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Watershed Program

The primary goal of this project is to reduce the overall load of sediment and nutrients in the High Island Creek and Rush River watersheds, therefore improving dissolved oxygen levels within these watersheds.  Additionally, water monitoring will be used as a way to assess water quality within the High Island Creek and Rush River watersheds throughout the duration of the project.  Water quality education opportunities offered to both adult and youth will be another primary goal of this project.  Education will be focused on the project’s best management practices (BMPs) and the overall importance of water quality improvement in the watershed.  These efforts aim to successfully contribute to the improvement of the Minnesota River’s water quality in order to provide a quality environment for future generations.

watershed map

Problems & Opportunities

High Island Creek Watershed (HICW) and Rush River Watershed (RRW) are located in the Lower Minnesota Watershed in south central Minnesota, and drain to the Minnesota River near Henderson, Minnesota. The HICW and RRW are comprised of 410,997 acres throughout parts of McLeod, Nicollet, Renville, and Sibley Counties.  Approximately 361,194 acres of the watershed are used for intensive agricultural practices. The highly productive cropland is used to grow corn, soybeans, small grain, and forage. Previous studies have determined the water quality concerns of the High Island Creek and Rush River to be fecal coliform bacteria (FC), total phosphorus (TP), total suspended solids (TSS) and nitrate + nitrite - nitrogen (NO2+NO3-N). Excessive total phosphorous levels contribute to the low dissolved oxygen levels in the Lower Minnesota River watershed. Algae blooms triggered by excess phosphorous can result in low dissolved oxygen as algae die and decompose, consuming available oxygen. Therefore reductions in total phosphorous levels in the Rush River and High Island Creek watersheds are an important step in reaching the TMDL for dissolved oxygen in the Lower MN River watershed ( The majority of total phosphorous and other nutrients load at the outlet of the Rush River and High Island Creek. These nutrients are sediment bound in origin and are believed to be a result of agricultural runoff and excessive soil erosion in the steeply sloped portions of the watersheds. Practices that can reduce non-point delivery of phosphorus including sediment bound phosphorus will not only improve water quality in the High Island and Rush River watersheds but in the Lower Minnesota River as well.

This project will provide a way to improve water quality within the High Island Creek and Rush River watersheds, and therefore contribute to the improvement of the Lower Minnesota watershed.  Improving dissolved oxygen levels will positively impact aquatic life such as fish, amphibians, and other organisms that rely on these waterways for survival.  The best management practices promoted and installed as a result of this project (buffer strips, open intake alternatives, cover crops) are consistent with the practices described in the Lower Minnesota River Dissolved Oxygen Total Maximum Daily Load Implementation Plan (; page 17).  Selected best management practices will aim to reduce delivery of nutrients and TSS, which contribute to decreased dissolved oxygen levels in High Island Creek, Rush River, and the Minnesota River watersheds.  Sibley, Nicollet, McLeod, and Renville Counties will work cooperatively to achieve this goal.


Program Objectives

Objective 1:  Nutrient and Sediment Reduction Implementation

  • Task A:  Buffer Strips

Buffer strips slow water flow and reduce the amount of phosphorous and nitrogen, sediments, chemicals and bacteria that enter surface waters.

  • Task B:  Open Intake Alternatives

By implementing open intake alternatives (rock inlets, open intake removals, slotted risers, or equivalent practices determined by project staff), one is removing the direct pathway for contaminants to enter the waterway through tile lines.

  • Task C:  Cover Crops

With the use of cover crops, fields will have vegetative cover during the late fall, winter and early spring months; acting as both a temporary filter and offering protection against wind erosion.  Cover crops will decrease the amount of nutrient rich sediment entering the watersheds and also supply exceptional forage for wildlife during winter months.

Objective 2: Community Outreach


  • Task A: Quarterly Newsletter

The goal of this task is to make the project well known to citizens and land owners of the watershed, therefore encouraging community interaction with the project.


  • Task B: Promotional Items and Media

The primary goal of this task is to promote the project with various printed items including but not limited to: calendars, pamphlets, business cards, and newspaper advertisements.


  • Task C: Website/Digital Outreach Events

This task entails all aspects related to website and social media page maintenance, radio, and online advertisements.


  • Task D: Community and School Events

This task is to engage with the public through project staff presence at various community events to promote water quality improvements and project offerings.


  • Task E: Professional Education and Development

This task will allow the project staff to further their knowledge related to water quality and conservation by attending various trainings, seminars, conferences, and educational meetings.

Objective 3: Technical Assistance

  • Task A/B: Project Coordinator & Project Technician

This task will allow the Project Coordinator to address the objectives defined by this project.  This will be done by completing the subtasks defined below and fulfilling miscellaneous tasks that occur.  


Subtask 1: Critical Area Identification

This subtask will cover all activities related to developing a methodology to identify critical areas where buffers and cover crops could be implemented and installed.

Subtask 2: Water Monitoring

The project will also conduct dissolved oxygen and Secchi tube transparency longitudinal surveys four times a year during periods of high, low and base flow conditions from April through October at a baseline at 5-10 sites per watershed. The goal is to identify problem areas of high turbidity and low dissolved oxygen.


Subtask 3: Implementation and Promotion

This subtask will address implementation of best management practices focusing on critical areas identified by GIS methodology and other field activities.  


  • Task C: Technical Assistance: Postage, Office Supplies, Mileage, Equipment, Miscellaneous Project Costs.

This will cover costs such as equipment, mileage, postage, and other miscellaneous project related costs as they occur.  The following subtasks are essential requirements in order to fulfill project goals.

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