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Integrated study of Minnesota River being launched

ST. PAUL -- There has been no shortage of desire when it comes to cleaning up the Minnesota River, but there has also been plenty of disagreement over how best to do it.

Now, there is the promise of seeing all the needed technical data collected and modeled in a way to make possible the best decisions on how to achieve the goal.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul district, is launching an integrated watershed study of the Minnesota River. Its objective is to provide a thorough, technical analysis of the sprawling basin and offer models showing how best to meet water quality goals within it.

Congress recently appropriated $350,000 to launch the integrated study, which is estimated to eventually cost $8.4 million, according to Mark Wyatt, project manager with the Corps of Engineers in St. Paul.

Wyatt is in the very early stages of developing the framework for the study. He would like to see the study completed in four years, but cautioned that its pace will depend on annual appropriations by Congress.

The Corps of Engineers will be working in partnership with the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board. The state is providing aerial reconnaissance data that will be used to develop a very detailed, topographical analysis of the basin and land use practices in it.

Of course, lots of data have been collected through the years on land use and water quality issues within the 16,770-square-mile basin. Wyatt said that information will be collected along with new data and used by the Corps to develop effective models.

They can be used to identify opportunities for improving the basin, and predicting the results of "what if'' scenarios. For example, the model could someday be used to analyze the benefits that would be achieved by steps to improve vegetative buffers along the Blue Earth River. The tributary is one of the largest sources of sediment to the Minnesota River.

Along with its ability to develop effective models, the Corps also offers the expertise and resources to examine the role of groundwater within the basin. Groundwater and its importance to the river is one area where only limited research and data have been completed to date, he said.

While the study is technical in nature, Wyatt said the process will involve lots of public input. The Corps of Engineers will be working with the Minnesota River Board to help coordinate the work. One of the challenges, Wyatt said, is developing a cooperative approach in a basin that includes all or parts of 37 Minnesota counties as well as parts of South Dakota and Iowa.