This brings Minnesota’s list of weakened substances to about 3,000 bodies of water, with more than 6,000 specific deficiencies such as heavy sediment, algae, bacteria, sulfate, mercury, and other chemicals. Much of the state’s water pollution comes from runoff in agricultural areas, but there are many sources.

Among the darkness, however, there is a glow or two. You can see one a few miles south of Barnesville among the thousands of acres of intensively cultivated Red River Valley soil.

Along Wilkin County Highway 30, just east of Minnesota Highway 9, is the Lawndale Creek Aquatic Management Area. It is marked with signs, including one that says “Designated Trout Stream”.

Yes, it’s true. Far from the mountains of Montana or even the forested cliffs of southeastern Minnesota is a meandering cold-water creek that is home to brook trout, just like over a century ago before the area was plowed and abandoned.

“This is by no means your typical brook trout stream as you might see on television,” said Jim Wolters, area fisheries supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources based in Fergus Falls. “But it offers an opportunity here on the prairie.”

Lawndale Creek is one piece of a puzzle that allowed the MPCA to remove the South Branch of the Buffalo River from the degraded water designation, one of 31 water bodies deemed sufficiently improved to warrant removal from the list this year.

It’s a nugget of good news buried among the heap of degraded waterways released by AMLA.

“When you reduce erosion that gets into streams, when you reduce runoff, you can see an increase in water clarity pretty quickly,” said Peter Tester, MPCA deputy commissioner.

Improvements to the South Buffalo Branch have been a long time coming and involved many local and state agencies, most notably the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District. Projects included expanding buffer strips along the Buffalo, altering ditches and restoring wetlands

MNR has implemented a number of projects using state money from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.

Most impressive was the restoration of Lawndale Creek, an idea born in the 1990s and finally completed in 2010, helping to reduce the sediment dumped into Deer Horn Creek which then heads to the south branch of the Buffalo River.

Lawndale Creek, near Barnesville, Minnesota, was restored in 2010 after ditches and farming destroyed the original creek.  The stream was dry for over 100 years.  Minnesota MNR Photo

Lawndale Creek, near Barnesville, Minnesota, was restored in 2010 after ditches and farming destroyed the original creek. The stream was dry for over 100 years. Minnesota MNR Photo

The Buffalo has long had sediment issues, with untold tons of soil in the river since the area was plowed and abandoned over a century ago.

The story of Lawndale Creek tells the story.

Once a natural meandering stream that originated in a bubbling spring in what is now Rothsay Wildlife Management Area, Lawndale Creek degraded and dried up when the state began digging the area at the end from the 1800s. Later county moats exacerbated Lawndale Creek’s problems.

“By the time we started work on the Lawndale Creek restoration, the original canal had filled with dirt and debris. There was nothing left,” said Luther Aadland, an MNR environmentalist in Fergus Falls. .

So Aadland and the DNR built a meandering stream that meandered about 3.5 miles. They built rocky rafts, dug deep holes, and planted grass that overlooked the banks of the streams. All in the name of creating habitat for trout.

The brook trout that historically inhabited Lawndale Creek had survived in limited numbers in the ditches. Once the water was diverted from the ditches to the new stream, the trout returned and spawned. The DNR supplemented those numbers with storage, although it hasn’t since 2016. The agency hopes to resume storage in 2023, Wolters said.

“There are some nice trout in there and we have 30 different species of fish in Lawndale Creek, as well as some native mussels that have colonized. It’s a big improvement over what was going on in the ditches,” Aadland said. “It’s kind of a laboratory for us. We do a lot of restoration work and it’s work where we can look and have survey data to guide us.”

Lawndale Creek has become a popular trout fishery for some anglers, but the project has also benefited from the hydrology of the area. Aadland said the restored creek, adjacent wetlands and floodplain have significantly reduced peak flows during periods of high water. The clarity of the water has increased from 16 centimeters to 1 meter.

A raft built into the restored Lawndale Creek near Barnesville, Minnesota Mike McFeely / The Forum

A raft built into the restored Lawndale Creek near Barnesville, Minnesota Mike McFeely / The Forum

Erik Jones of Fargo’s Houston Engineering, who worked on the restoration, said the Lawndale Creek project combined with the ditch repair reduced sediment runoff into the Buffalo River by “thousands of tonnes.”

It’s a small victory. But given the deluge of bad news about Minnesota’s water quality, any victory counts.

“The more land we keep on the land, the less it gets into the water and takes something else with it,” said Miranda Nichols of the MPCA, who coordinates the degraded water list. “Improvement takes time. If we stop erosion and keep things out of the water, it will take time for the fish and insects to bounce back. While we are seeing improvements, things are moving slowly. and we hope they accelerate. “