From the Wren's Nest: Water is the most vital resource in our community
July 19, 2019
"Come on, Betsy, let's go!" This was the enthusiastic cheer of my 4-year-old last Friday as we set off with his grandma and 50 other area residents on a coach bus tour of the Nemadji Watershed.
Organized by Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) water resources technician Melanie Bomier, the tour was a kickoff to the development of a master plan for the Nemadji watershed. Dubbed "Nemadji One Watershed," this planning initiative is designed to provide a comprehensive vision for the most vital resource in our community - water.
The tour started at the Historic Scott House on the shores of Lac La Belle. Melanie Bomier welcomed the group and explained that this was an opportunity to learn firsthand about the Nemadji and celebrate some of the positive things that are happening with water care and quality. Given the proximity to the lake, she began the tour with a discussion of the 35 lakes in this watershed. Hay Lake provides important wild rice beds for the community, and lake sediment cores from two lakes - Lac La Belle and Net Lake - have undergone close monitoring. These sediment cores can give researchers a picture of the history of the lakes and land changes, and clues about what plants and animals have lived there and how much chlorophyll and phosphorus has been in the water in the past.
After the lake discussion, we boarded the bus for a tour of the Mondor Family property and a look at the role of forest management in water health. Will Bomier, of Carlton County's transportation office, has extensive history in broader land management; he spoke to the process of developing and implementing a forest management plan with the Mondors. He reminded the group that nature is dynamic and even "doing nothing" in a forest has consequences. He compared a forest to a garden that needs periodic tending - just on a different time schedule. Proper management can reduce erosion and manage runoff for the watershed, even if land isn't directly adjacent to rivers, streams, or lakes.
The most surprisingly compelling part of the tour, in my opinion, was our stop to look at culverts. This seemingly boring and mundane aspect to water management has profound impacts on area ecosystems. Will Bomier wore his county transportation hat to speak on this important infrastructure aspect.
"If you think of the lifespan of these engineering feats, you really have one opportunity to get it right," he said.
Proper size and installation of a culvert affects the amount of sediment pollution in waterways, the ability of fish and bugs to navigate streams, and the resiliency of roads and bridges during major water events. In 2017 Carlton SWCD piloted a culvert inventory on all county-maintained roads that is allowing them to stay nimble and save money, and allowing county residents to continue using roads even after damaging floods.
We also saw the amazing work that is going on at Northern Harvest Farms. Rick Dalen gave us a tour and shared the many practices he and other area farmers are implementing to ensure healthy water for future generations.
There is still plenty of time to get involved in the planning process for Nemadji One Watershed. Contact Carlton SWCD at 218-384-3891 for more information. You can also sign up to become a volunteer water monitor for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to help monitor our area lakes and streams.