La Crescent area: Most streams meet standards for fish and other aquatic species

Contact: Cathy Malakowsky, 507-383-5949

Defined by wooded bluffs and spring-fed cold-water streams, the Mississippi River-La Crescent Area Watershed in southeast Minnesota offers trout fishing and other recreation. The majority of streams in this small watershed – covering 95 square miles in Minnesota – meet water quality standards designed to protect fish and other aquatic species, according to new reports by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The streams include a portion of Pine Creek in Winona County, Rose Valley Creek, and Dakota Creek.

However, a portion of Pine Creek in Houston County has levels of bacteria and sediment too high to meet water quality standards. Bacteria can come from wastewater and manure, and can make water unsafe for swimming. Sediment, from erosion and runoff, can make the water too cloudy for fish to find food, avoid predators, and perform other life functions.

The MPCA recently completed two studies of the watershed:

  • The total maximum daily load (TMDL) report identifies bodies of water that fail to meet water quality standards (known as “impaired” waters), the sources of pollution, and how much pollution reduction is needed to restore the waters’ ability to support swimming, fishing, and healthy fish and bug populations.
  • The watershed restoration and protection strategy (WRAPS) report recommends ways to protect waters that are in good condition, and improve impaired waters.

The reports are part of the MPCA’s approach to gauging the health of Minnesota’s 80 major watersheds. After intensive water monitoring, the agency and partners evaluate biological conditions in lakes and streams. Waters that fail to meet standards are placed on the Impaired Waters List, and the agency develops information and strategies that are used to restore impaired waters and protect healthy ones. The MPCA is on track to have a comprehensive management plan for each major watershed by 2025.

Both these reports provide information that will be used to develop local plans for implementing stream restoration and protection projects.

Because nearly half of this watershed is forested, maintaining forestland is an important strategy for protecting the streams that currently meet standards. Forests soak up precipitation and hold soil in place, reducing runoff of pollutants. They also provide shading to help keep trout streams cool and provide habitat.

To reduce bacteria and sediment pollution in Pine Creek, the reports recommend several strategies, including:

  • Increasing water storage using water and sediment control basins around the watershed and soil health practices on agricultural fields. Holding back water helps reduce erosion that carries sediment into streams.
  • Addressing failing septic systems, improving animal manure management, and ensuring animal feedlot compliance, all of which help reduce bacteria levels in streams.
  • Maintaining good pasture management and improving pasture management where needed.
  • Continued implementation of the City of La Crescent’s stormwater program to reduce urban runoff.

The MPCA is asking for public comments on the two reports, which are available on the MPCA web site. Mail or email written comments to Emily Zanon, MPCA, 18 Wood Lake Drive SE, Rochester, MN 55904 by 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 1. Call her at 507-206-2613 for more information.

Written comments must include a statement of the respondent’s interest in the report, and the action requested of the MPCA, including specific references to sections of the draft document(s) that should be changed, and the reasons for making those changes.