HJ/EDHerald Journal / Enterprise Dispatch, Jan. 16, 2006

Citizens involved to improve Crow River

By Liz Hellmann
Staff Writer

Going with the flow sounds easy enough, but when the Crow River was put on the impaired waters list, local volunteers decided it was time to do something to save the river.

McLeod County Commissioner Ray Bayerl of rural Lester Prairie was instrumental in the founding of the Crow River Organization of Water (CROW), which began in 1999.

“It keeps the local people involved, it’s not the state coming down and telling us what to do – yet,” Bayerl said.

The Crow River was placed on the impaired waters list in 2002 for turbidity and fish IBI; and in 2004, was listed for fecal coliform.

The CROW includes Carver, McLeod, Wright, Hennepin, Kandiyohi, Meeker, Pope, Renville, Sibley, and Stearns counties. But even people who don’t live next to the Crow River are affected by it.

“It got started as a result of a heightened interest in the Crow River by citizens of the area around the river, and the cities located in the watershed,” Watershed Coordinator Diane Sander said.

A representative from each county serves on the CROW joint powers board to help tackle issues plaguing the Crow River in all areas.

“We want to keep the river clean because it is a large recreational area for canoeing, boating, and fishing. We want to keep it clean and environmentally safe for the fish and animal habitat, as well,” Sander said.

A big problem for the river is created by the very people who live by, and enjoy the benefits of the river – trash.

The CROW organizes an annual Crow River cleanup day in which citizens from surrounding communities come together at several different cities across the watershed to help pick up garbage from the banks of the Crow River and its tributaries.

More than 280 volunteers participated in the 2005 event, which took place in 10 different cities Sept. 17.

Almost six tons of garbage were collected during the cleanup.

Items found covered a wide range to include almost everything but the kitchen sink. Along with the expected plastic and glass bottles and fast food debris, volunteers found wooden wagon wheels, a steering column, motorcycle frame, stove, propane tanks, bed frame and mattresses.

Another cleanup day is already scheduled for Sept. 16 2006, but the organization is also taking steps to stop the garbage, and large appliances, before they end up in the river.

Bayerl also stressed that people in communities not directly on the river still have an impact. In his area, Bayerl noted that everything in the northern portion of McLeod County drains into the Crow River.

For example, the lake in Winsted is part of the Crow River watershed. So, Winsted residents can help the Crow River by not polluting Winsted Lake.

“Anything they can do to lessen the pollution as it gets to the Crow River can help,” Bayerl said.

CROW has implemented a program to remind residents of this important fact.

Volunteers place plastic disc markers on storm drains warning people that the drains flow right into the water.

“There is no filter to catch garbage,” Sander said. “We want to help citizens realize whatever is dumped in there will go directly towards the river.”

This could help explain why the Crow River was put on the impaired water list, but it is even a more powerful testamony for the need to restore it.

“It is below the state standard, which includes water quality, bacteria, sediment levels, lack of oxygen, and ammonia levels,” Sander said.

In order to monitor the river’s progress, the CROW has developed a Citizen Stream Monitoring Program.

Volunteers collect data on the part of the watershed in their areas by measuring the amount of sediment, precipitation levels, water levels, appearance, and recreational suitability.

“There was little data collected on the river prior to this,” Sander said.

“It is basically in start-up mode,” Bayerl said. “We’ve gotten some things accomplished, but basically, it’s a study to see where the pollution is coming from.”

CROW depends on the support of the government, local businesses, and volunteers to continue its work.

Volunteers can work in the office, become part of the Citizen Stream Monitoring Program, or educate the public.

“We just need to be conscious of the river. We take it for granted, not realizing what an impact we have on it,” Sander said.

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