Members of the Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and several concerned citizens met on Tuesday, June 17, for conversations regarding the health of the Root River Watershed.

The third of a four-part series of meetings, the SWCD held the meetings in order to acquire input and ideas of implementation from the residents within the watershed.

The Root River Citizens' Group organized the series with support from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and University of Minnesota Extension.

According to the Department of Natural Resources' website, the idea for cleaning up water around the state is to "make Minnesota a better place for its citizens by upgrading parks and trails; restoring, enhancing and protecting habitat for fish, game and wildlife and restoring and protecting the quality of our lakes, rivers and streams."

Similar events last spring helped shape strategies for reducing pollutants that are impairing the river and its tributaries for use as drinking water, for recreation and for supporting fish and other things living in the water.

The goal for this year's meetings was to help identify local resources and assets for implementing land use practices that reduce pollutants in order to meet water quality standards.

For many years, watersheds in the state have been on rotation for studies determining the cleanliness and health of the water in that area.

Shaina Keseley from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency defined a watershed as "an area of land that drains to the same water body." According to her information, there are 81 watersheds within the state, averaging 450,000 acres.

Minnesota's watershed approach many years ago focused considerable time and expense to perform a water study on an impaired body of water. This would have taken a very long time to come up with a strategy to help heal the water in the watershed as a whole.

Recently, they have adopted a new approach creating opportunities for looking at the watershed as a whole and which will take less time to implement. It provides an avenue for local participation, a complete picture of the watershed's health, information about which waters are in good shape and which need help. Finally, the new approach includes ideas about how to help rivers and keep them healthy.

The first step includes a five-year process of river check-up, obtaining data such as examining fish and bug communities, measuring levels of nutrients sediment and bacteria and monitor river flows and levels. This process has already been completed.

The next step is to analyze the data gathered. In the Root River, the three pollutants identified were nutrients, turbidity or sediment and bacteria.

Donna Rasmussen defined each of these pollutants and some ways to prevent them from retreating to the watershed.

The main nutrient polluting the river is nitrates. Nitrates can be found in coldwater streams running from springs. These streams could be utilized as drinking water after being filtered. A few strategies for preventing the nitrates from infiltrating these streams included applying fertilizer at the proper rates and time, implementing an efficient fertilizer use, planting cover crops, increasing perennial vegetation, drainage water retention and treatments and wetland restoration.

Turbidity has to do more with the clarity of the water. "Turbidity affects what lives in the water and their ability to find food, cloudiness of the water," Rasmussen related.

Some of their solutions also included cover crops, grassed waterways, terraces, buffers, water storage and stabilizing stream banks to prevent soil from collapsing into the water due to the volume and velocity at which water can carve it off.

"Cover crops let the soil absorb the water versus running to the stream and taking soil with it," she explained. "In the city, there are now places for water to infiltrate so storing it in something like a rain barrel will keep it from running into the stream with the pollutants. Stabilizing the stream banks also helps create slopes for the flood plains."

The third pollutant, bacteria, comes from things such as animal and human waste. Solving this problem would involve fixing failing septic systems, controlling feedlot runoffs, applying manure properly in order to maximize the nutrients and to manage grazing, limiting animals from accessing the stream and maintaining stubble height to prevent runoff.

Being able to implement these strategies will affect creatures living within the watershed and their populations. Resolving the three main pollutants would naturally create a healthier biology within the stream, Rasmussen continued.

Poor habitat would be resolved through stabilizing stream banks and reducing the sediment runoff. Low dissolved oxygen would be fixed through reducing the sediment and reducing nutrients from fertilizer, manure and sewage. Temperature would also be controlled by reducing sediment, stabilizing the stream banks and reducing urban storm water.

After determining the pollutants and results, the next step is prescribing strategies to protect and restore the water through the input of Root River residents and the SWCD. Both steps have also been completed for the Root River.

The implementation stage is the final stage and what last week's meeting focused on - how to take action and gather citizens' ideas on how to proceed.

Those attending the meeting were asked four questions about the benefits of the new watershed approach, thinking about best management practices and how the community can implement those practices, what each person could do individually and who to invite into the effort to protect and restore the watershed.

As they discussed ways to promote the cause, the groups brainstormed ideas like marketing and advertising in newspapers, newsletters, television commercials, information mats in restaurants and word-of-mouth. Creating partnerships with local businesses also arose within the meeting.

Several of the citizens expressed a desire for people to know more about the clean water issue, including residents and visitors to the area.

"Clean water equals more bugs, more fish, more happy people to enjoy the area," stated Barb Mielke.

Another participant suggested stressing a long-term investment to continue leaving the area better than it was for the next generations.

"We know what is to be done. The question now is how to do it. We will implement a plan for the watershed and incorporate practices on the land. We hope it will not take longer than a year," Rasmussen stated.

Using the information from the meeting at Preston, as well as those held previously in Grand Meadow, Rushford, La Crescent and Chatfield, the SWCD will proceed with implementation of its long-term plan to clean up the Root River Watershed.