With partnership, field and stream data to determine effects of conservation practices on water quality

The Root River flows near Preston, where it parallels the Root River Trail for a stretch. Conservation practices being put in place in Houston, Fillmore and Mower counties through the Root River Field to Stream Partnership focus on three small watersheds. But they will benefit the Root River, and what’s learned here through intensive monitoring can be applied throughout southeastern Minnesota. (Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources)

One day, Josh and Steph Dahl’s three children could become fifth-generation family farmers.

But today, the Dahls are part of a unique pioneering effort of sorts: They’re positioning their 160-cow Houston County dairy operation for the future with improvements made possible through the Root River Field to Stream Partnership. The partnership is using intensive edge-of-field and in-stream data collection to determine what effect specific conservation practices have on water quality.

The South Branch Root River is considered one of Minnesota’s premiere trout streams, with brown and brook trout. It’s a heavily fished tributary that flows through Forestville State Park. The South Branch’s headwaters are a warm-water fishery. Crystal Creek supports brown trout. Bridge Creek has naturally reproducing brown and native brook trout.

“If you have brook trout, that’s an indication of water quality, because they’re sensitive to temperature and food sources,” said Preston-based Kevin Kuehner, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture soil scientist coordinating the partnership.

Monitoring started in 2010 on four farms within Houston, Fillmore and Mower counties. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture-led venture targets three small watersheds that drain into Root River tributaries. What is learned will apply to watersheds throughout southeastern Minnesota.

The proposed improvements include 105 waterways totaling 111,200 feet, three manure storage facilities, 25 water and sediment control basins and grade stabilization structures, a sinkhole diversion, a milkhouse waste system –  plus a $226,000 flood-control structure restoration. Nutrient management plans, contour buffer strips, and 40 acres of cover crops a year within each watershed round out the list.

Ongoing work in the Minnesota Department of Agriculture-led Root River Field to Stream Partnership involves three county soil and water conservation districts – Root River SWCD in Houston County, Fillmore SWCD and Mower SWCD; the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources; Minnesota Pollution Control Agency; Minnesota DNR; Minnesota Agricultural Water Resource Center; the Natural Resources Conservation Service; and The Nature Conservancy.

— Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

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