Conservation Efforts

By Caroline van Schaik, Driftless Region coordinator

Stream teams, Winona farmers market partnership, Cedar River movement, and drainage difficulties

SOS season in the Driftless

If a picture tells a thousand words…here are a few from hours of stream monitoring that marked the past couple months in and around the Whitewater River watershed in south eastern Minnesota. We had good teams on all eight UMRI sites, some children to balance the grey hair, warmer water than usual, and a range of results, even with some data not yet entered. We will have more about all sites next month. For now, take a look at what the national Hub site looks like, data-wise, and some of the citizen scientists who are making it useful to scientists and policy-makers country-wide.

Stream monitoring this season at some of the eight sites established by the UMRI as part of its work in the Driftless region of southeast Minnesota. Despite pandemic restrictions, we have been able to add sampling sites and found additional interest in learning about local water. Photos by Caroline van Schaik


Some fine and intrepid volunteers have persevered through the pandemic so that we have not missed a moment to collect data from our sites. This set of 3 screenshots gives an idea of what the national Clean Water Hub

Water in Winona


With the launching once again of the Cal Fremling educational boat at Winona’s Levee Park, the possibility of a lively educational event focused on the river is back on the burner. It will take place on a Saturday in a welcome partnership with the Winona Farmers Market. Family friendly and hands-on, it is being planned by UMRI staff with the Will Dilg chapter, SOS volunteers, and local college students. Stay tuned for details. It’s going to be fun!

The Cedar River Watershed and building bridges between Iowa and Minnesota


The effort to monitor the southern reaches of the Cedar River is also on schedule. Austin, MN and Linn Co, IA Izaak Walton League chapter members continue to prepare for a summer of sampling to learn the status of E. coli in the Cedar River on the Iowa side of the watershed. The effort builds on a campaign by Austin, MN Ikes to understand not just whether there is E. coli in the Cedar River near Austin but its source. The protocol, developed by the Austin team and fine tuned through hundreds of samples, includes DNA testing to be conducted with a Florida laboratory partner. Funding for expensive lab analysis, team training, and sampling supplies is through the IWLA Endowment Program and the Upper Mississippi River Initiative of MN IWLA. See the March report here for some background. And if you live in the Cedar River Watershed in Iowa and would like to be involved through IWLA chapters, please contact Dale Braun, president of the Linn County chapter, at

Drainage project challenges


UMRI work in Minnesota beyond the Driftless region focuses heavily on ditch drainage projects that do not serve land and people downstream, let alone address water quality and quantity concerns statewide. Retired engineers and lawyers coupled with water enthusiasts such as retired judge David Minge continue to work with such entities as the MN Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and a few county commissioners who are deeply motivated to mitigate flood damage (such as and largely limited to Blue Earth County). Shedding light on DNR recommendations against harmful ditch proposals is an uphill battle because the DNR has an advisory role – county commissioners have the final say. There are a myriad of additional hampering factors: for example, Minge’s team cannot assess project assumptions because project engineers refuse to share their modeled premises with the public. Further, the evidence points to commissioners’ negligence in interest in what happens downstream. Minge and cohort are putting some legal teeth to the effort and striving to serve as a useful ally to the DNR in their joint efforts to do better by public waters.