’s website at: www.cedarriverwd.org

DNR plants native mussels in Cedar River Nearly 1,500 black sandshell mussels now call the Cedar River “home” thanks to a new state restoration program. In July 2019, a DNR crew went to three sites on the Cedar River State Water Trail in Mower County to reintroduce black sandshell mussels they had been growing since May 2017 in Austin’s East Side Lake, part of Dobbins Creek. DNR removed the mussels from East Side Lake, tagged and placed them in the Cedar River, with each site getting about 490 mussels. Relocation sites were chosen below Austin’s downtown dam on the Cedar to enable the spread of black sandshell mussels along nearly 21 river miles of Black sandshell mussel the Cedar River from that point to the next dam in Otranto, Iowa, a few miles south of the border. Austin was known in the 1890s and early 1900s as “Pearl City” for its abundance of freshwater mussels, which became over-harvested by people for making buttons and jewelry as well as searching for the rare pearls found in some. Mussels filter out suspended particles in water, including E. coli bacteria, and are considered “ecosystem engineers” be-

Madeline Pletta (center), a DNR mussel propagation biologist, leads the black sandshell mussel transplanting in July 2019 on Austin’s Cedar River. (Left) Erin Johnson, a CRWD Citizens Advisory Committee member, helps as a volunteer.

cause freshwater mussels modify aquatic habitat to make it more suitable for themselves and other organisms. They are sensitive particularly to habitat disturbance and pollution, making them excellent biological indicators of a river’s health.

CRWD continues effort to check water quality CRWD

for restoration and protection.”

Cedar River Watershed once again underwent an intensive water-quality survey in 2019 by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as part of a rotating 10-year cycle. MPCA’s Intensive Watershed Monitoring Plan assesses the aquatic health of the entire, major watershed through intensive biological and water-chemistry sampling. It’s part of a statewide effort funded by the Legacy Amendment. “In Minnesota, we have both chemical and biological water -quality standards for our streams. We need to understand both in order to track the health of a watershed and river system like the Cedar,” MPCA’s Bill Thompson said.

MPCA staff conduct an electrofishing survey in August 2019, walking upstream in Turtle Creek in Austin not far from its confluence with the Cedar River.

Complimentary to CRWD’s water monitoring, MPCA will add biological monitoring to study the populations of fish and macroinvertebrates (creatures without a backbone like mayflies and dragonflies). In 2009, MPCA first conducted intensive water monitoring in the Cedar River watershed. That monitoring showed many water-quality challenges in the watershed, including high levels of sediment that cloud the water and damage stream habitat. High nutrient levels also were found, which lead to poor water quality. State agencies and local partners, including CRWD, Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) and the City of Austin, used the data to determine the maximum amounts of pollutants that local rivers and lakes can accept and still meet water-quality standards. Partners also used the data to develop strategies to restore and protect the water quality of the Cedar River, its tributaries and Geneva Lake, which is the headwaters of Turtle Creek in neighboring Freeborn County. Also in 2019, MPCA finalized two studies on Cedar watershed: Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS). The companion documents quantify pollutant levels, identify pollution sources, propose ways to return water quality to an acceptable level and describe protection.

Tapp family farm on Dobbins Creek’s north branch.

From streams to farm fields, Gene and Bridget Tapp have applied conservation practices over the years to help keep soil as well as streambanks from washing away during heavy rainfall. With about 1,000 acres farmed for corn and soybeans in the Brownsdale area, the Tapps have worked with CRWD and Mower SWCD staff to install grass waterways in fields; build earthen embankments to control stormwater; enroll about 4.5 acres into the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP); and stabilize streambanks on Dobbins Creek’s north branch, a Cedar tributary prone to flash floods. Tapps are among a small number of area farmers practicing no-till soybeans. No till (not digging up soil) benefits a farm operation, water quality and soil health. Mower SWCD honored the Tapps as its 2019 Outstanding Conservationists of the Year. In the past year, the Tapps worked with CRWD to use their land for restoring

