Missouri River Basin work targets improved waters
WORTHINGTON — For the first two years of her job as the Missouri River Basin Project Coordinator, Chessa Frahm walked through knee-high grasses and along murky streams as she collected water samples from eight different locations in six counties in the 1,700-square-mile Missouri River Watershed of southwest Minnesota.
Contracted by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and based at the Nobles County Soil and Water Conservation District office in Worthington, Frahm’s position is funded by the Clean Water Legacy Fund through a 10-year watershed approach.
In June 2011, Frahm began the first of two years of intensive water sampling across four watersheds. The collection sites were on the Rock River near Edgerton, Beaver Creek near the South Dakota state line, Elk Creek near Luverne, the Kanaranzi Creek near Ellsworth, the Ocheyedan River at the outlet of Lake Bella, and the West Fork of the Little Sioux and Little Sioux River, both in Jackson County.
“The Missouri is so big and we have two organized watershed districts (the Kanaranzi-Little Rock and the Okabena-Ocheda) within the area,” said Frahm. “The Rock River has a work group, but they’re not an organized watershed district.”
While she is working with both local watershed districts for her MPCA report, Frahm said the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District wanted a more detailed report and therefore is conducting its own testing and data collection.
The water Frahm collected at each of the eight sites was tested for dissolved oxygen content, pH, water temperature, conductivity and transparency. Meanwhile, a biological team from the MPCA office in St. Paul tested the sites for macroinvertebrates and fish.
“They found Topeka Shiner at six sites, but not a lot of game fish,” she said.
In addition, Department of Natural Resources staff surveyed the geomorphology (the shape of the river) and the type of bedrock in the streams within the Missouri River Watershed.
The data generated from testing is required work for developing a Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) report and, ultimately, a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) report for the Missouri River Watershed.
A local work group, comprised of representatives from watershed districts and county SWCDs, will assist in writing the WRAPS. Once that’s completed, Frahm will have a set of priority areas to focus on as she works with landowners to restore and protect waters within the Missouri River Basin.
“We know that water clarity is an issue,” she said, adding that reducing total suspended solids and turbidity in the streams of southwest Minnesota will be a focal point.
“Being able to see your foot when you step into water that’s only a foot deep would be nice,” she added.
While Frahm doesn’t see a “huge problem” with nutrients in the streams — she didn’t test any lakes as part of the project — the presence of e.coli bacteria is a concern.
“I know I’m not going to be able to stop all e.coli from getting in the water or make the water perfectly clear again, but I’d like to bring those numbers down,” she said.
As for implementing projects to address water quality issues in the Missouri River Watershed, Frahm envisions working with landowners to complete a variety of projects, from stream bank restorations to installation of buffers and J-hook weirs to protect stream banks.
“It could be as simple as doing a grazing plan so pastures aren’t overgrazed,” she added.
In the Pomme de Terre Watershed to the north, where a WRAPS has already been completed and serving as an example to other districts in the state, buffers proved to be the most successful in improving water quality.
The MPCA and DNR are working with the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) to have funding in place for project implementation.
“BWSR has the money for implementation, so it’s a matter of getting farmers to apply,” Frahm said, adding that funding will likely be cost-shared with landowners.
For information about water quality programs, visit www.pca.state.mn.us/water/index.html, or to speak with Frahm about the work in the Missouri River Watershed, call 376-9150, ext. 112.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.