Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January 19, 2010 Meeting Notes

January 19, 2010 Meeting Notes:

The New Year has arrived along with a new focus for the Minnesota River Watershed Alliance. Thirty-four people attended the first quarterly meeting of 2010 to choose a “Clean Up the Minnesota River” issue for the group to focus on. Patrick Moore welcomed everyone to the meeting and introduced Audrey Arner as evening’s facilitator. After reviewing the agenda, each person briefly introduced themselves and offered a personal connection to the Minnesota River.

Green Corridor Project
Brad Cobb shared with the group about the effort to connect public land along the Minnesota River on a 45 mile stretch from Upper Sioux State Park to Fort Ridgely State Park (Green Corridor Area). A total of 240 acres has been purchased through an Environmental and Natural Resource Trust Fund grant. Recently, the group received a recommendation for $1.65 million in funds to continue buying land in this corridor from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which still needs to be approved by the State Legislature. They are also looking at submitting another funding proposal to the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) for 2011 to focus on key environmental areas.

Minnesota River Waterway Trail
Before the Watershed Alliance meeting, Randy Thoreson of the National Park Service facilitated a meeting to start the process for developing a waterway trail plan for the Green Corridor area. The Green Corridor Project received a technical assistance grant from the National Park Service to complete this plan. Both Brad and Randy felt it was a good initial meeting with a lot of input from the various stakeholders. A series of meetings will be held to continue the process over the next two years. Randy is really excited about this project, telling the group how the Green Corridor Project has already received an award from the Mid-America Trails and Greenway Conference for what they have accomplished. They will be identifying various elements including public access, facilities, how it connects with the land trail, actions and set some timelines.

Minnesota River Paddler Program
James Fett and Jesse Anderson of the paddler committee gave a report on what has been happening with one of the issues chosen in 2009. The patches and decals are done and ready to be awarded to those who meet the outlined criteria. To officially launch the program, the committee is planning a Blue Earth River paddle from the Rapidan Dam to the new public access point at County Road 90 for a total of 8 miles from approximately 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dates have been picked with June 12th (Saturday) as the primary one and June 19th as the alternative in case of bad weather like lightning. The facilities include a park, campground and restaurant called the Dam Store at the put-in point. Blue Earth County has expressed interested in partnering with us to hold the event and they have a special events person who would help out with planning. People will be on their own to provide a canoe or kayak for the paddle. We are hoping to entice some of the local canoe and kayak rental businesses to have their own vessels on hand for people to rent. Patrick said CURE might be able to help out by bringing their canoes and kayaks (it could also be the same weekend at Butch Halterman’s high school paddle). Our plan is to invite organizations like Mankato Paddling and Outing Club, CURE, Blue Earth SWCD, Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway, etc. to have a booth at the put-in point. After the paddle we will go back to the park to award the paddler patches/decals to people who have successfully met our criteria. We are hoping to get Tim Krohn and John Cross there to highlight their two paddles down the entire Minnesota River. Patrick mentioned how a number of people have also paddled the Minnesota River as part of the high school trips. There will also be music with one band already committed and other possibilities being pursued.

The group provided a number of suggestions for the launch including piggy-backing on an event that has already been taking place at the park. In the past there has been an event called Day at the Rapidan Dam. Lee Sundmark suggested we get the DNR conservation officers involved as someone who could provide safety tips. Invitations will be sent out to dignitaries. Other ideas include a fishing contest, kid’s activities and elementary safety course/refresher. A question was asked on how many people we expect to come out with Patrick saying if we get 100 that would be a good turnout and also a little scary to think about that many on the river at one time. There was another question about how many people could camp at the park – 20 primitive sites. The event should be advertised as a basin-wide activity. Mark Schnobrich told the group about Schell’s Brewery celebrating its 150th Anniversary and is focusing on the Mankato area including a tree planting project on April 30th. We hope to get the DNR’s Minnesota Water Trails program involved in the June 12th event. Over the next couple of months the committee will continue to work on event planning.

