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The St. Croix Basin– Protecting an Incredible Resource

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The St. Croix Basin– Protecting an Incredible Resource St. Croix River Watershed Partners- The St. Croix Basin Team, U.S. Forest Service, Minnesota Forest Resource Council, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

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The St. Croix Basin– Protecting an Incredible Resource

St. Croix River Watershed Partners- The St. Croix Basin Team, U.S. Forest Service, Minnesota Forest Resource Council, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Washington County Conservation District, Chisago Soil and Water Conservation District, Kanabec County Soil and Water Conservation District, The Nature Conservancy

Introduction and Overview:

The St. Croix River Basin represents a large area, approximately 7,760 square miles, with 44 percent of the basin land area located within Minnesota and 56 percent within Wisconsin. The St. Croix River originates near Solon Springs, Wisconsin and flows west and south more than 160 miles until it joins the Mississippi River at Prescott, Wisconsin. Lake St. Croix is a naturally impounded riverine lake in the lower 25 miles of the St. Croix River.

The St. Croix River is one of the cleanest tributaries to the Mississippi River and has high quality natural ecosystems, beautiful scenery, striking geologic features, unique cultural resources and abundant recreation opportunities. Annually, over one million people use this wild and scenic river for recreation.

Working with Forested Landscapes:

Forests play an important role in keeping water clean, which is vital to the economic and ecological health of the St. Croix basin. While the link between forests and clean water are well known, there have been few efforts to clearly define the significance of forests in the upper St. Croix watershed and bring stakeholders together to achieve shared goals within key basin communities.

The Linking Sustainable Forestry with Water Quality in the Upper St. Croix Project was established in 2011 with initial funding from the US Forest Service Northeast Area State and Private ForestryCompetitive Allocation program. The project is a unique collaboration between both public and private organizations with an interest in managing and protecting forests to achieve heightened water quality.

With an approach based on partnerships, many organizations are working within the Basin to achieve a vision for the St. Croix as a place where:

· Waters run free and clean.· Habitat remains plentiful to sustain our unique and diverse flora and fauna.· People have access to our National Park and the park flourishes.

· Towns throughout the basin thrive and people celebrate the River.

  • The primary project components include:
  • Convening forestry and water quality partners in the St. Croix Basin to improve efficiency and effectiveness in achieving shared goals.
  • Data synthesis to generate a clear picture of the water quality benefits of forests in a way that can be quantified and utilized to inform where forest cover is most important with respect to water quality
  • Developing a State of the Forest Report for the St. Croix basin to document changes in land use and current forest resources within the basin, as well as Landscape Stewardship Plans to guide landowner forest management.
  • Outreach and education that will provide information about how forests protect the health of the St. Croix and its tributary streams.
  • Demonstration projects that show on-the-ground how forests keep St. Croix basin waters clean and healthy.

Lake St. Croix TMDL:

The Lake St. Croix TMDL was a collaborative effort among the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Wisconsin Department of NaturalResources (WDNR) and the St. Croix Basin Water Resources Planning Team (St. Croix Basin Team). The primary components of the TMDL were largely based on the results of past lake a nutrient loading studies.

The key outcomes of the these studies and the TMDL are as follows:

  • Lake St. Croix’s total annual loading capacity needed to meet and in-lake total phosphorus water quality standard of 40 µg/L in 360 metric tons/yr.
  • The lake’s “current” loading (using 1990 baseline) is 460 metric tons/yr, meaning a 100 metric ton/yr reduction would be needed. However, this TMDL adopts a margin of safety and a reserve capacity which increases the needed load reduction to about 123 metric tons/yr. This equates to an overall needed phosphorus load reduction of 27 percent.

The use of technology and natural resource management expertise has resulted in impressive achievements in reducing municipal and industrial pollution. Regulation has also played a central role in achieving water quality improvements. However, nonpoint sources of pollution are now the greatest remaining challenge in ensuring that Lake St. Croix meet water quality standards.

Prioritizing Conservation:

Multi-jurisdictional conservation efforts are complex and often lack focus and coordination in the St. Croix Basin. As a means to stream-line and focus conservation efforts on areas with the most critical need, the SCRA received an LCCMR grant in 2011 to develop a well coordinated project to determine priority areas for conservation within the basin.

This project links local, state and federal governmental units, citizen-led non-profits, and design and technical expertise in an effective, well-coordinated partnership to set priorities, implement targeted on-the-ground project, protect wildlife habitat, and promote land and water stewardship to enhance and protect the very special place the St. Croix River Basin is to live, recreate and work. This project aims to enhance efficiencies and improve environmental outcomes.

  • Key project components:
  • Build a team of dedicated resource professionals to guide project activities and priorities.
  • Develop a holistic prioritization model that includes habitat, water quality and recreational features for resource protection and management.
  • Conduct field scale analysis to identify Best Management Practices (BMPs) in priority subwatersheds.
  • Conduct a cost-benefit analysis of identified BMPs to develop a “to do” list of management options that includes a measure of cost per unit of resource managed or protected. (Ex. Cost per pounds of phosphorus reduced)
  • Install identified BMPs in selected priority subwatersheds.

The Lake St. Croix TMDL Implementation Plan uses civic engagement as a key strategy for reducing nonpoint phosphorus loading to Lake St. Croix. This approach acknowledges that citizens are key collaborators in achieving water quality goals, whether it is in the policy-making realm or when implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) on the ground.

“Civic Engagement means making resourceFULL decisions and taking collective action on public issues through processes of public discussion, reflection and collaboration.” - University of Minnesota Extension

By combining scientific research in the natural sciences with data about people, community relationships and institutions, it is hoped that greater progress in solving the St. Croix River water problems will result over time. The desire is to build capacity for collaborative decision making at multiple levels. The longer-tem goal will be to create a functioning network of organizations working collaboratively toward the same vision - a healthy St. Croix River system.

Beginning in 2012, multiple organizations within the watershed took initial steps towards engaging citizens in a more focused and intentional manner. Examples of initiatives towards increased civic engagement include participation in civic engagement trainings, the development of a farmer-led council project that puts farmers in leadership positions to develop pollutant reduction strategies, civic engagement in water planning at the county level and integrating civic engagement-related materials and information into the Annual St. Croix River Basin Conference.


We are grateful for funding from the US Forest Service, the MN Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and partner support from the MN Department of Natural Resources, WI Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, Minnesota Forest Resources Council, National Park Service, MN Pollution Control Agency and the many organizations represented through the St. Croix Basin Team.

Printed by Green Lands Blue Waters