ROSEAU RIVER WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREA, Minn. -- Flooding hasn’t been an issue so far this summer in northwest Minnesota, and there’s little more than a trickle flowing from a new outlet control structure built to move excess water west from Roseau River Wildlife Management Area and into the Roseau River.
It’s ready for action when needed, though, and after discussions and debate going back a decade or more, that’s cause for celebration.
About 25 people, including representatives from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the Roseau River Watershed District, the Red River Watershed Management Board and state Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, and other project partners gathered Tuesday afternoon at the west end of this wildlife management area near the Manitoba border to celebrate the completion of the Roseau River WMA Pool 3 Outlet Project.
Featuring a mix of upland and wetland habitat, including three impoundments along a 27-mile long dike road, Roseau River WMA covers more than 75,000 acres in a 129.03-mile perimeter.
The new outlet allows DNR wildlife managers to better regulate water levels in Pool 3, the westernmost impoundment, and down a 1.9-mile channel into the Roseau River.
Replacing a control structure that moved water from Pool 2 to Pool 3 with a new structure that has more capacity also was part of the project.
Partners say the project has flood control and natural resource benefits. Without an adequate outlet, water levels in Pool 3 were prone to drastic bounces, which, in turn, inundated nests for waterfowl and shorebirds.
That’s less of an issue with the new outlet.
“We’ve had trouble with all the large volume of water that comes through the pools” during nesting season, said Randy Prachar, manager of Roseau River WMA. “We just haven’t had real good luck with that.
“There’s thousands of acres of nesting habitat that can be underwater at times. Wild rice management is enhanced, too, because we now can control the water levels better on the pools," he said.
All of the land in the project is owned and managed by the DNR.
“They didn’t really have an adequate way to outlet water other than over emergency spillways,” said Tracy Halstensgard, administrator of the Roseau River Watershed District. “What this project did was provide options for management that would help relieve some of that flooding and moving water downstream to the west.”
That ability also aids in reducing flood damage on private land, she said.
“In the case where we know a flood is coming, we’re able to move water out of the pools ahead of time and reserve the storage that’s available for the peak,” Halstensgard said.
The DNR, the watershed district and the Red River Watershed Management Board partnered on the $3.5 million project. The State Flood Hazard Mitigation Program funded 75% of the project’s cost, the Red River Water Management Board covered 17% of the cost and the watershed district contributed 8% of local funding, Halstensgard said.
Work began in 2016, and RJ Zavoral & Sons of East Grand Forks completed the bulk of the heavy equipment work that year despite extremely wet conditions.
“It was just miserable out there,” Prachar said.
There’s been minor work since then, including graveling, planting grass to stabilize the banks and some touch-up on one of the control structures, he said.
The outlet structure was opened for the first time this spring, Prachar said, but the amount of water discharged down the channel and into the river was minimal. Those attending Tuesday's dedication got to see it opened, as well, but only long enough for a photo opportunity.
“It’s fully operational just this year, and then we didn’t have much for runoff this spring and we still are being pretty careful with the outlet channel,” he said. “We haven’t had the vegetation that’s covering the bank grow up very much (until recently), so we’re sort of limiting flow through there this year, and, hopefully, we’ll get the banks stabilized in the next year.”
Partners attending Tuesday’s dedication reflected on the compromise necessary to make the project happen. The goals of watershed managers and wildlife managers don’t always mesh.
“It took years to find that common ground where we both could live with this, and neither one of us got all we wanted out of it,” Prachar said. “But when you stop and look at where you’re at and then what you got out of it, I think both parties came to the realization there’s some pretty significant benefits here if we’re willing to give a little.”
That success can be a springboard for further collaborations, Halstensgard said.
“If you think of the watershed district and the DNR as neighbors, it’s being good neighbors, doing good work together and coming together for the benefit of the community,” she said.
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