Comments invited on reports on restoring Cannon River and tributaries

Contact: Cathy Rofshus, 507-206-2608

Rochester, Minn. — The Cannon River watershed in southeastern Minnesota provides high-quality streams that are valued for trout fishing and other recreation. However, some parts of these streams suffer from bacteria levels that may make the water unsafe for swimming, soil and sediment that cloud the water, phosphorus levels that can cause frequent algal blooms, and nitrate levels that may stress aquatic life like fish.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has released reports on protecting and restoring the Cannon River watershed, and is accepting comments on the reports through June 23.

The Cannon River watershed drains 946,440 acres, most of it used for agriculture, and consists of two river systems: the Cannon and the Straight. These rivers pass through scenic landscapes of variable terrain, from the flat wooded floodplains along the Straight River to blufflands in the lower reaches of the Cannon River.

This watershed provides drinking water for households and industry, habitat for aquatic life, habitat for wildlife, and many recreational opportunities. The Cannon River is designated as a Wild and Scenic River starting downstream of its confluence with the Straight River in Faribault. The watershed has many lakes, along with trout streams that attract many local and Twin Cities residents for fly fishing.

About 194,000 people live in the watershed with the three largest cities being Owatonna, Faribault and Northfield.

The first report is 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 incorporates water quality data from the past 10 years, fish surveys, stressor identification investigations, stakeholder input and other information.

For the lakes and streams in the watershed to meet water quality standards, the reductions in pollutants need to come from both point sources, such as wastewater from a city, and nonpoint sources such as sediment that washes from the landscape during storms.  The report outlines strategies to reduce pollutants, such as agricultural practices to reduce runoff and erosion, manure runoff controls, sewer system upgrades, limits on wastewater discharges, and urban stormwater controls.

The second report open for comment is on Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies for the Cannon River. This report summarizes all water quality work in the watershed. A year-long stakeholder process culminated in a table of implementation strategies to help restore areas where pollutants violate standards and help protect those areas meeting standards.  This table and accompanying tools for prioritizing management efforts are included in the WRAPS Report.

Many areas in the Cannon 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 Soil and Water Conservation Districts, cities in the watershed, the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, 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.

For more information on Cannon River studies or to submit written comments, contact Justin Watkins, MPCA project manager (email justin.watkins@state.mn.us, phone 507-206-2621). The reports are also available by on the Cannon River Watershed webpage.

Comments, which must be in writing, are due by 4:30 p.m. on June 23. 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.