Conservation Efforts

By Caroline van Schaik, Driftless Region coordinator, with input from Kiera Kellogg, David Minge, and Dave Zentner.

Throughout Minnesota, UMRI partners with landowners, community leaders, conservation experts, and citizens to improve water quality and conserve natural resources. UMRI strives for forums of enlightenment, neighborliness, and a better landscape for all. Here’s what we’ve been up to in the past month.


Citizen Science Funded

We have just received grants that will fund water education and citizen monitoring in the Driftless Region and in a joint Minnesota-Iowa effort. Assuming Covid restrictions have eased by next summer, the Winona, MN Will Dilg chapter along with stream teams and community partners will bring the public on board a docked boat for hands-on monitoring tests and river stories. Further west, the Austin, MN chapter will take its innovative methodology for identifying E. coli sources to Iowa chapters by way of citizen scientist training, sampling, and analysis. Getting more eyes on public water and advocacy for better water drive the work.


Stream Teams Persevere!

Citizen scientists took to streams with a good deal of care and masks in place as summer evolved in Southeast Minnesota. After hosting information sessions and a well-attended training last fall, we have a cohort of Save Our Streams (SOS) enthusiasts in place. That said, and regardless of a rejuvenating winter social, Covid restrictions kept most of them at bey during what would have been team sampling in April and May. But we persevered! By keeping groups small and family-based, masking up (as we say in Minnesota), and not sharing tools, a few of us amassed much data for the National Hub. Furthermore, confidence in our skills encouraged us to sample additional streams. You can find those sites on a map and view the reports on nitrate levels, pH, the macroinvertebrates we found, and learn more here.

By keeping stream teams family-based and masked up, we managed to sample six different sites this season. With Covid precautions firmly in place, stream monitoring is a fine activity for engaging water enthusiasts of all ages. Photo by Caroline van Schaik


After considerable thought, we figured out ways to not let the monitoring season escape us. Small groups of stream teams gained considerable experience in taking biological, physical, and chemical measurements – such as how to collect macro invertebrates at this site on Cedar Valley Creek in southeast Minnesota. Photo by Val Cordry


How We Organize Driftless Stream Teams

The National SOS office asked us to share some of the myriad details that make stream teams possible even under these Covid conditions. Driftless Coordinator Caroline van Schaik joined a webinar on the topic and you can watch it here.

Two of the Driftless Region’s earliest SOS- certified monitors returned to Gribben Creek and then, bolstered by their hands-on experience, sampled Diamond Creek this summer. Being family, this couple dispensed with physical distance in order to inspect their macro invertebrate haul. Photo by Caroline van Schaik


Minnesota River Ditch Attention

The Minnesota River Watershed, with its 38-county reach, is the largest source of sediment contamination to the Upper Mississippi River. Led by David Minge, UMRI MN River project coordinator, a team of legal experts, engineers, colleague conservation, and environmental groups are systematically reviewing ditch management activities. The effort is driven by dire loss of wetlands, landscape-scale damage by severe storms across row cropped acres, a negative shift in watershed dynamics, and ultimately, denigrated water quality at every point. Minge and UMRI staff Keira Kellogg have compiled all ditch projects into the Minnesota River Basin Drainage Inventory, complete with feasibility studies, DNR and engineer reports, and related documents on a county-by-county basis. There also is a link to past projects at the bottom of the spreadsheet. Recently, MN DNR leadership including the state Commissioner and the UMRI MN River Team held a conference call to strive for collaboration on mitigation efforts. Follow-up continues.  See the Minnesota River Basin Drainage Inventory here.