Conservation Efforts

By Caroline van Schaik, Driftless Region coordinator

Water still flows despite Covid restrictions! Citizen science teams took masks and test kits stream side for a September status report. And being together while apart for fun and a better landscape gave us some sense of neighborliness, too.


September Stream Sampling


It is not your ordinary September and volunteer stream teams took that as a queue to strike out for some out-of-season monitoring. “September sampling” is taking place on seven sites in southeast Minnesota with an 8th lined up for October.  Equal parts fun and practice, we also are adding data points to the national Clean Water Hub, eyes on the water, and yes, a chance to see a kindred spirit or two in an outdoor setting on a beautiful day. It has also afforded an opportunity to add two new sites and to meet several new volunteers in various stages of training and experience.

We went stream side to practice monitoring, inspect our sites, and enjoy a little fellowship while outdoors is still the best place to meet. Pictured is Amy Cordry, an SOS-certified stream monitor and host of the Cedar Valley Creek efforts. We took the kit to another of our group’s sites, in Whitewater State Park, and because of rains the day before, registered the muddiest turbidity level yet. Photo by Caroline van Schaik

If this sort of engagement interests you, take a look at the national site and consider getting a little training – yes, sigh, it is mostly on line at the moment but there will be a final 2-3-hour IN-PERSON streamside session to complete the Save Our Streams certificate program, all as soon as is safe. The on line workshops are actually pretty fun – great pictures, and very accessible even if you have never identified a caddisfly or scud in your life. We will be hosting one of those in-person workshops in southeast Minnesota; winter is a good time to get ready for it on your end.


One of the ways citizen scientists are so useful is when we go streamside after interesting events, such as a rainstorm. This is what happened in late September, when volunteers were able to get to the Whitewater soon after a good rainfall. As soon as we rounded the bend of the path we knew we were in for some mud-influenced fun. Twice as deep as when we were there in late May, our rushing transect of the river diluted its nitrate levels from 5 ppm to none and dropped the secci tube reading from 45 to 15 centimeters of transparency. All that rushing water pushed up the oxygen levels, a happy thought for fish populations. And this time, we reveled in golden leaves flying off trees that in May were leafing out.
Photo by Caroline van Schaik


SOS volunteers John Weiss and Richard Fetterly went stream side of the South branch of the Zumbro River middle fork after a storm to take a pulse on things. Two days earlier, the water was too high to be safe and suffered an unexplained chemical smell. This time, the smell was gone and while we kept near the shore because of a high volume of water, we were able to take many physical and chemical readings. This is a new SOS site but Weiss has been sampling here for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for some 20 years. Photo by Caroline van Schaik


A new SOS team met stream side of the Zumbro River north of Byron, MN after a rainstorm to survey the still-muddy water. Team members kept to the shoreline for this first set of tests. We will return in early November to repeat chemical and physical measurements and to do a macro invertebrate count as well. Photo by Caroline van Schaik

From the Stream to the Tap:  Where Stream Health and Drinking Water Meet”


The National SOS office hosted this webinar on Sept. 24, 2020 with staff from the Des Moines Water Works and the national River Network. Who knew that the Des Moines region gets its water on any given day from either of two rivers, depending on which tests cleaner? Or that there is an 11-minute YouTube movie on just how water gets purified. Or that the right to water is increasingly not granted to or affordable by everyone. Links to this program and a season’s worth of excellent presentations can be found here.

Minnesota River Drainage Project


A reminder that UMRI staff led by David Minge and Keira Kellogg continue to update all ditch projects into the 38-county 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. In the meantime, staff, volunteers, and organizational partners are challenging what they consider to be negative outcomes related to Lake Pepin, the Hypoxic Zone, local water availability, and water quality overall in Waseca, Stevens, Lyon, Redwood, Yellow Medicine, Renville, and Nicollet Counties.

And for Your Thinking Pleasure…


This past March, on the eve of the Covid shutdown as it turns out, a Watershed Climate Summit took place near St. Paul, MN, with the following panel discussion on “How Functioning Ecosystems Are Providing Climate Solutions.” Take a listen for a can-do marriage of big words and real action!