Of all of the watersheds in the Red River Basin, the Otter Tail River watershed is one of the least impacted by flooding. Annual average flood damage in the watershed is estimated at $457,784 (in 1996 dollars) with 99% of the damage being rural.
The main resource concerns in the watershed are wind and water soil erosion, wetland management, surface water quality, stormwater runoff, and wildlife habitat. Many of the resource concerns relate directly to changing land use and increased development in the region, resulting in fragmentation and increased sediment/pollutant (mercury, excess nutrients) loadings to surface waters. A significant portion of the land within this watershed is considered highly erodible, or potentially highly erodible. Land use within the watershed is largely agricultural, accounting for approximately 45% of the overall watershed acres. Development pressure is moderate to considerable in some areas, with occasional farms, timberland, and lakeshore being parceled out for recreation, lake, or country homes.
What's being done
Monitoring and assessment
Intensive watershed water quality monitoring was conducted in 2016. A monitoring and assessment report will be drafted in 2018. Realtime flow monitoring was installed at three locations in the watershed. Those flows can be found on the MPCA/DNR cooperative stream gaging web page.
Strategy development for restoration and protection
The Lower Otter Tail restoration 319 project is in process (summer 2017). This project is designing channel restorations for approximately 20 river miles channelized in the 1960s as part of a flood reduction project. The idea is to improve water quality by reducing sediment associated with stream bank failure. The project will retain its flood damage reduction features. In June 2016 a group of 20 resource managers, local decision makers and land owners formed a civic engagement cohort. This group is led by staff from the U of M Extension Service. Members learned about skills training, leadership training and watershed science. They met monthly and completed formalized training in May 2017. Members will facilitate discussion and decision-making regarding water quality issues in the watershed. The group will meet annually each spring.