recognized the Garbisch Family as its 2019 Outstanding Wildlife Conservationist of the Year. The award honored Steve and Sharon Garbisch, and Steve’s siblings David, Eileen and Ruth. In 2019, the Garbisch Family made its second MN CREP enrollment, bringing their total to nearly 155 acres of cropland converted permanently to native prairie and wetlands west of Brownsdale along Roberts Creek, a Cedar River tributary. Gene and Bridget Tapp are honored in August by CRWD’s Cody Fox as Mower SWCD’s Outstanding Conservationists of the Year at the Mower County Fair. With this, about 615 acres streambanks to stabilize and plain, providing more buffer. in a 2-square-mile area – protect Dobbins Creek That land is being restored nearly half the land – now are through their farm. with native grasses in conservation programs or Several practices, and flowers. part of Roberts Creek’s such as creating rock Steve Kraushaar, a woods and floodplains. riffles and drilling CRWD board memwoody vegetation ber since the disinto erosive banks, trict’s inception, rewere done. ceived the same Studies show 40 to honor with his family 60 percent of dirt in from Freeborn SWCD local streams comes for their conservafrom in-stream, such tion farming in eastKraushaar as bank erosion. ern Freeborn County. Thanks to the Tapps, the Another family in the Cemulti-phase project connect- dar River watershed was hon- Members of the Garbisch Family: ed Dobbins with its floodored in 2019 as Mower SWCD Stephanie, Chris, Emerson and Steve.

Cedar River 1W1P plan finalized, approved by state With state approval in December, the Cedar River watershed will get nearly $600,000 in new funding over the next two years to improve the water quality of area lakes, streams and groundwater. The Cedar-Wapsipinicon Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan was approved by the Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources (BWSR) state board. Part of the state’s One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P) process, the approval opened the Cedar River water-

shed planning area to a new source of state funding for projects and practices. Cedar River 1W1P’s final plan sets priorities, goals and strategies for the next 10 years of managing water in its planning area. CRWD’s boundaries are in the 1W1P planning area with Turtle Creek Watershed District and the watersheds for the Little Cedar River, Otter Creek and Wapsipinicon River in Mower County and the Deer Creek watershed in southeast Freeborn County.

Rainbow trout coming to Wolf Creek Austin’s largest park will get hundreds of rainbow trout stocked in its creek in 2020 thanks to a partnership between CRWD and Minnesota DNR. In April 2020, Wolf Creek – a Cedar River tributary that flows through the nearly 150-acre Todd Park in Austin – is expected to get up to 600 rainbow trout raised and stocked by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. This is the result of a proposal made by CRWD watershed technician James Fett, who collected water-temperature data in 2017 and 2018 at an unshaded part of Wolf Creek in the park. “It is uncommon for new trout waters to be added like this, at least in our nine-county area of south-central Minnesota,” said Craig Soupir, DNR’s Waterville Area Fisheries supervisor. “Most streams with decent cold-water habitat already are stocked or managed for trout.” Fett and Soupir announced the project in August 2019 along Wolf Creek in Todd Park with City of Austin officials. DNR’s Waterville staff will retrieve 300 rainbow trout raised at the DNR’s State Fish Hatchery in Lanesboro and place them in Wolf Creek a day before 2020 trout season opener on April 18. Another 300 rainbow trout then will be stocked in Wolf a few weeks later. This will start a “put-and-take” fishery in Wolf Creek by stocking rainbow trout of a larger size for anglers to catch and keep, if desired, through Sept. 15, 2020. A catch-and-release trout season will

“It’s exciting to think about what’s ahead. Todd Park is ideal public access for trout anglers, and we think this partnership can get future funding to enhance access and habitat.” James Fett CRWD watershed tech

CRWD’s James Fett shows a variety of native minnow species found in Wolf Creek during an August 2019 electrofishing survey with MN DNR, which determined the creek hosts an ample food supply for trout.

run from Sept. 16 to Oct. 15, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2021, to the April 2021 opener. “We will stock harvestable rainbow trout around a 1/2 pound each, which is a nice, catchable size to anglers and above a size that predator fish like northern pike and bass can eat,” Soupir said. Mower County does not have streams stocked by DNR for trout. Fett, who does water-quality testing and works on enrolling cropland into native prairie and wetlands, thought Wolf Creek could host trout given its cooler water fed by springs and large amount of wooded

areas and conservation land. “We’re very grateful for DNR’s strong support of our idea,” Fett said. “It’s exciting to think about what’s ahead. Todd Park is ideal public access for trout anglers, and we think this partnership can get future funding to enhance access and habitat.” Todd Park has more than 8,800 feet of public shoreline on Wolf Creek for fishing access. The park hosts a spring-fed pond that outlets cold water into Wolf, which begins northeast of Brownsdale. In recent years, Wolf Creek’s water-

A spring-fed pond drains cold water into the adjacent Wolf Creek in summer 2019 at Todd Park, the largest park in Austin. The pond is key to the future trout habitat.

