Water quality testing underway in Redwood River and Cottonwood River watersheds

Contact: Forrest Peterson, 320-441-6972

State and local water quality scientists will be testing the water quality and biology in the Redwood and Cottonwood river watersheds this spring and summer.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR), and Redwood-Cottonwood Rivers Control Area (RCRCA) staff will be collecting samples and data to determine the health of local rivers, streams, and lakes.  

Funded by the voter-approved Clean Water Legacy Act, the MPCA and partners use a "watershed approach" to restore and protect Minnesota's rivers, lakes, and wetlands.

The watershed approach focuses on a watershed's condition as the starting point for water quality assessment, planning, implementation, and measurement of results. The MPCA plans to assess the conditions and trends of Minnesota’s waters in a 10-year cycle.

During the cycle, the state's 80 major watersheds are studied to assess water quality, set goals for improvement, plan improvement projects, take actions designed to restore or protect water quality, and measure results. When a watershed's cycle is completed, a new cycle of evaluation, prioritization, and targeting goals begins.

Process for restoring and protecting water quality

Along with the watershed approach, a Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS) identifies and addresses threats to water quality. The WRAPS has four major parts:

Step 1. Monitor water bodies and collect data

The cycle begins with a two-year intensive monitoring program of lakes and streams. The MPCA determines their overall health and identifies impaired waters, along with a study of the health of aquatic life in lakes. Additional information is collected on the watershed's physical characteristics, including land use, topography, soils, stream channel dimensions, and pollution sources. Monitoring and Assessment and Stressor Identification reports compile information on the watershed’s biota (fish, bugs, etc.).

Step 2. Assess the data

Based on the results of the monitoring in step one, MPCA water quality specialists:

  • Determine whether or not water resources meet water quality standards and designated uses;
  • Identify waters that do not meet water quality standards and list them as impaired waters;
  • Identify waters that should be protected;
  • Identify stressors affecting aquatic life in streams and lakes.

Step 3. Develop strategies to restore and protect the watershed's water bodies

Based on the watershed assessment, the WRAPS and a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) reports provide details on water quality issues and identify conservation practices for cleaning up impaired streams and lakes. In addition, the reports include ways to protect healthy lakes and streams from becoming impaired.

Step 4. Conduct restoration and protection projects in the watershed

Restoration and protection projects are further advanced by locally-approved watershed plans. Watershed districts, cities, county joint power boards and soil and water conservation districts develop and carry out plans based on the earlier steps of the process. Civic engagement and public participation are core elements of all steps throughout the process.

The MPCA adopted the watershed approach as recommended by the Minnesota Legislature and outlined in a 2008 report. It uses a more efficient and effective use of public resources in addressing surface water quality challenges across the state.