Comment period nears on river TMDL
SLAYTON -- Yet another waterway in southwest Minnesota has made its way onto the impaired waters list, and plans are advancing to clean it up. On Monday, more than 70 people attended meetings in Slayton and Heron Lake regarding an impending Total...
SLAYTON -- Yet another waterway in southwest Minnesota has made its way onto the impaired waters list, and plans are advancing to clean it up.
On Monday, more than 70 people attended meetings in Slayton and Heron Lake regarding an impending Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study on the West Fork of the Des Moines River. The study is required under the federal Clean Water Act, and its completion will likely mean funding opportunities for the Heron Lake Watershed District to begin cleanup efforts.
The West Fork Des Moines River watershed covers 1,333 square miles and encompasses Cottonwood, Murray, Jackson and Nobles counties. Among the identified issues with the watershed are increased levels of fecal coliform bacteria, turbidity (murkiness) and excess nutrients.
Monday's meetings were to educate landowners within the watershed on the likely causes of the problems in advance of the comment period spearheaded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency on the TMDL.
Chris Zadak, TMDL project manager with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said 15 reaches within the West Fork Des Moines River watershed are impaired because of high levels of fecal coliform bacteria.
Data collected primarily between 2001 and 2004 showed levels of the bacteria were highest during the summer and fall months, peaking in August, Zadak said.
"After it rains, we see a real spike in the numbers -- five to 10 times higher than dry periods," he said.
Zadak said livestock operations are the primary contributor to fecal coliform bacteria levels in the water and displayed a chart showing the concentration of beef and swine operations in the four counties.
"In general, 99 percent of the bacteria comes from livestock," he added. The remaining 1 percent is generated from humans, wildlife and other culprits.
One of the steps in addressing the fecal coliform bacteria is to target overgrazed pastures and focus on the high contributors -- including failing septic systems.
Greg Wilson with Minneapolis-based Barr Engineering Co., a partner in the TMDL project, said in addition to fecal coliform bacteria, 15 reaches in the watershed exceeded standards for turbidity. The cause of murky water can include everything from field runoff and highly erodible land to construction projects and even the population of rough fish in the lakes, rivers and streams in the watershed. Rainfall also contributes to turbidity.
Among the steps to address turbidity are to continue efforts of Best Management Practices (BMPs), fix failing septic systems, address feedlot issues, control stream bank erosion and control rough fish populations.
"When you look at the rough fish, they seem to be a significant source of the problem," Wilson said.
The 30-day comment period on the West Fork Des Moines River watershed TMDL is anticipated to begin soon. Once that is approved, funding will be applied for and a plan will be created to reduce turbidity, fecal coliform bacteria and excess nutrients from the waterways. Implementation of those plans would begin in the fall of 2009.
"We didn't create the problems in the water overnight, and we're not going to be able to deal with the problem overnight, even if we wanted to," said Mike Hanson, water plan coordinator with the Cottonwood County Environmental Office.