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Hawk Creek's secrets revealed

Tillage that has occurred right up to the bank of Kandiyohi County ditch compromises the integrity of the sloped bank. The practice contributes to water quality problems by allowing erosion and sloughing to occur, and in the long-run also leads to costly clean out and repair bills for the ditch system. Submitted photos1 / 3
This one rod or 16½-foot buffer in place along a Kandiyohi County ditch protects both water quality and the ditch channel. Buffers like these help keep sediment and nutrients from waterways while also benefiting the ditch system by keeping the channel from filling with soil and vegetation. Submitted photo2 / 3
This photo shows the damage that occurs when herbicide is applied too close to ditch banks. The loss of the rooted grasses on the ditch bank will lead to sloughing and erosion and cause the channel to fill with sediment. Undesirable plants including Canada thistle usually replace the grasses. Submitted photo3 / 3

CLARA CITY -- Hawk Creek and the Yellow Medicine River will be keeping no secrets from Bryan Spindler.

He will be visiting dozens of sites in both waterways in the summer of 2010 armed with all the gadgetry needed to conduct an intensive assessment of the biological health of both.

His upcoming visits are part of an on-going project by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to conduct assessments of the tributaries of the Minnesota River, according to Spindler and his supervisor, Dan Helwig. The two MPCA employees outlined the plans for the upcoming work to members of the Hawk Creek Watershed Project at their meeting Dec. 4 in Clara City.

Spindler will be gathering lots of hard, scientific data on water quality. He and other MPCA workers will be collecting water samples at dozens of sites to learn everything from the amount of suspended sediment and presence of fecal coliform to pH levels.

But most important, his research will focus on the living organisms in the tributaries. It will involve lots of work to collect and identify the macro-invertebrate life that can tell so much about the biological health of the locations.

Spindler and crew will also be electro-shocking and netting lots of fish for the same reasons. Some will be examined for mercury and other contaminants. Just about every fish over an inch-long will be identified.

The fish will serve as canaries in the coal mine and can alert the investigators to possible problems needing further examination.

Helwig said the data will focus on the tributaries only, but the information and analysis will ultimately shed lots of light on the health of the Minnesota River itself. He said there has been some evidence of reduced sediment levels and other improvements in the river since the MPCA launched an extensive assessment of the river in the 1990s.

Yet the jury is still out on what matters most. "We have not yet seen across-the-board improvements in biology,'' said Helwig.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335