shed has had a large area of cropland converted to native prairie and wetlands installed through conservation projects along the creek upstream from Todd Park. These have included conservation enrollments through the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and state Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) program. Fett is working to finalize a new MN CREP enrollment with Steve and Diane Persinger of 100 cropland acres to be converted permanently into native prairie and wetlands along Wolf Creek, just upstream from Todd Park. Steve joined Fett and Soupir in August 2019 at Todd Park to announce the trout project. As of early 2020, Fett also was working on a MN CREP contract for another 104 acres of cropland along Wolf Creek, north of the Persinger parcel. DNR tried managing trout in Wolf Creek in the 1980s and 1990s when Mower County was managed by DNR’s Lanesboro Fisheries, Soupir said. Young trout stockings failed to develop into a fishery over several years, and DNR stopped the effort. Surveys indicated a problem from predator fish – northern pike and largemouth bass – coming into Wolf from the Cedar River, which is about one river mile downstream from Todd Park. “We plan to take a bit of a different approach, and our goal is to utilize the cold-water resource of Wolf Creek and the great access provided by Todd Park,” Soupir said. Waterville Fisheries started managing Mower County in 2004 but has limited trout resources compared to the Lanesboro office. That makes a stream like Wolf Creek a great opportunity for the Waterville staff to manage and offer anglers, Soupir said. At this time, Wolf Creek is not a designated trout stream – which involves a lengthy process that might not be pursued – but anglers will need a Minnesota fishing license and trout stamp to possess trout from non-designated waters, such as Wolf Creek. Trout stamps are not needed for children ages 17 and younger and adults ages 65 and older. Austin Area Foundation in late 2019 awarded CRWD with a $500 grant for doing community out-

CRWD’s James Fett (left) and two Minnesota DNR fisheries crew members conduct an electrofishing survey in August 2019 along Wolf Creek in Austin’s Todd Park to prepare for the 2020 stocking of rainbow trout.

reach on trout fishing. “Our goal is to provide a unique angling opportunity in southern Minnesota, and we encourage anglers to harvest the fish – that’s why we stock them,” Soupir said, adding that a few trout could survive the 2020 angling season and take residence in Wolf Creek. “If that happens, it would be great but the trout stocking will continue every spring if it proves successful.” Waterville DNR Fisheries manages trout in Rice Creek near Northfield (a self-sustaining brook trout fishery) and Pauls Creek, near St. Peter, which it manages as a “put-and-take” rainbow trout fishery similar to its plan for Wolf. “Pauls Creek has been tremendously successful,” Soupir said, “and we envision a similar result on Wolf Creek.”

Part of the Wolf Creek corridor through Todd Park.

Luke Reese, director of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, speaks in April 2019 with visitors to the We Are Water MN statewide traveling exhibit on opening day.

Thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds came together over water in spring 2019 thanks to We Are Water MN coming to Austin. Led locally by CRWD staff, the We Are Water MN statewide traveling exhibit spent seven weeks from late April to mid-June at Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, where it was free to the public. Aside from the exhibit, CRWD and its local planning group (nature center, Austin Utilities, Hormel Foods, Mower County Historical Society and Riverland Community College) offered four major events and several other water-related activities during the same period. About 150 people attended the opening ceremony for the exhibit opening in April. CRWD and Austin Utilities teamed with the Water Bar Studio of Minneapolis to offer a water-tasting station at the annual Taste of Nations event that had about 1,500 people. CRWD and the nature center offered free canoe and kayak rentals in June at 4th

Ave Fest on the Cedar River at Austin Mill Pond. About 120 people paddled the river. Jay C. Hormel Nature Center also put on its week-long Water Festival in June that offered numerous programs and proects, including a volunteer trash cleanup of the Cedar River in Austin. We Are Water MN’s leaders from the Minnesota Humanities Center and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency emphasized host organizers reach out to their community’s absentee voices and populations of color. “Reflecting on the overall experience, I realize how much more we unexpectedly gained through We Are Water,” said Tim Ruzek, CRWD outreach coordinator. “We connected with and learned from our communities of color in ways I never imagined, and the process has changed the way CRWD thinks about our outreach.” CRWD continues to strengthen its partnerships with groups it worked with on hosting We Are Water MN.

