For Cleaner Water
       & Fewer Floods  


  • 01 Apr 2015 4:29 PM | Anonymous

    News Release


    Three Minnesota Rivers Moving to Canada

    By Aquatic Press Associates

    In an unprecedented move, three Minnesota Rivers, the Rock River, the Little Sioux River, and the Big Sioux River have begun moving from their banks in southwestern Minnesota to new river beds in Alberta, Canada.

    “We’ve been waiting for 40 years for landowners to show us the respect we deserve and we’ve finally had enough of their dawdling and delay,” said the Rock River on Wednesday. “If  Minnesotans aren’t going to take care of us, then we’re moving to a place that values clean water and cleaning up rivers.”

    “We’ve been waiting for 40 years for landowners to show us the respect we deserve and we’ve finally had enough of their dawdling and delay,” said the Rock River on Wednesday. “If  Minnesotans aren’t going to take care of us, then we’re moving to a place that values clean water and cleaning up rivers.”

    The move happens on the heels of a report from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency that determined that no lakes and only one stream southwestern Minnesota were swimmable and fishable, due primarily to high levels of manure bacteria, fertilizer pollution, and sediment from livestock and crop farming operations in the intensively agricultural region.

    “How hard would it be to plant a few grass buffers on a river?” said the Big Sioux River. “In my day, landowners took care of the land. Now I’m not so sure.”

    Canadian officials expressed excitement that the three rivers will be moving to the relatively dry prairie region in western Canada. They did point out that rivers will have to go through a month-long quarantine, leave excess fertilizers and bacteria in North Dakota before crossing the border, and henceforth measure their volume in liters.

  • 20 Mar 2015 1:58 PM | Anonymous

    Southeast Minnesota Cover Crop Producer Meeting

    Date: March 25, 2015 Time: Registration – 9:30 a.m., Program – 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

    Where: Zumbrota VFW 25 1st Street East Zumbrota, MN 55992  Phone: 507-732-7123

    Cost: $5.00 (includes morning break, noon meal and handouts)

    Please RSVP to your local SWCD office by March 20th, 2015

    Goodhue SWCD - Coty Hellengren, 651-923-5286, ext.117

    Olmsted SWCD - Skip Langer, 507-280-2850, ext. 110

    Rice SWCD - Travis Hirman, 507-332-7418, ext. 126

    Scott SWCD - Todd Kavitz, 952-492-5457 (direct line)

    Wabasha SWCD - Matt Kruger, 651-565-4673, ext.110


    Reagan Noland, University of Minnesota, Forage and Cover Crop Research Student –

    Presenting current Minnesota studies.

    Jim Paulson, University of Minnesota, Forage Nutritionist – Feeding cover crops to dairy and beef cattle. And the value to sell cover crops.

    Heidi Peterson, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Research Coordinator – Update on current and future cover crop research

    Kevin Kuehner, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Watershed Monitoring – What is leaving your land with runoff and how much is it costing you.

    Producer & Industry Panel Discussion

    Andy Hart  (Corn, Soybean, Canning Crops Producer – Elgin, MN) Air- seeding cover crops & strip tillage, do they work, when they might not

    Gene Kuntz & Jim Purfeerst (Rice County Soil Health Group – Rice County, MN) Results on 2014 inter-seeding and the effect on corn yields at harvest

    Daniel Nath (Natural Resource Conservation Service – Rochester, MN) Mississippi River Basin Initiative- Phase Two; Soil Health: Does my ground have a pulse?

    Program Coordinator: Ed McNamara, 37299 171st Avenue Goodhue, MN 55027

    Program Sponsors: Legacy Seeds, Kartes Seeds, Jonas Seeds, Byron Seeds and

    Minnesota Department of Agriculture

    Cell: 651-380-8183, Email:

  • 16 Mar 2015 10:51 AM | Anonymous
    People in Rochester are gearing up for a series of events April 18-26 in the Rochester Area.
  • 10 Mar 2015 4:38 PM | Anonymous

    Our friends at Minnesota Trout Unlimited created a great web page about the new Dayton Buffer Rule. As you probably know, Minnesota has required a 50-foot perennial buffer between crop fields and waterways for over three decades, but a recent survey of Minnesota Buffers by the Environmental Working Group found that only 18 percent of rivers and streams had all the required buffers.