On a final note, the committee decided to add another river – Little Cottonwood - to the Extreme Patch/Decal to make it a total of 24 different stretches. In addition, some form of documentation will be required to be awarded the Minnesota River 335 Patch/Decal.

Region IV Conservation Focus Area
Lee Sundmark of the DNR did a presentation on the Region IV Conservation Focus Area created as a GIS tool to assist with decision-making when it comes to focusing limited financial resources. The DNR hopes citizens, sportsmen groups and others will also use this tool to help with their efforts to protect and enhance conservation areas. The darker the green color means the higher priority for conservation efforts. Each of the DNR disciplines – parks, ecological services, rare & threatened species, fisheries (except for law enforcement and lands & minerals) had input on the map, which is a blending of all the different focus areas of the different divisions. It showcases the areas the DNR wants to spend time and money on. This will always be a work in progress – continue to submit revisions – a living document. Right now it is still an internal document with the DNR planning to make it an external document for anyone to use.

For more information on the project contact Cathi Fouchi at DNR, 507-359-6034; cathi.fouchi@state.mn.us

2010 Focus
To start the discussion on choosing a “Clean Up the Minnesota River” focus for 2010, Audrey pointed out the original Watershed Alliance charter drafted back in 2005. Patrick, Ron Bolduan and Jim Wolf each read a passage from this declaration of inter-independence to the entire group. Audrey offered a number of thoughts for people to think about when picking what to focus on for the next year:
How do we feel about the work load – the idea of juggling a number of issues? How many do we feel we can take on at one time?
Broad enough to accommodate more than one in order to continue with the worthwhile initiatives.
The ongoing maintenance issues with the Paddler Program and Waterway Trail initiatives.

A number of people expressed a desire to have more than one focus for the year in order to give people an option on something they have a passion for.

Audrey outlined criteria for people to use in picking a focus for 2010 including:
Is this something we can get behind?
What is the likelihood of success (1-2 years, funding, does it need us?)
Does it have broad geographic application?
Is there leadership to move it forward?
Will it require ongoing maintenance?

The group reviewed the initiatives from 2009 – MN River Paddler Program, MN River Waterway Trail and MN River Friendly Label – to discuss their viability over the next year. Susie Carlin mentioned how it will take someone handling requests / applications for the patches and decals. At this time Scott will be taking care of it in his role at the Water Resources Center. Patrick pointed out that the Paddler Committee of James, Chantill, Jesse, Joel, Brooke and Scott – have shown a lot of leadership with moving this program forward. The group also felt the same is happening with the MN River Waterway Trail through the efforts of Loran Kaardal and Brad Cobb.

Focus Possibilities for 2010:
Continue with the Minnesota River Friendly Label:
Audrey mentioned how the effort to launch of this dropped by the wayside and asked if there was anyone here who wanted to take on the leadership role for 2010. No one volunteered and Ron Bolduan mentioned how the Minnesota River Scenic Valley Byway also looked at a label but didn’t get a lot of response.

The group suggested the label initiative go into the idea orphanage for now in case someone wants to take it on in the future.

Compare and study land use types for 50 feet setback along waterways and county enforcement process:
Dodge County was brought up as an example of local government taking on this type of an effort. Susie Carlin reported this issue has been discussed at a Minnesota River Board meeting in the past and the staff from Dodge County coming to the March meeting to tell the board how it has worked for them. Darby Nelson gave a brief rundown on the Dodge County effort, saying it was really encouraging. Instead of enforcing this state law, they notified the farmers to ask them if they were willing to do this and 2/3rds of the farmers did it on their own. Darby credits the success to the county not being hard-nosed on the issue. The law only applies to DNR waterways, not ditches. It is a law on the books but rarely enforced. Cannon River Partnership created a GIS layer to help identify these buffer areas. Patrick Moore mentioned how the Lake Pepin folks are working to enforce this law in their own watershed before asking those upstream of them to do the same including the Minnesota River Basin. Jim Schafer said the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) has done a study on this issue and Renville has done a lot of this in their own county. It is great for keeping the banks intact. The group agreed this focus will need time and money and suggested it might be an issue for the Minnesota River Board to concentrate on.

