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Northern Red River Valley tour focuses on partnerships to benefit flood control, water quality

The three-day Red River Partners Summer Tour included Tuesday night presentations on historic flooding, current flood control and water quality efforts, and an all-day bus tour Wednesday of several flooding and flood mitigation project sites. The event wrapped up Thursday with a workshop.

Jason Braaten.jpg
Jason Braaten, a farmer from rural Roseau, Minnesota, and treasurer of the Red River Watershed Management Board, said the Red River Partners Summer Tour offered an opportunity to showcase the power of partnerships in accomplishing flood control and water quality projects.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS – Water quality and flood control accomplishments and challenges took center stage this week as the Red River Watershed Management Board brought together numerous partners to discuss strategies and future needs in flood-prone areas of northwest Minnesota and northeast North Dakota.

Based in Grand Forks, the three-day Red River Partners Summer Tour included Tuesday night presentations on historic flooding, current flood control and water quality efforts, and an all-day bus tour Wednesday of several flooding and flood mitigation project sites.

Planning for the event, which wrapped up with a workshop Thursday, started in late March, said Rob Sip, executive director of the Red River Watershed Management Board, or “Red Board,” as it’s informally known.

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Created by the Minnesota Legislature in 1976, the Red Board’s jurisdiction and authority covers an area managed by seven watershed districts within the Minnesota portion of the Red River Valley: the Joe River, Two Rivers, Roseau River, Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers, Red Lake, Wild Rice and Bois de Sioux watershed districts.

“Some of us were thinking, ‘OK, there’s all these tours that people want to do – let’s just do one tour,’ ” Sip said. “So we pulled together about seven different groups, state agencies and all the Red River groups and the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts and pulled it all together.”

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Other partners in the event included the Red River Basin Commission, Red River Retention Authority, Red River Joint Water Resource District, Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources, Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts and the Minnesota Association of Conservation District Employees.

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Members of the Red River Watershed Management Board pose for a photo Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, in Grand Forks at the site of the Riverside Dam rapids dam modification project on the Red River. Pictured are Linda Vavra (from left), representing the Bois de Sioux Watershed District; Jason Braaten, RRWMB treasurer, Roseau River Watershed District; LeRoy Ose, RRWMB secretary, Red Lake River Watershed District; Nikki Swenson, RRWMB executive assistant; Bill Peterson, Middle-Snake-Tamarac Rivers Watershed District; Rob Sip, RRWMB executive director; and John Finney, RRWMB president, Joe River Watershed District.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald

“We’ve had a lot of people that have come up here from different parts of the state and a lot of funding agencies, so it’s nice for them to see what’s going on and how we’re dealing with not only flood control, but water quality, habitat issues and – again – a huge focus on partnerships,” Sip said.

The event drew upwards of 100 participants who filled three buses for Wednesday’s tour, which offered an opportunity to showcase such sites as the Agassiz Valley Impoundment near Warren, Minnesota, a flood-control project that is also a birding haven and a stop on the Pine to Prairie Birding Trail. The tour wrapped up at the Riverside Dam rapids, a massive dam modification project on the Red River in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks that was completed in the early 2000s.

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Participants from a variety of agencies and organizations listened to representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers talk about the Riverside Dam rapids dam modification project Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022, during the final stop of an all-day tour showcasing projects on both sides of the Red River. The tour was part of the Red River Partners Summer Tour, a three-day event that wrapped up Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022, in Grand Forks.
Brad Dokken/Grand Forks Herald

The tour also included stops in Oslo, Minnesota, visits to floodplain easements in both northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, and a tour of the Springbrook Project in Kittson County.

Besides reducing overland flooding and soil erosion, the Springbrook Project provides improved habitat for both wildlife and fish through the restoration of a meandering channel in what essentially was a ditching project in reverse.

“The big thing now is water quality,” said Jason Braaten, a farmer from rural Roseau, Minn., and treasurer of the Red River Watershed Management Board who also represents the Roseau River Watershed District. “We can’t have all this runoff getting into our rivers and streams.”

The “Red Board,” Braaten says, has been proactive in its approach to larger projects.

“We are getting to the point with a lot of our big projects. We’re starting to get a lot of this stuff buttoned up, so we’re not having to do a lot of big projects,” Braaten said. “We’re starting to focus more on water quality. They did some of these projects 50-60 years ago, and cleaned out some ditches, and over time, they probably didn’t put the right rock in (or other materials) so we’re seeing a lot of erosion.

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“So, we’re going back in now and we’re fixing things.”

A previous partners tour was held in southern Minnesota, Braaten says, but it’s been a few years since an event has brought this many partners to the northern Red River Valley.

“We like to get up here a little bit and showcase some of the things we’ve done up in northern Minnesota, because a lot of people figure northern Minnesota is Brainerd,” Braaten said. “They forget there’s a few more miles north of Brainerd so we like to showcase it whenever we can.

“It’s fun to be part of an organization where you can see all the good that’s happening with it, when you can do these projects,” he added. “It’s surprising how many more people you’re seeing coming up to watch birds and getting better fishing up and down these rivers – up and down the whole valley.”

None of it, though, happens without partnerships, a message that participants heard throughout the three-day event.

“It’s just like a sporting event,” Braaten said. “You don’t win many games with one person. If you’re on a team, you’ve got to have the whole team working in the right direction.

“You need many, many members.”

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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