    The TU page gives you an easy way to contact your legislators about the bill and a link to the actual bill. You can also click here to see the Senate Version of the Bill, Senate Bill SF 1537. The link to House Bill on the site doesn't work, though.

    Overall, the bill doesn't seem to include many changes from current law, with the exception that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will step in if local Soil and Water Conservation Districts don't enforce the rule.

    Here's the page. Check it out and weigh in on this important water quality issue.

  • 02 Mar 2015 6:03 PM | Anonymous

    Minnesota Buffer Strip Summit to be Held in Mazeppa

    Buffer strips have been part of Minnesota drainage laws since 1959. Because these rules have not been uniformly enforced, this last January Governor Dayton asked the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to strengthen and take over enforcement of the law to provide consistent enforcement throughout our state.  Changes to the law are being proposed, with penalties from enforcement being looked at to fund the program.  

    As a result, the local soil health group, S.O.M. Generators, is hosting several sessions on Friday, March 13th at the Mazeppa Community Center to spur discussion on the governor’s proposal, as well as discussion on current and future soil conservation practices and how it is affecting the land.

    The afternoon session will begin at 1:00 p.m. with a presentation by local Mazeppa photographer, Brenda Wiech.  Wiech states that her presentation titled, Zumbro Crossings, was born out of a deep conviction to be a caretaker of the land that has and continues to shape my existence in the Zumbro River watershed.  These fine art landscape photographs increase awareness of a vanishing agricultural-supported society that is also faced with increased floods and soil conservation issues. The intensity of light and color generates a mood in the face of adversity and brings attention to landscapes that typically get missed.  It is a timeless juxtaposition addressing a fragile environment where time does not stand still.

    Beginning at 2:00 p.m., there will be presentations on Regenerative Agriculture Management and how these practices can renew the soil. Regeneration has the ability to cure all environmental problems coming from croplands by restoring Natural Tilth. Such soils have almost unlimited infiltration, and the recycling of both active carbon and other nutrients can significantly reduce a farmers production costs.

    At 3:00 p.m. Kevin Strauss, Education Coordinator with the Zumbro Watershed Partnership, will present "Rivers, Farms, and Floods: A Human History of the Zumbro River."  The Zumbro River provided mill power, drinking water, and waste disposal when American settlers arrived in the 1800s. Back then, the Zumbro was a slow, curving, and relatively clean river with few floods and almost no erosion. Learn how things changed and what we can do for a cleaner, safer Zumbro River.

    Individuals are invited to return to the Community Center at 6 p.m. to continue the dialogue.  At 7:00 p.m. an open forum on the new Minnesota Buffer Strip Initiative will begin. The forum will be chaired by hometown State Rep. Steve Drazkowski.  Panel members will consist of state regulatory personnel, as well as several local State Legislators.

    Refreshments will be served in the afternoon and individuals are invited to look at the displays and become part of the conversation.  Following each presentation there will be time for questions and comments.



  • 12 Jan 2015 11:18 AM | Anonymous

    Des Moines Water Works to Sue Counties

    The board of the state's largest water utility has voted unanimously to sue three northern Iowa counties, holding them responsible for the high nitrate levels in rivers the utility uses for source water. Des Moines Water Works CEO and General Manager Bill Stowe says there have been significant peaks in nitrate levels throughout the last three years.

    Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager of Des Moines Water Works, discusses why the state's largest water utility is suing counties in Iowa.
    Bill Stowe, CEO and General Manager of Des Moines Water Works, discusses why the state's largest water utility is suing counties in Iowa.
    Credit Photo by John Pemble

    “Unfortunately in a context where there’s a lot of discussion about volunteerism and conservation practices that will take flight voluntarily by farmers learning more about it,” Stowe says. “We’re still seeing the public water supply in central Iowa directly risked by high nitrate concentrations.”

