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Year of beauty on the Chippewa

MONTEVIDEO -- For way too long, people looked mainly at the Chippewa River as a way to move water from the land, much like a drainage ditch.

A different picture is emerging today. In fact, lots of different pictures are giving us a whole new look at the river and its watershed, thanks to the efforts of the Chippewa River Watershed Project.

It has published a collection of photos from the Chippewa River and its watershed as part of a 2008 calendar. The colorful images by amateur photographers show that the river and its watershed is a wonderful place to wet a line, enjoy the song of water rushing over rocks in a quiet park, or watch a sunset turn a prairie sky a fiery red.

"It was something I have never seen,'' said John T. Hutchinson, Benson, of the electrified pallet of colors he saw through his camera lens one evening by the Chippewa River. Hutchinson is among 13 photographers who submitted photographs of the Chippewa River and its watershed.

It was something that he had seen that won Roderick Dukes the top prize for the photo he submitted. Dukes is currently a senior at Langston University in Langston, Okla. He was working in an internship program with the Natural Resources and Conservation Service in Minnesota last summer. When he heard the call for photographs he headed straight to the Swift Falls County Park in Swift County. He had been to the park on a number of occasions, and knew what he'd find. "It is very pretty up there,'' he said.

He took a series of photos showing the waters of the Chippewa River as they swirled under a green canopy of trees and pedestrian bridges.

The calendar photographs are part of an education campaign by the Watershed Project, according to Jennifer Hoffman, watershed specialist. Along with the monthly photographs, the calendar is packed with information on the watershed, brief descriptions of the pollution issues being addressed, and what people can do to make a difference.

Perhaps most important of all, the photographs show how large and diverse a watershed this is, said Hoffman.

From its start in Ottertail County to its meeting with the Minnesota River in Montevideo, the Chippewa River collects water from 1,331,200 acres. There are hilly woodland and pasture lands in the north and rich, glacial loam fields in the south. Shakopee Creek, a major tributary, carries waters from some of Kandiyohi County's most popular recreational lakes.

Hoffman said the diversity of landscapes and land uses in the watershed make the job of cleaning up the river challenging. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges.

The river is listed by the Environmental Protection Agency as impaired due to excessive levels of fecal coliform bacteria. Wastes from improper management of livestock wastes and failing septic systems in the watershed are at fault.

There are also serious issues with excessive sediments and phosphorus loads and in some stretches of the river, excessive nitrogen levels. Wind and water erosion on farm lands, excessive use of fertilizer on lawns, and discharges from wastewater treatment plants are the major contributors to these problems.

The Chippewa River Project will soon mark its 10th anniversary of working with residents to improve the river.

There are success stories in the clean up effort. Hoffman said one of the most important is the growing awareness within the watershed itself. More people are realizing they are part of a watershed, and more are taking seriously their role in improving it.

She said the photographs submitted for the calendar showed clearly how much people value the watershed and the importance they place on protecting it.