Canoemobile gets over 600 youth paddling Cedar Cedar River State Water Trail hosted more than 600 area youth in May 2019 as part of a week-long Canoemobile program led by CRWD and the nonprofit Wilderness Inquiry. For the second year, CRWD used state Aquatic Invasive Species funds given annually to Mower County to bring Canoemobile to public land near Ramsey Dam on Austin’s north edge. Austin fourth-graders from public and private schools participated in Canoemobile, which includes water- and land-based activities focused on water. CRWD staff led the land stations. Fifth- and sixth-graders from Lyle, Southland, Sacred Heart, LeRoy-Ostrander, Grand Meadow and Hayfield also took part in the program along with Austin High School’s Peer Power Partners program for students with special needs. Canoemobile staged its six 10-person canoes above Ramsey Dam across from The Old Mill. Once given life jackets, a paddle and safety training, groups headed out with a Wilderness Inquiry “boat captain” steering from the back. They paddled up the Cedar River into Ramsey Mill Pond, floating under the historic, abandoned railroad bridge and coming back.

Governor’s pheasant opener hosted in Cedar Cedar River Watershed hosted the 9th annual Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener in October 2019. Gov. Tim Walz harvested a pheasant while hunting Oct. 12 the land around CRWD’s upstream Dobbins 1 berm for stormwater storage west of Dexter. It was his first opener as governor although he participated in the past as an invited guest. Overall, 170 hunters joined Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan in fields around Austin, which hosted the event for the first time. Most hunting land was in the Cedar River Watershed. Hunters took 44 roosters despite wet, cold conditions and delayed field harvests. More than 450 people also attended the opener’s Oct. 11 community banquet in Austin. The opening festivities also included a public dedication of a future parcel of public hunting land northwest of Austin that was donated by the Worlein Family. With the recent resurgence in the pheasant population in the Austin area, conservationists and hunters in Mower County were excited to showcase the local hunting resources. Sandy Forstner, chair of the opener’s Austin committee, said the event was a “way to showcase not only the many hunting

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz holds a pheasant that he harvested Oct. 12 at CRWD’s upper Dobbins 1 berm in Dexter Township as part of the pheasant opener.

opportunities available surrounding Austin, but also the wide range of tourism opportunities in the immediate area.” Austin was picked mostly based on the area’s hunting land, event facilities and community support. The Governor’s Pheasant Hunting Opener was initiated in 2011 by Gov. Mark Dayton.

MN CREP continues to add native prairie More acres of marginal cropland in the Cedar River watershed are being restored permanently to native prairie and wetlands through a state-federal partnership. At the end of 2019, about 344 acres in Mower County had been funded for permanent restoration in the Cedar watershed through the MN CREP program. Countywide, about 360 acres have been enrolled overall in MN CREP. Mower County landowners are encouraged to contact CRWDMower SWCD to learn more about MN CREP, which places a focus on flood-prone or erosive acres. “Low crop prices and unusually high amounts of rain in 2019 might have farmers looking at their fields differently,” said James Fett, CRWD’s watershed technician who oversees the local program. “MN CREP gives them an opportunity to retire problematic acres from production and turn them into excellent wildlife habitat that also benefits water quality.” MN CREP, which pays 100 percent of the costs for restoring cropland to wetlands and prairie, is a perpetual easement in which landowners retain private ownership of enrolled acres. The program aims to improve water quality and wildlife habitat through permanent conservation easements. Created to protect and restore up to 60,000 acres of marginal cropland, MN CREP is available across 54 southern and

Crews work in fall 2019 to restore prairie and wetland permanently on about 75 acres of former cropland in Red Rock Township near Roberts Creek, a Cedar River tributary.

western Minnesota counties, including Mower. The program aims to achieve its goals mostly through the use of vegetative buffer strips, wetland restoration and drinking water wellhead protection. Under MN CREP, restoration work typically involves restoring hydrology through tile breaks, tile blocks, scrapes, embankment construction and daylighting tiles, among other practices. Each MN CREP site gets seeded with a highly diverse mixture of native grasses and forbs that are beneficial to wildlife and pollinator habitat. This practice also prevents erosion while filtering surface and ground water.

2019 CRWD outreach

Cedar Scenes 2019

CRWD drone helps with projects, outreach

CRWD’s Paul Hunter, a licensed drone pilot, started in 2019 providing useful imagery and video of CRWD projects, including (left) an upland stormwater-storage structure (nearly completed) after heavy rains in September near Dexter. Outreach also has been helped with aerial images, such as for Ramsey Mill Pond (right).

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Cedar River Watershed District 1408 21st Ave. NW Austin, MN 55912 507-434-2603, ext. 5

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