    The five-member board says it will file a notice of intent to sue Calhoun, Buena Vista and Sac counties, which oversee 10 drainage districts that were designed to move water out of farm fields downstream. The suit will allege the drainage districts move contaminants like nitrates the Water Works must remove when levels exceed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits.

    “There is no evidence that the regulatory scheme ultimately sought by Des Moines Water Works will improve water quality,” says Tom Oswald, the president of the Iowa Soybean Association.

    A notice of intent Friday notifies the county supervisors and state officials that a lawsuit will be filed in 60 days.


  • 23 Dec 2014 1:09 PM | Anonymous

    Oregon Department of Agriculture to Monitor Water Quality and Require Farmers to Reduce Pollution

    Capital Press

    Mateusz Perkowski/Capital Press Julie DiLeone, rural lands program supervisor for the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District, explains the importance of streamside vegetation during a recent field tour of Johnson Creek near Portland, Ore. The Oregon Department of Agriculture is expanding a program aimed at water quality compliance among landowners, which may drive them to seek help from soil and water conservation districts.

    Increased scrutiny of water quality by Oregon's agriculture experts may convince landowners to voluntarily improve stream conditions on their properties.

    A project aimed at restoring riparian habitat along several creeks in Oregon’s Multnomah County has hit a roadblock.

    Despite numerous entreaties from the local soil and water conservation district, most landowners have refused free streamside tree planting that would reduce temperatures in the creek.

    “Some people are just not interested in having someone else working on their property,” said Julie DiLeone, rural lands program supervisor for the East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District.

    Even though the trees are planted at no charge, people are reluctant to have crews come onto their land and to relinquish control over the management of streamsides, she said.

    Only about 25-30 percent of stream miles targeted by the district are enrolled in the restoration program, DiLeone said.

    “We don’t know if that’s going to be enough or not” to bring down temperatures, she said.

    Increased scrutiny of water quality by Oregon’s agriculture regulators may help the state’s soil and water conservation districts overcome such resistance among landowners.

    The Oregon Department of Agriculture plans to expand its oversight of streams and rivers that flow through agricultural lands next year, which may spur interest in voluntary riparian improvement projects, experts say.

    “If more people come in the door, at least in our district, that’s great because we have the capacity to help more people,” said Laura Masterson, an organic farmer and board member of the East Multnomah S&WCD.

    For decades, the agency’s strategy for compliance with the federal Clean Water Act on farmland was largely complaint-driven, said John Byers, manager of ODA’s agricultural water quality program.

    This method is only reliable to a point, however, since some water quality problems undefined like manure piles near waterways or streams denuded of vegetation undefined may never be reported, he said.

    “Neighbors don’t always want to turn in neighbors,” said Byers.

    About two years ago, ODA decided to “self-initiate” compliance with water quality rules, relying on publicly available information like aerial photographs and topographical maps, to identify potential problem areas and notify the landowners.

    Since the agency doesn’t have the resources to conduct in-depth monitoring of the whole state, the new approach was first tested in Wasco and Clackamas counties.

    “We can’t be out on everybody’s ground in every month of the year,” said Doug Krahmer, a blueberry farmer and member of the Oregon Board of Agriculture, which advises ODA.

    In mid-2015, ODA intends to roll out the program in six to 12 new “strategic implementation areas” once Byers prioritizes where water quality improvements are most needed.

    The decision is heartening for conservationist groups like the Oregon Environmental Council, which say the program will help ODA defend its water compliance efforts in the future.

    “It sounds like the outreach they did has been really effective,” said Allison Hensey, agriculture and watersheds program director at OEC. “I really hope they will do a lot more in the future now that they’ve worked out a few kinks and learned some things.”

    Water quality degradation from agricultural activity is often related to a lack of vegetation, as bare ground can cause sediment runoff into streams and a lack of trees and shrubs may destabilize streambanks and raise water temperatures, Byers said.

    The new compliance approach has worked in Clackamas and Wasco counties, where ODA sent letters to landowners letting them know water conditions on their properties were being evaluated, he said.

