Comments invited on reports about restoring Root River and tributaries

Contact: Cathy Rofshus, 507-207-2608

Rochester, Minn. — Reports on protecting and restoring the Root River watershed are now open for public comment. This area in southeastern Minnesota provides high quality streams for trout fishing and other recreation. However, some parts of streams suffer from bacteria levels that may make the water unsafe for swimming, soil and sediment that cloud the water, and nitrate levels that may stress aquatic life like fish.

The Root River and its tributaries are popular for trout fishing and other recreation. In fact, 850 miles of cold-water trout streams run through this watershed. The river and streams all flow into the Mississippi River near Hokah. This watershed covers 1.06 million acres in Fillmore, Houston, Winona, Mower, Olmsted and Dodge counties in Minnesota, along with a small portion in Iowa. The majority of land in the watershed is used for farming. Stewartville, with a population of about 6,100, is the largest city.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is accepting comments on the reports through May 16.

The first report is on a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) study, which determines the maximum amount of pollutants that a water body can accept and still meet standards. The study incorporated water quality data from the past 10 years, fish surveys, stressor identification investigations, stakeholder input and other information.

This area of Minnesota is vulnerable to pollution because of its karst landscape. In karst, only a thin layer of soil covers the porous bedrock underneath and allows pollutants on the land to easily reach groundwater used for drinking. In a karst landscape, where caves and sinkholes are common, streams and groundwater mix as water moves through the bedrock. Because of karst, there are no lakes in this watershed.

For the streams to meet water quality standards, the reductions in pollutants depend on the flow conditions because the more flow, the higher the pollutant levels. At mid-flows, reductions of up to 96 percent (Willow Creek, South Branch Root River) are needed for bacteria, up to 49 percent (Watson Creek, South Branch Root River) for nitrates, and up to 95 percent (Root River, South Branch) for sediment.

This report outlines strategies to reduce pollutants, such as agricultural practices to reduce runoff and erosion, feedlot runoff controls, sewer system upgrades, limits on wastewater discharges, and urban stormwater controls.

The second report open for comment through May 16 is on Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) for the Root River. This report summarizes all water quality work in the watershed done since intensive monitoring began in 2008. It culminates in a table of implementation strategies to help restore areas where pollutants violate standards and help protect those areas meeting standards.

Several areas in the Root River watershed provide high-quality habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and need protection. Strategies that would both help protect and restore streams throughout the watershed include planting cover crops, installing buffers along streams, installing grassed waterways, using contour farming, implementing water and sediment storage, and managing crop residue.

Many groups are participating in restoration and protection efforts, including the Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District, the newly formed non-profit group Friends of the Root River, cities in the watershed, and several state and local organizations. Individuals are always encouraged to get involved.

These reports are part of a statewide effort to holistically gauge the health of streams and lakes, and develop strategies to restore or protect their water quality.
The reports are available on the MPCA's Root River webpage. For more information on Root River studies or to submit written comments, contact Shaina Keseley, MPCA project manager (email, phone 507-206-2622).

Comments, which must be in writing, are due by 4:30 p.m. on May 16. The comments must specify which report you are commenting on, include a statement of your interest in the report, and the action you wish the MPCA to take, including specific references to sections of the draft report you believe should be changed and the reasons for making those changes.