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The CRWJPO in the News...

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The Cannon River is a highlight of Rice County. Flowing through the countryside and the cities of Northfield and Faribault, the river powered the historic mills that once served our early agricultural communities. Today, the Cannon River is popular for kayaking, wildlife viewing, and fishing.


With how important the Cannon River is for the area, it is crucial to keep the river clean and functional for us and future generations. That is a big task when the watershed encompasses 963,000 acres and flows through nine counties.


In 2019, the Cannon River Watershed Joint Powers Organization (CRWJPO) was formed to implement a management plan that was written to improve water quality in the watershed. The plan targets watersheds with impaired waters and also protects the water quality in watersheds that are considered high quality for aquatic recreation.


Now that the CRWJPO is one year into implementing the plan using Watershed Based Implementation Funds from the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources, changes to the watershed are slowly being made.


The CRWJPO held outreach events to farmers across the watershed to promote soil health and conservation. This effort led to the implementation of around 400 acres of cover crops this past fall. Three erosion control structures have also been constructed in farm fields to prevent soil erosion and an additional seven structures will be constructed in 2022.


The CRWJPO’s management plan for the Cannon River Watershed also focuses efforts on area lakes. Water testing and monitoring began on Fox Lake last summer. The results of the testing will be used to draft a lake management plan specific to Fox Lake’s water quality improvement needs.



Brad Behrens, Environmental Specialist with Rice County Environmental Services pulls a Van Dorn water sampler device out of Fox Lake while Dakota Soil and Water Conservation District Water Resource Specialist Lindsey Albright assists. The results of the water sampling will be used to help evaluate the condition of Fox Lake and develop a management plan to improve the water quality.


Other projects in the watershed include a completed shoreline inventory of Lower Sakatah Lake and a septic inventory on Gorman Lake. These projects will be continuing in the next year and other projects will be started on additional lakes to help improve water quality in the watershed.


In addition to the projects being done by the CRWJPO, other organizations are working to improve the water quality of the Cannon River Watershed. Local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), are implementing locally-led conservation practices every year on the ground. The City of Waterville also just received funding for a flood study, to name a few other efforts.

With funding being received every two years, the CRWJPO is continuing currently to address the activities from the last work plan, along with starting to generate activities from the plan for the next round of funding. Public input is always welcomed.


It is a slow process and changes to the Cannon River won’t be seen by the public’s eye overnight, but over time those in the area will notice cleaner water and a more enjoyable river to use for recreation. This work itself isn’t just up to the staff implementing the plan but to the public also, since everyone in the area benefits from keeping the Cannon River clean and functional.

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This past July, twenty-four local lawmakers and staff from six different counties and Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) took a tour of conservation activities being implemented in the Cannon River Watershed. The conservation activities are a result of the Cannon River Comprehensive Water Management Plan and were organized by the Cannon River Watershed Joint Powers Organization (CRWJPO).


The CRWJPO was created to develop and implement the Cannon River Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan, which is a single management plan for the watershed, that will guide the CRWJPO for the next ten years. Prior to the CRWJPO, each individual local government was responsible for water planning.


Members of the CRWJPO include six counties, six SWCDs, one watershed district, and one watershed management organization. The members work together to address the most significant threats to water resources and implement strategies that provide the greatest benefit to the watershed.


There are a wide variety of land uses across the watershed and therefore priority activities are different. The tour was held to show local officials the variety of activities and how they will help improve the local water quality in the watershed.


At the first stop of the tour at a home on Gorman Lake in Le Sueur County, officials learned about septic system inventories of several Le Sueur county lakes in the watershed. Holly Kalbus, Le Sueur County Environmental Resources Specialist, and Amy Beatty, Le Sueur County Environmental Programs Specialist, explained how the septic systems were inventoried around the lake and then tested to see if they were compliant.



Amy Beatty, Le Sueur County Environmental Programs Specialist explains how a septic system works and the characteristics of non-compliant systems.


Over time, non-compliant septic systems will be updated and the overall water quality of the lakes and ultimately the watershed should improve. “We know that septic improvement and upgrade projects will have a positive impact to surface water and groundwater,” Kalbus said.

Mike Skluzacek from MS Excavating, also spoke about the construction of septic systems and explained the importance of operation and maintenance of septic systems to prevent future negative impacts to surface water and groundwater.


At the second stop on Fox Lake, Ashley Gallagher, Dakota SWCD Senior Resource Conservationist and Accelerated Implementation and Measuring Lead for CRWJPO, spoke about lake water testing and plans to improve the water quality of the lake.


Technicians visited the lake monthly to measure temperature, pH, and water clarity and also collected water samples which were lab tested for total suspended solids, chlorophyll, and phosphorus. The data collected was used to evaluate the condition of the lake and write an Adaptive Lake Management Plan specific to Fox Lake’s needs.



Ashley Gallagher, Dakota SWCD Senior Resource Conservationist and Accelerated Implementation and Measuring Lead for CRWJPO, demonstrates how a Van Dorn water sampler device works to take samples out of the lake.


Fox Lake is one of seven priority lakes in the Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan. Adaptive Lake Management Plans will be developed for the remaining priority lakes in the next few years.


At the final stop at Two Rivers Park in Faribault, officials learned about stream sampling from Kourtney Hammerschmidt, Rice SWCD District Technician. Hammerschmidt demonstrated the “bucket method,” collecting a sample of river water off a footbridge over the Cannon River near the park. The water was then placed into a Secchi tube, where officials could visually measure the clarity of the river water.


“At each sampling point, we test for parameters such as temperature, ph, water clarity with a Secchi tube, and dissolved oxygen. We also send a water sample to a lab where they test for chlorophyll A, total suspended solids, total phosphorus, e-coli, and a few other things,” said Hammerschmidt. “The results of the testing will be used to target conservation planning efforts within the watershed,” she concluded.



Steele SWCD District Supervisor Dave Melby (in gray) examines the water clarity of the Cannon River in a Secchi tube as other lawmakers look on during the CRWJPO Conservation tour.


Conservation implementation activities will continue in the watershed for the duration of the Cannon River Watershed Comprehensive Management Plan, which will need to be revised in 2030.


With funding being received every two years, the CRWJPO is continuing currently to address the activities from the last work plan, along with starting to generate activities from the plan for the next round of funding. Public input is always welcomed.



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