By Jennifer Ely
Like a perfect trifecta, cooperation between the Conservation Corps, the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District and the Nature Conservancy is rehabilitating Houston County’s Riceford Creek while also helping the area’s bluff prairie ecosystems.
Riceford Creek suffered major damage from the flooding in late June. Simultaneously, cedar trees were overcrowding native species in the prairie bluffs. The trees needed to be culled and the creek needed help, too.
With an old plan and some new ideas, the Riceford Creek revetment plan is now underway.
The revetment project will stabilize the bank of Riceford Creek and improve water quality for aquatic life.
The removing of the cedar trees, referred to as the prairie bluffs restoration project, will allow native plants to flourish and encourage species, such as the timber rattlsnake, to thrive. The cedars were going to be burned and thrown away, but are now being used to shore up Riceford Creek.
“What other natural way as to help stabilize a stream than using trees,” said Rich Stemper, of the Root River Soil and Water Conservation District.
“Cedar trees are actually preferred to be used in a project like this because cedar trees last longer and decay slower compared to an oak, box elder or an elm tree,” Stemper said.
There is about 950 feet of the Riceford Creek stream bank that is a first priority to be fixed and anchored with trees.
Cedar trees 12 to 15 feet long are being secured along the stream bank with a 2- to 3-inch overlap.
Putting the trees along Riceford Creek will enable the sediment that is passing through the creek to be trapped in the tree branches and prevent it from making its way down the creek. Having the sediment slowly disappear will help the creek become more clear, help aquatic life and reduce or even prevent erosion, in addition to dimishing phosphorus flow throughout the creek.
Excessive sediment and phosphorous can damage aquatic life, habitat and even contribute to algae blooms.
The nonprofit Conservation Corps out of Rochester came down to help with the project.
“There pretty much isn’t any conservation job they wouldn’t do. They do numerous things such as making hike/biking trails, rebuild campgrounds such as putting in bathrooms, building picnic tables and planting trees,” Stemper said.
Before the conservation workers began working on the creek, Winona State researchers and students came down to Riceford Creek to conduct surveys. WSU has agreed to send people every few months to keep monitoring the creek and seeing if the creek has made improvements since the installation of cedar trees.
The Root River Soil and Water Conservation District applied for the Minnesota Clean Water Legacy grant that pays for the Conservation Corps volunteers’ labor.
In 2008 Minnesota voters passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. The Legacy Amendment increased state sales tax by three-eighths of one percent as of July 1, 2009, and will continue until 2034. Additional sales tax revenue is distributed into four funds, used to protect, enhance and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and to protect ground water from degradation. Of the funds, 33 percent goes to the clean water fund.
The Conservation Corps began their work on July 15 and will work a total of 32 days. With only a few delays brought on by the July heat, the workers have had very few setbacks. If the crew does not finish their job within those required days, they will come back in September to finish the remainder of the work.
“The flood may have brought a lot of negatives to the county, but for the Riceford Creek project, the flood brought a lot of rocks and trees into the creek that created great barriers to where dams needed to be built,” Stemper said. “With all the rocks and trees exposed, the Conservation Corps could use those materials that were brought to them by Mother Nature instead of having to buy all of the material.
“Hopefully we’ll see many benefits result with this cedar tree revetment project, so many more projects like this one can be developed and announced as a success,” Stemper said.