Watershed planning in progress for the Rainy River Headwaters & Vermilion River Watersheds in Minnesota

Local partners including the North St. Louis Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD), St. Louis County, Lake County & SWCD, and Cook County & SWCD are embarking on the creation of a One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P) for the Rainy River Headwaters and Vermilion River Watersheds in Minnesota. These watersheds encompass a large area of the Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness, Superior National Forest, Voyageur’s National Park, 1854 Treaty Ceded Territory, tribal lands of the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, and the municipalities of Ely, Orr, Tower, Winton, and many townships.

Across Minnesota, local water managers are shifting their water planning efforts from looking at county boundaries to watershed boundaries through the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) One Watershed, One Plan process. Planning through 1W1P allows for a collaborative effort across jurisdictional boundaries to locally prioritize issues, target implementation activities, and create measurable goals.

The process also enables connecting the locally led plan to state strategies with state agencies providing input along the way. The comprehensive plan will cover water issues from water quality to water quantity as well as groundwater, surface water, drinking water, recreation, habitat and other concerns locally identified as important.  The process will “kick-off” this summer with events across the expansive planning area and end with a locally adopted plan. The plan will include a targeted implementation schedule to be funded through MN Clean Water Funds as directed by the Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment as passed by Minnesota voters in 2008.

AIS can hitch a ride on your canoe or kayak too!

There’s just something about getting out on the water with a canoe or kayak! For some people the draw might be exploring remote lakes, for others it’s feeling connected to the water or escaping the constant noise of everyday life, or any number of reasons. Non-motorized watercraft such as canoes and kayaks are sometimes thought to be synonymous with low-impact travel and with wilderness, but there is often a mistaken perception that they pose no risk in spreading aquatic invasive species.

Aquatic invasive species (AIS) such as spiny waterflea and Eurasian watermilfoil can hitch a ride on canoes, kayaks, and equipment just as they can on other forms of watercraft. And while on longer trips, many canoeists and kayakers are likely to engage in the risky behavior of visiting multiple lakes in one day. Studies have shown that some species could indeed survive the journey across a portage, and a report by Quetico Provincial Park provides evidence that spiny waterflea were likely introduced to three remote lakes by human means: either by watercraft or other equipment.

The good news is it’s easy to take action to prevent AIS from being transported on non-motorized watercraft. With fewer compartments and nooks and crannies, it’s easy to reach everywhere on the boat when you Clean, Drain, and Dry. If you lift your boat out while it’s still floating in the water, plants are less likely to get stuck to the hull. Remove any plants and mud from the watercraft, drain the water and remove any residual water with a rag. If you’re able, dry the watercraft as best you can before you bring it to the next waterbody.

And don’t forget your other equipment! Fishing gear can be risky because it may snag plants and spiny waterflea. Make sure you check your line to ensure that there’s nothing hitching a ride. If you are fishing with live bait, the best practice is to drain any water on shore and replace it with enough bottled, filtered, tap, or boiled water for the bait to survive to the next lake.

By taking these simple steps every time you canoe or kayak you are helping to preserve some of what makes the non-motorized experience so special. Take a look at this great quick video on this topic:

Forest Stewardship Planning Cost Share Program in Minnesota

Lake of the Woods and Roseau Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD) are teaming up to deliver a Forest Stewardship Plan Cost Share Program through the Lake of the Woods Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan.
The primary goal of this cost share program is to encourage participants to actively manage their forested lands for water quality benefits. The secondary goal is to increase land protection efforts in the watershed by supporting enrollment in the Sustainable Forest Incentives Program. Enrollees in this program receive an annual payment for each acre enrolled. Enrolled land cannot be developed and it should be managed according to recommendations in the plan.

Eligible applicants must have land within the boundaries of the Lake of the Woods watershed (see map on the right) and must meet eligibility requirements for plan writing. This program is delivered on a first come, first served basis.
Cost share will cover up to $300 + $6.50 per planned acre up to 320 acres, with payment not to exceed 100% of the total plan cost. You must be in the planning region to be eligible for this program. If you are not in the planning region, please contact us for other options.

Call the SWCD or visit https://lo1W1P.org/forest-stewardship for more information! This program is funded by:

Rainfall Simulator Shows the Impact of Farm Land Management on Runoff

Lake of the Woods Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) co-hosted a livestock producer’s workshop at a farm north of Williams, MN. Over 40 people came out to listen to presenters who highlighted rotational grazing, forage productivity, drought disaster assistance and available conservation programs. Staff were on hand from the Farm Service Agency, Natural Resources Conservation Service, MN Ag Water Quality Certification Program, Sustainable Farming Association and UMN Extension Service.

As part of the workshop, Kent Solberg from the Sustainable Farming Association demonstrated a rainfall simulator. The rainfall simulator demonstrates rain runoff and infiltration from different land management strategies.

The SWCD gathered soil samples from heavily grazed pastures, rotationally grazed pastures, hay fields and annually cropped fields with little residue management. The difference in the amount of rain infiltration and also the amount of sediment running off the “fields” really demonstrated the impacts of how the land is managed. The simulator clearly showed how plant root systems and low compaction helped water infiltrate instead of running off and carrying topsoil away with it. It’s a great video if you are interested in watching – check it out on youtube at https://youtu.be/p-_y_Q9kon8
The SWCD plans to host more workshops in the future. Stay connected with them at Home – Lake of the Woods SWCD

19th Annual Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Forum in the Books!

