NEW ULM - Minnesota River Watershed successes were stressed Saturday at the 23rd Annual Minnesota River Banquet at Lola's Larkspur.
The Coalition for a Clean Minnesota River (CCMR) can empower individuals and organizations to proactively deal with watershed issues and seek solutions including rectifying abuses, CCMR Executive Director Scott Sparlin said.
It is designed to develop state and national public policy to improve the river with programs like the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
"We're always looking for volunteers," Sparlin added. "Like people to man the river history center in Riverside Park, especially on weekends."
He said water quality community cleanups included 25 New Ulm volunteers who filled 609 trash bags with boulevard and gutter debris instead of letting it drain into storm sewers and the river.
"Storm sewer runoff is every bit as important as agriculture runoff," Sparlin said.
He refuted media reports that $1 billion has been spent on Minnesota River cleanup efforts with nothing to show for it.
"Do we have a nitrogen problem? You bet," he added. "But to say the CREP program has had no effect on water quality is not true. More than 100,000 acres of flooded cropland has been permanently restored."
"Phosphorus and sediment levels are lower over the past 20 years while nitrogen levels are equal or greater than they were," he added. "Is it worth it? Yes, if we go forward."
Sparlin said one of the most overlooked things is a culture shift of citizen-led grassroots organizations.
John Hickman of the Friends of the Minnesota Valley presented a video entitled "High Island Revival" that featured Sparlin performing his own tune "Come on Down to the River," while the Friends of High Island Lake of New Auburn talked about how their very shallow lake was restored by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), their own, and other organizations.
Hutchinson Area DNR Area Fisheries Supervisor Lee Sundmark said the DNR drew down the lake for three years and stocked it with walleye after a winter kill.
"Walleyes helped knock off the bullheads," Sundmark added. "Outlet control structures were reconstructed to prevent leaking. Bull rushes came back within two years and helped create two feet of water clarity."
Sparlin praised the Friends of High Island Lake for being a very vibrant organization that helped clean up the lake.
"New Auburn is adding rain gardens to soak up runoff instead of storm sewers throughout the town," Sparlin added.
At High Island Lake, Sundmark said the prize of better water clarity and water quality was created by more vegetation including a 100 foot ring of bull rushes that reduced phosphorus and shore land sedimentation levels.
He added that while the Minnesota River supported very few fish in earlier decades, many more species are being caught now including Blue Suckers, sturgeon, walleye and bass.
Sundmark said existing river challenges include ineffective wastewater treatment plants blamed for creating fish with characteristics of both sexes.
For more information, please visit www.newulmweb.com/ccmr/
Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.