About a year ago, Lowell Deede was on a mission to walk all of the roads in Becker County. While walking past the Buffalo River at a bridge crossing that April, the river looked beautiful. About a month later, he walked by that same spot and the river had turned to a muddy soup. This got Lowell wondering – how did this happen? Having recently retired from the Tamarac Wildlife Refuge, he thought he might be able to figure out what was going on in the Buffalo by monitoring it.
Lowell began talking about his monitoring idea with staff at MPCA's Detroit Lakes office, the International Water Institute in Fargo, and the Buffalo Red River Watershed District. He developed a multi-site plan to track water clarity at 11 locations across the Buffalo River Watershed and two in the Wild Rice Watershed.
He enrolled in the Citizen Stream Monitoring program and has visited these locations regularly, using the Secchi tube to measure water clarity from an upstream to downstream position across the watershed, observing some interesting patterns.
For example, one day an upstream location on the Wild Rice River was very clear (>100 cm), while 7 miles downstream transparency was quite a bit lower (22 cm). Meanwhile, on the Buffalo River not far from where Lowell sampled the Wild Rice, water clarity measured a mere 17 cm.
Lowell wants to raise awareness about water quality problems. He wants to tell a story of what is going on in the Buffalo and other Minnesota watersheds. He hopes to reach out to politicians for more involvement, and has already contacted both his congressman and local representative to discuss what he has observed on the streams and rivers of Becker County.
His monitoring has been featured on local television, with plans to do additional segments.
When asked if there was anything particularly interesting that he observed during his monitoring venture over the past year, Lowell talked about being surprised by how the timing of his sampling influenced what he observed. For example, when he sampled 2 locations that were only 2 miles apart, he found a large difference on them within a week’s time. During the week between sampling events, a large rain event occurred. Upon seeing the difference in water clarity over the week (from 30 cm down to 11 cm at the downstream location), he decided to investigate by walking upstream along a ditch that flows into the river near the downstream location. About a mile up the ditch Lowell found a gully that was contributing a significant amount of sediment to the river, in response to the rain event.
He went on to describe how different rivers reacted differently to a larger, mid-July rainfall event. Of the 14 rivers he samples, 3 were flowing out of their banks following a significant July rainfall – Hay Creek, the Toad River, and the Blueberry River. However, two of these three rivers, the Toad and Blueberry, ran clear even under flood conditions (>100 cm clarity). Hay Creek, by contrast, was down to 5 cm clarity following the same rain event.
To Lowell, the take-home message was that “…watersheds can be overwhelmed by rain events, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they decline in transparency. Some landscapes cannot handle this kind of event, while others can. What causes it, and what can be done to moderate the impacts? Buffers come into place, grass waterways. This leads to more questions, and to more sampling needs.”