    The agency also told landowners of particular water quality concerns and advised them to fix the problem, he said. For example, ODA had significant or serious concerns about four parcels in Wasco County, and the notice convinced the owners to take action.

    “It’s about compliance, not enforcement,” Byers said. “We have that regulatory backstop but we have been successful in not having to use it.”

    ODA simply tells landowners they can’t pollute but the solution is up to them. For technical assistance, though, they can seek help from their local soil and water conservation district.

    Although the districts can help landowners achieve compliance, it’s important to note they don’t have a regulatory function, said Masterson, who also serves on the Oregon Board of Agriculture.

    The distinction is important because people shouldn’t be afraid to come to districts for help, she said. “That firewall is critical.”

    While there has been concern that landowner requests for assistance may overwhelm some smaller districts, it’s probably wise to cross that bridge when we come to it, said Krahmer, a board member of the Marion County Soil and Water Conservation District. “To date, there has been no evidence that is the case.”

  • 25 Nov 2014 2:06 PM | Anonymous

    Farm Practices Can Affect Runoff and Flooding

    By Kevin Strauss, Zumbro Watershed Partnership


    If you lived here in 2010, you probably remember the September 22-24 rains and the devastating 2010 Zumbro River Flood. The deluge dropped 8-10 inches of rain on wet soils, leading to over $64 million in damage and the loss of over 80 homes in southeast Minnesota along several rivers. And while there’s been a lot of coverage about the impacts of the flood on the communities of Pine Island, Zumbro Falls, and Hammond, there’s been less coverage of flood impacts on area farmers and on what some local farmers are doing to “Slow the Flow” of rainwater to let it soak into their fields and reduce future flooding events.


    The Problem:

    First, the bad news, in Dodge, Olmsted, Goodhue, and Wabasha Counties, farmers sustained thousands of dollars in crop damage, not to mention soil erosion, new gullies, and the new sand that covered floodplain fields.


    The speed with which rainfall goes from land to river depends on what the rain runs into. Rain that falls on grassland, pasture, forests, wetlands, and what Mazeppa Farmer Rod Sommerfield calls “healthy farm soil,” tends to soak into the soil and move slowly to the river. But rain that lands on most row crop fields and cities hard surfaces (pavement and roofs) flows quickly to the river. If too much rain flows too quickly to the Zumbro River, we get a flood.


    According to the National Weather Service, flooding events in southeastern Minnesota are becoming larger and more frequent over the last 100 years. From 1891 to 1930, the Zumbro had one major flood. From 1931 to 1970 it had six major floods. From 1971 to 2010, it had 7 major floods.


    One problem with flooding for rural landowners is that they can do everything “right” on their own land by using cover crops and building erosion control structures, but that might not be enough. According to Jim Hruska, retired Dodge Soil and Water Conservation District technician, if upstream landowners don’t control their runoff, downstream farmers are hit hard by overwhelming runoff from upstream farms.


    “You can’t stop a flood once it reaches Zumbro Falls,” said Pine Island Crop and Dairy Farmer Rick Alberts, who saw his fields flood in 2010. “We need to capture water on all the little creeks and gullies upstream.”


    Alberts would like to see more “mini-dams” or embankments up higher in the watershed, uphill from his farm. These dams, usually installed at the head of gullies create temporary ponds and slow the water as it drains to the Zumbro River. This slow release of water is less likely to erode soils, carry pollutants, or add additional water to rain-swollen rivers and streams.


    According to Alberts one of the reasons that we don’t see more of these small dams on farmland is the cost. According to Olmsted County Soil and Water Conservation District staff, these structures can cost $30,000 and even though the State of Minnesota offers a 75% cost share, (when funding is available), that still means a landowner would have to come up with the remaining amount to hold that water on their farm.


    Healthier Soils Could Reduce Flooding, Erosion

    In some cases, farmers assume that the only way to reduce runoff is to take at least some land out of production by constructing ponds or installing terraces and grassed waterways. But according to one Wabasha-area farmer, there are ways to both farm the land and soak up rainfall.


