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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
St. Paul District
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St. Paul, MN 55101
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Watershed planning offers hope to challenging problems

Published May 19, 2014

The district recently finished one of its first comprehensive watershed reports, the Sunrise Watershed Study, solely for environmental purposes and the benefit of watershed managers.

Previous watershed studies focused mostly on the end product being a Corps’ project, said Elliot Stefanik, district biologist.

The district initiated the study in 2008 in partnership with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Minnesota’s Chisago County. The goal of the study included developing a report that local watershed officials could use to lower the Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMLD, of phosphorus for the Sunrise and, ultimately, the St. Croix River, of which the Sunrise is a tributary.

Encompassing more than 360 square miles, the Sunrise River basin is located near portions of four east-central Minnesota counties – Isanti, Anoka, Washington and Chisago. After flowing into the St. Croix River, one of the first eight river systems in the country to be designated as a national treasure and given protection under the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Sunrise water ends up in the Mighty Mississippi.

According to a 1999 study completed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Corps, the Sunrise River contributes the highest phosphorus and sediment levels to the St. Croix River. Recognizing the importance of the study and the need to protect the watershed, the district and its partners used a model developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to simulate base conditions in the watershed and then changed the conditions to see what changes could make the biggest improvements.

Stefanik said the report, available on the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s website, makes a number of recommendations that are better suited to state or local agencies for implementation.

“What we found in the study is that the local communicates will need to make major changes to the landscape to make a difference to the TMLD,” he said. “They have some big challenges to overcome and some hard decisions to make.”

Stefanik said he believes there is a need for more watershed studies like this, and he hopes the Corps will do more of them in the future. “The Corps has a lot of good people that can help look at some of these wider watershed problems and hopefully contribute to finding some solutions.”