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PR watershed given highest average water quality scores of lakes in Mississippi River Basin

A Pine River Watershed stakeholder information session on Saturday, April 26, revealed that the watershed received the highest mean water quality score among the surrounding watersheds draining into the Mississippi River Basin.

“It is one of many watersheds in this larger cluster of watersheds in the upper Mississippi Basin. All of these watersheds drain into the Mississippi River. In this entire basin, the Pine River Watershed is of the highest condition, quality or health. Of all of these watersheds in this basin, your watershed, according to the assessment done by the DNR, has the highest water quality score. That’s a really excellent place to be starting from,” said Sharon Pfeifer of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The Pine River Watershed was also rated highly for hydrological cycle, habitat and riparian connectivity.

“A lot of your watershed has sites of biological diversity significance. What that means is there are rare species in those areas. There are native plant communities still found in these communities. There are functional landscapes that are really working well in these areas,” Pfeifer said.

The watershed did have some trouble areas.

Some potential issues were identified by surveying mussel populations.

“Mussels are like the proverbial canary in the coal mine. They are very sensitive to water quality. They are sensitive to changes along the stream and sedimentation,” Pfeifer said.

Pfeifer said there are historically only 10 species of mussels in Minnesota above the St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis, and the Pine River Watershed has at least six of those species recorded with as many as 200 mussels located in some individual beds. Significant populations were located near the outlet of Pine Mountain Lake and south of the Whitefish Chain of Lakes. Pfeifer said this was a good indicator of health.

However, in areas with a higher density of culverts, bridges and dams, the mussel populations were not as healthy, indicating those areas have potential connectivity issues.

Pfeifer said physical characteristics such as landscape and soil composition are issues of concern because of shallow groundwater sources.

“This close proximity of surface water to ground water is something to really pay attention to in the future,” Pfeifer said.

Because of the watershed’s physical characteristics, pollutants and nutrients can go from the surface to ground water in a matter of days or months. In other geographical areas, it can take many years.

Scott Lucas, of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and watershed project manager for the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPs), identified two lakes that are considered impaired because of their phosphorous content: Kego Lake and Jail Lake.

One participant disputed the inclusion of Jail Lake on this list, saying there is no public access to the lake; therefore, the research needed to identify it as having a high phosphorous content could not have been done. Lucas disagreed and continued his presentation.

Lucas specified that the meeting was about civic engagement to get residents to help identify problems and priorities in the watershed and create plans for improvement or protection.

“The reason we engage assistance in this model is that we want you to decide what is important in your watershed. We want your impact, we want your viewpoint to be an important piece of this practice,” Lucas said.

To that end, those who attended were presented with maps of the watershed and given the opportunity to place stickers and notes on places they considered to have either problems that needed addressing or high priority for protection. Those assembled were also given a survey to determine what their priorities were in weighing water quality, shoreline health, agriculture, forest health and other issues within the watershed.

Other presenters detailed steps that can be taken on a local level to protect or restore water bodies in the watershed, including: forest stewardship, land trades and exchanges and voluntary land owner conservation easements that could prevent development of sensitive and important resources. Presenters also discussed briefly ways in which interested landowners or groups could acquire money to implement shoreline restorations and other strategies to improve local watershed quality. Presenters said there may be money available from the Clean Water Legacy Act for watershed protection and restoration.

During a comment period, Bob Lee of Emily asked what Lucas’ office was doing in relation to the proposed Sandpiper pipeline. Lucas explained that the Sandpiper has been an important topic at his office for the past six months. He also said his office has been working on research with the purpose of creating an alternate route that posed fewer risks to the watershed and residents of the watershed.

“We’re hoping the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) takes that, and that the judge looks at that and in the end says, ‘OK, based on this we need to be looking at other routes,’” Lucas said.

For more information on protection and restoration of the Pine River Watershed, contact the Pine River Watershed Alliance at 218-692-1020 or

Travis Grimler can be reached at Follow him at and on Twitter @PEJ_Travis.

Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
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