Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Stream restoration has many goals

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 08/21/2013 7:47 AM

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RUSHFORD, Minn. — Beyond Ordell and Leann Jacobson's barn, an excavator was dropping rocks from a pile on the shore into the stream.

The rocks are placed in a V-line across the stream to create a vortex weir. The vortex weir creates permanent deep cover for trout. Rocks or roots are placed in the deep area to create slack water, said Jeff Hastings, project manager for Trout Unlimited.

Other rocks are pounded into the stream bank to stabilize it and stem erosion.

The 2007 flood caused a lot of damage and it's gotten worse since, Ordell Jacobson said.

The banks lacked vegetative cover and eroded as the water rose and fell.

A variety of agencies and nonprofits are working together to improve the stream a stretch at a time. This year, they are working on a 2.25-mile section that crosses land owned by three property owners, Hastings said. Last year, a one-mile stretch was completed.

"It's going to be a great project," he said.

Landowners, the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Winona County, the Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District, Trout Unlimited, the Hiawatha Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited, the Win-Cres Trout Unlimited chapter, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and others have partnered to do the project, which costs between $200,000 and $250,000 per mile.

The partnership is essential, said Gary Sobotta of Habitat Solutions, the company that did the project design. Sobotta and Tom Dornack are on site daily to oversee the work in the Rush-Pine.

The restoration packs several goals. Banks are reshaped where possible, lowered to recreate a natural floodplain and to increase water holding capacity. It's designed to withhold up to a six-inch storm, said Sue Glende, district conservationist from the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Winona County.

The banks are seeded with a pasture mix. Jacobson's cattle will flash graze beginning about a year after the project is completed. The grass will be left 4 to 6 inches tall after grazing.

"We actually are huge fans of managed grazing," Hastings said.

Livestock keep shallow-rooted trees and invasive plants from taking root and extend the project's lifespan, he said. Shallow-rooted trees are removed during the restoration, but hardwoods and sturdy cottonwoods are left. Too many trees shade out the grass needed to stabilize the bank.

Where the bank and the stream meet, big and little rocks and dirt are mixed and pounded in to protect the bank. Glende showed a stream reach that was restored last summer. Tall grass almost hides the rocks that were installed.

Non-game habitat is built in and trout habitat created. Lunker structures and sky-hook structures are installed to provide overhead cover for adult trout, Hastings said. The Hiawatha Valley chapter of Trout Unlimited invested hundreds of volunteer hours into building the structures, he said. Members of the Win-Cres chapter also helped.

Hastings said the improvements will net a five- to 10-fold increase in trout carrying capacity. The Rush-Pine is home to mostly German brown trout.

The increase in trout is good economic news for the region, he said. A 2008 Trout Unlimited study found a $1 billion annual economic impact from trout fishing in the Driftless Region, which includes southeastern Minnesota.

The improvements not only increase trout habitat, they also prevent many tons of sediment from going into the stream.

A high percentage of the sediment that ended up in the stream and later the Root and Mississippi rivers came from the banks, Glende said.

Jacobson, who has spent his entire life along the creek, enjoys watching the work. The creek changes every year, he said. He remembers back to his youth when he'd fish chubs from a deep pond beneath willow trees along the creek.

The willow trees are long gone.

He hasn't dropped a line into the creek in years, but his grandchildren now fish and swim there.

The changes brought by the excavator working in the stream and bulldozer at work on the banks will result in improved grazing for his 40-cow beef herd, Jacobson said.