Fillmore County citizens turned out on the evening of Monday, April 8, to discuss problems with the Root River watershed and to brainstorm ways to improve the water quality of the area. The event was sponsored by the Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District. Shown standing and addressing the discussion’s participants is Fillmore SWCD administrator Donna Rasmussen.  PHOTO BY ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Fillmore County citizens turned out on the evening of Monday, April 8, to discuss problems with the Root River watershed and to brainstorm ways to improve the water quality of the area. The event was sponsored by the Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District. Shown standing and addressing the discussion’s participants is Fillmore SWCD administrator Donna Rasmussen. PHOTO BY ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
"We would like a magic bullet to fix water quality problems," shared Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District administrator Donna Rasmussen (SWCD). "But we can't have one solution because of the diversity of the landscape and land uses."

Rasmussen briefly addressed around 20 concerned and interested individuals at the Root River watershed discussion held at F&M Bank's Community Room in Preston on Monday, April 8. Participants arrived from all areas of the watershed - from Fountain, Chatfield, Preston and the surrounding areas. The discussion was the fourth of six scheduled discussions on the Root River watershed.

The discussion was organized by the Root River Citizens' Advisory Group and was supported by the Fillmore County SWCD in order to promote citizen-initiated brainstorming of solutions for issues with the Root River watershed.

Watershed project manager Shaina Keseley explained the purpose of the watershed events to the participants. "We are taking a watershed approach at looking at water quality issues," she stated. "It's a better idea to come up with plans with input rather than not having public input."

The issues with the watershed vary. In a handout provided to each participant, three main issues were addressed: bacterial contamination from human and animal sewage, increased levels of turbidity and increased nitrate levels from fertilizers. Rasmussen explained that these problems have become "non-point source" polluted. This means the pollution affects a larger area that is more difficult to treat than isolated "point sources" of contamination.

"We all have an impact on water quality," said Rasmussen. "We can all be part of the solution."

She shared that since 2008, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has been monitoring the water quality of the watershed as part of a 10-year cycle in a study of pollutants. They have also looked at what water can still be used for drinking, what type of biological diversity can be sustained and the conditions of the streams and rivers themselves.

For the next 10-year strategic plan, the MPCA is seeking citizen-driven input on what needs to be studied and what problems need to be addressed in the watershed. "The plan has to fit within the community, which is why we are trying to bring together as many people and perspectives as we can," explained Rasmussen.

The discussion participants then began pairing off in "interview" groups, answering questions about water quality and the watershed. After an analysis of answers received during the interview process, groups of participants shared their findings with the group. Every suggestion and discussion point was recorded and will be available for review at the Fillmore SWCD office starting April 20, once the last two meetings held in Spring Valley and Houston have produced results.

Bonita Underbakke of rural Lanesboro shared her groups' thoughts regarding the actions needed to improve the quality of the Root River watershed. She mentioned better land management, improved regulations of storm water runoff and pollution control relating to manure applications as necessary discussions.

"We need to educate people and let them know about results and progress of these things," she shared.

It was suggested that the Root River Watershed borrow from the positive experience in Olmsted County in educating people on pollution control before enforcing any regulations. Nathan Redalen from Rochester said that out of 87 violations in the Zumbro River Watershed within the past year, only three have not complied. "We can learn from these successful counties," shared Underbakke.

Preston resident Sara Grover said there seemed to be a lack of knowledge or education of proper land-use practices as well as a lack of regulation. She also addressed the lack of long-term vision that is needed when dealing with these problems. "We need to think about the effects our work now will have on future generations and our grandchildren," Grover added.

Frank Wright from Lanesboro agreed that educating people on the best pollution control practices in both towns and the countryside was necessary. He also said it is really important to look for creative ways to start teaching students in school about these problems.

"There is a cost that occurs to the quality of life from any type of degradation. Some of that we can control and some we can't," Wright stated. His team suggested technology be created that can measure, in real time, what the turbidity is in the stream and river outlets. Wright said a dollar figure could be attached to the soil loss from those turbidity values. It was also suggested that more data be collected on nitrate levels.

Fountain dairy farmer Mike Johnson indicated his appreciation for the open meeting that evening. "We care about the water and we want to know if there are problems and what our farm can do to help prevent them. We do our best to protect it," he said.

Any questions on these meetings and their findings can be found by contacting the Fillmore SWCD at (507) 765-3878, ext. 3, or at donna.rasmussen@fillmoreswcd.org. The Fillmore SWCD website, fillmoreswcd.org, will contain the information found at the meetings as well.

The meetings are organized by the Root River Citizens' Advisory Group with support from the MPCA, University of Minnesota Extension, inCommons, the Meadowlark Institute and the Bush Foundation.