For the 19th consecutive year, the Rainy-Lake of the Woods Watershed Forum brought a multitude (144) of researchers, resource managers, policy makers and members of the public together on March 9-10 in a virtual setting for the second time.   With a formal opening and welcome from Al Pemberton of Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, the spirit of partnership and water protection across the border set the foundation for the day and half symposium.

Seventy organizations working in the watershed were represented at the Forum with 25 studies featured, with themes of Water Governance, State of the Basin, Nutrients & Algae, and Emerging Issues and Technologies.  Highlights included:

  • A keynote on ““Legal personhood, Indigenous and international governance, and relation to water”, with Indigenous scholar and lawyer, Professor Aimée Craft.
  • An overview of a project by Grand Council Treaty #3 on how both Manito Aki Inakonigaawin and the Nibi declaration are moving forward today, following interviews with Elders and Knowledge Keepers.
  • Discussion of key findings of the Rainy-Lake of the Woods State of the Basin report (www.lowwsf.com/sobr) that was released in March.
  • A presentation by Scott Higgins, IISD-Experimental Lakes Area, showing that the duration of ice-cover on our lakes is getting shorter by about 4 days per decade.
  • “Sediment fingerprinting” to trace phosphorus in Lake of the Woods back upstream to its origins, to help target restoration efforts.
  • Research into phosphorus loads to Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River from tributaries in the Canadian portion of the watershed.
  • Study of the effects of microplastics on fish physiology.

Numerous other studies were presented, and both these and the available recordings can be found on the main page at: www.lowwsf.com/watershed-forum.

Third Edition of State of the Basin Report – Seeing the Basin through a new lense

The Lake of the Woods Water Sustainability Foundation is pleased to announce the release of the 2022 Rainy-Lake of the Woods State of the Basin Report (SOBR). The 2022 SOBR takes first steps towards “two eyed seeing”, by bringing together views of priority concerns and solutions through an Indigenous lens with one eye, while the other eye sees through a Western science lens. The report describes water governance in the basin and Indigenous Knowledge systems and worldview from the standpoint of the Anishinaabe Nation of Treaty #3, US Tribes and the Métis Nation of Ontario. The report also includes aspects of Traditional Knowledge or Indigenous perspective in recognition of a multi-jurisdictional basin. Throughout the report, highlighted are Indigenous concerns or impacts, and questions to shift our lens of view to ensure respect and acknowledgement of the Indigenous Nations in the basin.

The report outlines changes that have occurred since the last report in 2014, focusing on the primary areas of concern in the watershed of nutrients and algae, contaminants, climate change, aquatic invasive species, and erosion/water levels.  The report also highlights concerns about the health of the walleye fishery in the north end of Lake of the Woods and includes a new chapter on human health concerns in the watershed.

The 2022 SOBR is available in two versions: a detailed technical report of 148 pages, and an overview report of 32 pages, highlighting key findings and written for a general audience. We encourage you to read the overview version and to explore additional details in the full 148-page version, both of which are available for download at the Foundation’s website, www.lowwsf.com/sobr.  

Protecting Lake Vermilion

The North St. Louis Soil & Water Conservation District, Vermilion Lake Association, and Minnesota Lakes & River Advocates (MLR) have worked together over the last year to protect Lake Vermilion through a Lake Steward Program.

Landowners interested in the program started by taking a 10-question quiz developed by MLR to “Score Your Shore.” A volunteer from the Vermilion Lake Association then offered to visit the landowner to learn their goals for the property. If certain criteria are met, a landowner can be awarded a Lake Steward sign to show they are protecting the lake and encourage others to do so.

A few properties were identified to have some practices implemented to protect the lake.  The North St. Louis SWCD utilized the Conservation Corps of Minnesota & Iowa to conduct two shoreline buffer projects. One property included removing invasive species and lawn area and replacing with native trees, shrubs, perennial pants, and native seed. The other property had an area where erosion was occurring from runoff from the upland. Shoreline shrubs were planted and native seed was laid down. We hope to see more Lake Stewards in the future!

North Saint Louis SWCD Aquatic Invasive Species Program – Summer 2021

North St Louis Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) hires two interns every summer to work with the aquatic invasive species (AIS) program. This year, Charles Greenberg and Jack Hasty were hired to work alongside Natalya Walker, the SWCD’s AIS Program Coordinator. Together, along with their team of 24 watercraft inspectors, they completed boat inspections, decontaminations, and other AIS prevention projects throughout the summer.

Watercraft inspectors inform boaters at public boat landings about AIS and how to prevent their spread. This is our primary defense against the spread of AIS. However, the SWCD does have many other projects in action to combat AIS; for example, monitoring many of the high-risk lakes for new introductions of invasive species by completing vegetation surveys at the public accesses; and, working to bring attention to the risks of releasing live bait into a lake ecosystem by distributing minnow bags to local bait shops. These new bags have a graphic with information on proper bait handling. The SWCD also installed and maintained 3 new bait disposal stations at three public accesses. These stations provide an effective disposal site for anglers to dump their unwanted live bait right at the public access.

