Once prairie and wetland, this area is now mostly cropland and heavily drained with tile and ditch systems. Agricultural in the watershed is dominated by corn and soybean row crops.
The Shell Rock River is affected by the high levels of algae from its headwaters, Albert Lea Lake. These algae reduce the clarity of the water and can combine with mineral soil particles to negatively affect fish and aquatic insects. There is also a problem with low dissolved oxygen in the Minnesota section of the river, which will be the focus of additional water monitoring and investigation activities.
Pickerel, Fountain, and Albert Lea lakes have excessive levels of nutrients, mainly phosphorus that fuels algal blooms. This chain of lakes in the center of the watershed is popular for fishing, boating, and other recreation.
Albert Lea Lake, a 2,600-acre shallow lake that is popular for fishing, bird-watching, canoeing and pontooning, draws thousands of waterfowl during spring and fall migrations. Eagles nest year-round on the east end of the lake.
What's being done
Monitoring and assessment
The Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District is coordinating a water pollution study of the entire Cedar River Basin with the Shell Rock River, Cedar River, and Turtle Creek watershed districts. This Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) project will determine the levels of pollutants that the water bodies can accept and still meet water quality standards; the sources of those pollutants; and ways to reduce the levels of pollutants.
The MPCA conducted biological monitoring of the Shell Rock and its tributaries in 2009, intensely studying the fish and aquatic bugs found there. The agency recently published a report identifying stressors to fish and other aquatic life in the watershed (see below).