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River revamp

RICHLAND COUNTY, N.D. - Thanks to the efforts of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Richland County Water Resource District and a host of other professionals, the Bois de Sioux and Red rivers are flowing cleaner today than they have i...

RICHLAND COUNTY, N.D. - Thanks to the efforts of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Richland County Water Resource District and a host of other professionals, the Bois de Sioux and Red rivers are flowing cleaner today than they have in many years.

In the late 1990s, the RCWRD contacted the NRCS Wahpeton Field Office, voicing concerns about the heavy sediment load flowing into Legal Drain No. 39 from a natural stream. It was requiring frequent cleaning and increasing the sediment discharge into the Bois de Sioux River, a headwater to the Red River.

The RCWRD wanted to use the Conservation Reserve Pogram's filter strip program to clean the water. Several producers also had contacted the field office with concerns about erosion.

"Our initial attempt to develop a filter strip project on the natural stream was not successful," says Steve Fischer, resource conservation and development coordinator with NRCS. "Some producers in the watershed indicated they were interested in installing filter strips, but we were not able to get participation from all producers."

Another try

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So they refocused the project on restoration of the natural stream, which would enable better erosion resistance and flood control, as well as cleaner water flow into the Bois de Sioux. Permits for the work were easier to obtain because the project proposed to utilize the natural hydrology of the stream instead of drastically modifying it.

They began with filter strips, which are vegetative strips planted along the stream banks to reduce sediment and pollutants entering the water. In addition, the filter strips also can help mitigate heavy rain runoff and reduce flooding in local fields, Fischer says.

Several other engineering practices also were employed, including sediment removal, stream bank restoration, obstruction removal and the installation of rock-bed crossings and drop structures.

A vital feature of the design included the recreation of 1941 channel meanders, or winding streambeds. These utilize changes in direction to help slow the water flow, further reducing silt movement. The topographic survey for this was completed by NRCS, and the Red River Basin Riparian Project completed the engineering design.

"The meandering channel is designed to manage a rain event of up to 3.7 inches in a 24-hour period," Fischer says.

Culvert changes also were completed. All 25 crossings originally had been sized for a half-inch of water runoff per day. They were revised to meet increased flow requirements of the North Dakota State Water Commission.

Total project cost came in at $259,000. The work was completed in 2004, though the filter strip plants had not yet matured to full use.

The final resultProject sponsors held a stream restoration workshop recently to exhibit the results of the effort. Though the project work was completed in 2005, "we wanted to wait until the vegetation was established," Fischer says.

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It was attended by more than 60 representatives from various county water boards and commissions, including Richland, Walsh and Grand Forks counties, who were interested in stream restoration.

"The project is actually exceeding expectations, mostly because the water quality has improved," he says

The water is clearer to the eye, he says, adding that if the runoff is slowed, that should naturally help ease some of the localized flooding.

"I don't think we're seeing a reduction in flooding potentials from spring snowmelt, but we are in flooding potential with summer rainfall events," Fischer says. "We had about 6 inches of rain in 48 hours in June of 2005, and it actually held up pretty well."

Key playersThe project was a cooperative effort with many partners, including NRCS, RCWRD, Richland Soil Conservation District, the Red River Basin Riparian Project, Lake Agassiz RC&D Council, Farm Services Agency, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Red River Joint Water Resource District, North Dakota State Water Commission, K2S Engineering, Interstate Engineering and landowners.

Of these, Fischer says, "the RCWRD was the most valued partner, because they initiated the project, were the lead sponsor and maintained a strong commitment to the concept of natural stream restorations and filter strips."

Similar efforts are now under way in North Dakota's Richland and Pembina counties.

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