Public outreach events were a main focus this past summer. North St Louis SWCD was represented at 12 public outreach events and reached over 700 people at different events such as the grand opening of the Rainy Lake Fishing Pier, The Embarrass Fair, and the Harvest Moon Festival.

Unfortunately, three new lakes in the area were found to have Zebra Mussels this year. Rainy Lake along the US- Canadian Border was found to have zebra mussel veligers (larva). Spurred by these new infestations, the North St. Louis SWCD AIS prevention team will continue to do their work to prevent further spread of aquatic invasive species.

Submitted by Charles Greenberg, Edited by Natalya Walker

Storm Drain Stenciling Continues to Be a Cross-Border Project!

Painting messages beside storm drains to help the public understand that only rain should go down the drain, because they divert water to either the Rainy River or Lake of the Woods, began several years ago as a cross-border project in Fort Frances, ON and International Falls, MN.  The project has grown every year with Kenora, ON and Ranier, MN both taking part and last year, Baudette, MN joined in!  This year was no different.  Kenora, ON and Baudette, MN both took on the project again and it was a huge success in both communities.

In Baudette, the “No Dumping, Drains to Bay” message was painted on 45 storm drains around town by members of Scout Troop and Cub Scout Pack #62.  In addition, this year the Lake of the Woods Soil and Water Conservation District worked with the County and City to utilize a concrete stamp on new construction around curbs and gutters – the drains get permanently stamped when concrete goes in and say “No Dumping Leads to Lake”.  Not only Baudette, but other parts of the County, now have these.

In Kenora, the storm drain stenciling program was led by the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association, who brought children from the Kenora Rec Centre Day Camp out to learn about shoreline buffers, stormwater and storm drains.  Together, they painted the message “A Healthy Lake Starts Here” beside 50 storm drains in the City.

The purpose of these events is to have the painted message serve as a reminder to all of us to be mindful of the types of harmful things that can go down storm drains and pollute public waters. The water that we use to flush our toilets and take showers is treated, but the water that runs off our streets and driveways is not. Runoff collects all sorts of chemicals, oil and fluids, pet waste, fertilizers, and litter as it travels down the city drains and through underground pipes. These pipes lead right into Baudette Bay of Lake of the Woods, the Rainy River and to the north, Safety Bay of Lake of the Woods in Kenora. 

A few helpful tips to help out are: wash your car(s) on your lawn instead of driveway and use biodegradable soaps; sweep driveways instead of hosing them off; pick up dog waste; avoid blowing mowed grass into the streets; repair leaks of oil and fluids from vehicles; and avoid use of chemicals and fertilizers.

For more information on this program, please contact the Lake of the Woods Soil and Water Conservation District (MN) at 218-634-1842 ext. 4 or the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association (ON) at 807-444-5176.

LOWDSA Fills Summer 2021 with Exciting Programming to Protect our Lakes!

In the summer of 2021, the Lake of the Woods District Stewardship Association (LOWDSA) was extremely busy with both long-standing and new stewardship initiatives.  They launched a new citizen science program that will help to detect the presence of zebra mussels (Dreissena polyporpha) within Lake of the Woods and surrounding water bodies. Volunteers were given settlement samplers to attach below their docks, a few feet above the lakebed.  These samplers are surfaces on which zebra mussels will settle after they complete their larval (“veliger”) stage. Forty volunteers have taken part in this project and will report back to LOWDSA on the detection of any zebra mussels. More information on this program is available at https://www.lowdsa.com/articles/zebra-mussel-citizen-science-project-launch

LOWDSA’s popular LakeSmart program is a dock-to-dock initiative that has been going strong for many years and brings stewardship information directly to shoreline property owners.  This summer, the LakeSmart team visited 560 docks on Lake of the Woods, Black Sturgeon Lake, Winnipeg River (Minaki), and Rabbit Lake in Kenora, sharing information on the ecosystem benefits of keeping shorelines natural, maintaining septic systems, planting native plants and reducing/avoiding fertilizers and pesticides. The LakeSmart team also worked with children from a local day camp to hold six events where the kids painted messages beside storm drains to encourage only rain down the drain, learned about the threats of invasive species and the importance of shoreline buffers. 

Three shoreline cleanups occurred virtually, 600 seedlings were planted at a local kids camp, 200 cubic yards of metal waste was recycled on their Metal Waste Day, and 11,400 seedlings were distributed to members and the public on Seedling Day to plant on their properties throughout the basin.

The LakeSmart Team identified a wetland area on Coney Island that was being encroached by purple loosestrife and worked with the landowner and volunteers for a removal effort. The LakeSmart team removed 13 garbage bags of invasive plant material and picked up 53 bags from a member volunteer. And, lastly, LOWDSA launched the first ever boat wash station in Kenora.  Operating for 10 days, the team decontaminated 35 boats, shared information with 143 people and distributed their famous dock kits to 76 individuals who stopped in at the boat wash station.  A very successful summer!