    While many farmers saw rutted fields, eroded waterways, and damaged dams after the September 2010 rains, Rod Sommerfield, a row crop farmer near Mazeppa was pleasantly surprised by when he saw his fields after the rain.


    “The water didn’t run. It just soaked into the ground. No gullies, no erosion,” said Sommerfield.


    “Since 1988, we’ve had four big rain events (over 6 inches). In the first three events, with 6-7 inches of rain, we saw thousands of gallons of water flow over our dam’s spillway. So when we got 13 inches of rain in September (2010), I thought we’d see a lot of damage. But when I got to the dam, there wasn’t any water flowing over the spillway,” said Sommerfield.


    What changed?


     Sommerfield’s farming methods.


    Starting in 2000, he had started farming his over 500 acres of conventional corn and soybean fields differently. Using strip-till and no-till farming practices that increase his soil’s organic material, increase water permeability, and increase overall “soil health” he has made his soil more porous and helped his soil particles stick together so it doesn’t wash out of the field and into the river.


    “Healthy soil infiltrates 85 percent of the water that rains on it, so only 15 percent runs off, “ said Sommerfield. “Unhealthy soil might only infiltrate 15 percent of a rainstorm, letting 85 percent run off.”


    What’s more, according to Sommerfield, he’s seeing that healthier soil means up to 50 percent lower input costs for crop returns that rival the other conventional methods farmers use in the region.


    Healthier farm soils are good for the farmer and good for the Zumbro River, so why is this kind of farming so rare? It’s more work to farm the way that Sommerfield farms. It can also take four years of lower crop returns to go from conventional, unhealthy, low organic material soil to healthier, higher organic material soil. When row crop prices are at record highs, it can be hard to convince farmers to change farming operations that could be perceived to only benefit neighbors “downstream.”

  • 21 Oct 2014 9:52 AM | Anonymous



    Megan Duffey Moeller – Storm Water Educator, City of Rochester Public Works Department


    No matter how pretty, autumn’s falling leaves are not welcomed by their aquatic neighbors. If they fall or are raked onto the street, they will get washed into storm sewers and carried into our lakes and streams. As they decompose, phosphorus is released (the nutrient that turns our lakes and rivers green with algae) and oxygen is removed from the water. Just five 20-pound bags of leaves contain about one pound of phosphorus, which over time can fuel as much as 1,000 pounds of noxious algae blooms (Source: Freshwater Society).


    In natural settings, phosphorus in fallen leaves is recycled back into the soil. But this recycling system is bypassed in urban areas where hard surfaces are connected to storm sewers. Even when residents live blocks away from a lake or river, the runoff from their yard and street eventually reaches local water bodies.


    Keeping streets clean is one helpful way to keep our water clean. Raking leaves from the curbs and cleaning off storm drains will prevent leaves from traveling to waterways. In addition to degrading water quality, leaves can be a traffic hazard and they can cause flooding if they obstruct drainage ways or plug culverts, storm drains, or inlets and outlets to storm ponds. 


    Fall leaves aren’t only a problem on the streets. Residents should not dump large piles of leaves onto hillsides, drainage ways, or public lands. Unless they are actively managed, piles of leaves cannot decompose readily. As they slowly rot, they can attract nuisance insects and animals. They can also block runoff or get washed downstream with storms, becoming a nuisance for the people and places below.


    What you can do to help “Keep It Clean” this Fall:

    · Keep leaves out of the street, storm drains, and public lands.

    · Mulch leaves in your yard or make a backyard compost site for them.

    · Remove debris from the storm drain if rain is on its way. This will help prevent the drain from being clogged.

    · Grass, like leaves, will decompose and release phosphorus into the waterways. Sweep up clippings from all hard surfaces including sidewalks, driveways, and the streets.


Contact Us:

Mailing Address: Zumbro Watershed Partnership, Inc.
1485 Industrial Drive NW, Room 102
Rochester, MN 55901

Office Address: Education Coordinator Kevin Strauss
   Olmsted County Soil and Water Conservation District Office
2122 Campus Drive SE, Suite 200
Rochester, MN 55904

ZWP Executive Director Contact Information 
Phone Number: 507-226-6787

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