Assemble local groups on guided canoe trips:
Other groups are already doing this type of effort including CURE, Mankato Paddling and Outing Club and various watershed projects. It was suggested by the group to put it into idea purgatory.

Mark bridge crossings with signs and identification along with other water courses including ditches and awesome spots:
Gary Lentz mentioned how with the stimulus money becoming available to replace unsafe bridges this would be a great opportunity to have DOT plan in watercraft access points as part of these projects. This is a safety issue for people trying to get down to the river channel and it would eliminate people parking on the roads. There has been some effort by watershed projects and other groups to mark bridge crossings. With no champion the group moved onto the next issue.

Keep meeting quarterly – networking and speakers:
Yes – the group wants to keep holding these quarterly meetings.

Host a Familiarity Bus Tour of Minnesota River Conservation Practices to help communicate what is happening with the Lake Pepin TMDL – to act as a bridge between landowners and Lake Pepin folks:
For some background, Mike Lein explained a TMDL stands for Total Maximum Daily Load and he describes it as a single-lane road where you have some traffic that moves at a good flow but the more vehicles you add to the road the slower things go and soon it can no longer handle all the traffic. This is the same thing that happens to a river when it comes to pollution and how much can the river handle. As the champion of this issue, Patrick Moore explained there is too much sediment flowing into Lake Pepin from upstream and as a result of the upcoming TMDL, it is time to tackle this problem. Core studies have been done in Lake Pepin that shows since 1945 the amount of sediment has increased 10 times the normal rate that would have happened naturally. A huge portion – something like 80% comes from the Minnesota River. MPCA will be coming up with a number in order to slow the amount of sediment entering Lake Pepin from upstream. It looks like it could be as high as a 50% reduction which is huge. A group of citizens from the Lake Pepin have come together to research and plan on how to improve water quality in their area. They have started by taking care of their own backyard first and will be looking at citizens in the Minnesota River Basin to do the same thing. A diverse group of environmental organizations in the Metro area have gotten behind this effort because it affects 2/3rds of water in Minnesota.

Patrick said it is important this get communicated to the Minnesota River Basin citizens to frame it in a way that will move our society forward toward clean water. He suggested we offer to put on a bus tour to invite the Lake Pepin people to see all the good things that are being done in basin to reduce sediment loss. To develop a relationship - partnership between the two groups as a cross-culture thing to avoid an “us against them” stance. To cooperate with a familiarly tour for the Lake Pepin people on all the things the MN River is doing to reduce sediment. This cooperation got started somewhat during the Minnesota River Mixer at the Lake Pepin Conference in September of 2008.

Roll out the Paddler Program:
The group agreed this is already happening to continue moving forward with the Blue Earth River Paddle and program launch.

Carry one another’s messages:
Again with no champion, the group decided we already do this and it was dropped from it from being one of the issues to be picked from.

Promote the National Heritage Area status:
No champion stepped forward to talk about this issue. The Minnesota River Valley Scenic Byway has been involved with the discussion of a National Heritage Area for the Minnesota River.

Drinking water – keep it clean:
The group decided this was too big to tackle at this time.

