Rum River, tributaries to go under the microscope

A long-term, comprehensive study of the Rum River and its tributaries will begin this summer, establishing a baseline to protect the scenic waterway for future generations.

The kickoff event for the major Watershed Restoration and Protection Project (WRAPP) was hosted the evening of March 28 at the Isanti Government Center, with a full house in attendance. The project is part of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s efforts to chronicle the 81 major watershed basins in the state, with funding coming from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment approved by voters back in 2008.

Jamie Schurbon of Anoka County and Susan Shaw of Mille Lacs County introduce the Rum River Watershed Restoration and Protection Project to the large crowd at the March 28 kickoff event in Cambridge. Photo by Greg Hunt

Jamie Schurbon of Anoka County and Susan Shaw of Mille Lacs County introduce the Rum River Watershed Restoration and Protection Project to the large crowd at the March 28 kickoff event in Cambridge. Photo by Greg Hunt

“The Rum River watershed study will be a springboard to cleaner water, along with being a pre-requisite to access funding for any future projects,” explained Mille Lacs Soil & Water Conservation District Administrator Susan Shaw at Thursday’s meeting. “We were missing a good coalition up and down the river. There have been good local efforts by lake associations and other organizations, but this study will be tying us all together. We feel really good about what will come from the study.”

On hand to open the meeting were Jamie Schurbon from the Anoka County Soil and Water Conservation District and Holly Carlson from Isanti County Zoning, who along with Shaw, represent the three main counties involved in the study. Altogether, 11 local governmental entities are involved, including the Mille Lacs Band of the Ojibwe.

“Isanti County has the most lakes to monitor which feed into the Rum. There will be seven lake sites and three river sites which will be part of the study,” Carlson said. “When you look at it, the majority of Isanti County is in the Rum River watershed.”

Extensive and varied monitoring

The enthusiasm of Bonnie Finnerty, Aaron Onsrud, Chandra Carter and Dereck Richter of the MPCA was evident as they explained to the crowd the variety of information which will be gleaned from the water over the course of the study. Finnerty said it will be a holistic approach to protecting the Rum, which includes volunteer citizen monitoring in certain spots. Through monitoring sites in streams and lakes, she said the study provides a more efficient way to deal with impaired water, as opposed to simply collecting samples at the Rum’s mouth in Anoka, for example.

Richter and Carter spoke about the data breakdown that will be collected over the multi-year study of the Rum as the scientists lock in water clarity, nutrients, sediment, dissolved oxygen, E. coli, chloride and chlorophylla levels to determine “stressor IDs.” Richter further explained that there are 10 locations on Lake Mille Lacs alone for data collection.

Onsrud, an aquatic biologist, said that 49 biological sites have been selected to round up fish and invertebrate samples. He might also talk to private landowners to seek permission to draw samples from other sites. He and his team will use electro-shock techniques to sort and weigh the creatures, along with sending two of each species back to the lab for deeper analysis. RumRiver map

“We are so excited, since this is the most people we’ve seen come to a watershed study kickoff meeting, and that says a lot about how much you people care about the Rum River and its tributaries,” Onsrud said. “If you see us out on the sites—and a lot of sites are near bridges—come watch us sample fish and do our other jobs.”

Project results will include plans to improve impaired sections of the Rum River watershed, as well as protecting good conditions where they exist.

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