Participate with Minnesota River documentary and interactive web site:
John Hickman explained this is a one hour documentary to be hosted by Ron Schara covering the geology and human history of the river along with problems and solutions including Lake Pepin and the Dead Zone. To highlight projects that have made a difference for water quality. They expect the film to be shown on Kare 11. The videographer has won awards for his work including that with WCCO TV and has extensive history with the Minnesota River. In terms of funding the project, Ron Schara has put up ½ and John is working on raising the rest. He said there is a good indication of support from Bob Finley, MPCA Southeast Region Manager and the St Paul Office communication staff. The manager from the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge has applied for a grant. The director of the Minnesota River Board has expressed enthusiasm for the project and said there would be funds available. They are also looking at the various foundations with deep pockets. John showed a 4-minute promotional piece recently put together to the group. In addition to the documentary, a web site – www.mnriver.org has been created to serve as the gateway for everything dealing with the Minnesota River. It will be a central collection point along with a web 2.0 site allowing people to participate in discussions about the basin. Advocating this for project, John Wolf told the group that he would be disappointed with us if we didn’t pick it as the 2010 focus.

Host Governor’s Fishing Opener:
Lee Sundmark told the group that the fishing opener has never been held on a major river, including the state’s namesake river. He asked wouldn’t that be cool to have it on the Minnesota River. There was a discussion on what it takes to host a Governor’s Fishing Opener including enough lodging for all the press and a place to launch a big boat for the Governor. People identified a number of cities that might be able to host it including New Ulm, Mankato, and Redwood Falls. Joel Wurscher recommended a place near the Cities which has the infrastructure to host the opener. It is a very competitive process with support needed from legislators, chamber of commerce’s, among others. A question was raised, what happens if the river is at flood stage on the day of the opener?

Next Steps
At the end of the meeting, the group identified four items to choose from: 1. Host a Familiarity Bus Tour of Minnesota River Conservation Practices to help communicate what is happening with the Lake Pepin TMDL – to act as a bridge between landowners and Lake Pepin folks; 2. Roll out the Paddler Program; 3. Participate with Minnesota River documentary and interactive web site; 4. Host Governor’s Fishing Opener.

Before the voting could take place, Patrick offered an alternative issue to choose from: Working together to promote, celebrate and communicate the Minnesota River Paddler Program launch on June 12th, Endorse the making of the Minnesota River Documentary, a Lake Pepin Bus Tour of Conservation Practices in the Minnesota River and advocate holding the Governor’s Fishing Opener on the Minnesota River. The group unanimously chose to go with Patrick’s suggestion. All four of the initiatives will put together committees for those people interested in working on them, with at least one coordinating team member serving on each one.

Next Meeting:
The next quarterly meeting is scheduled for April 20th (3rd Tuesday) starting at 6 p.m. at the Hutchinson Event Center in Hutchinson. We will start with a social hour at 6 p.m. with food and drink and begin the meeting right at 7 p.m. and strive to wrap things up in two hours.

Coordinating Team Committee Assignments:
Lake Pepin Bus Tour – Patrick Moore, Forrest Peterson, Susie Carlin
Paddler Program – Brooke Patterson, Susie Carlin, Joel Wurscher, Jesse Hanson, James Fett, Patrick Moore, Chantill Kahler-Royer
Minnesota River Documentary – James Fett, Joel Wurscher, Chantill Kahler-Royer, Ron Bolduan
Governor’s Fishing Opener – Brad Cobb, Lee Sundmark, Jesse Anderson, Tom Kalahar

Chantill Kahler-Royer,
James Fett,
Al Odenthal,
Brad Cobb,
Jim Schafer,
Jesse Anderson,
Patrick Moore,
Forrest Peterson,
Lee Sundmark,
Mike Lein,
Dwight Swanson,
Jim Wolf,
Kathleen Wolf,
John Hickman,
Darby Nelson,
Ron Bolduan,
Susie Carlin,
Loran Kaardal,
Tom Keaveny,
Joe Michel,
Ronald Otto,
Mark Schnobrich,
Joel Wurscher,
Mary Borstad,
Penny Purtzer,
Julie Conrad,
Gary Lentz,
Dale Redetzke,
Grant Britkreutz,
Randy Thoreson,
Jay Krienitz,
Edwin Dumalag,
Audrey Arner,
Scott Kudelka