Erosion Challenges Continue In Hawk Creek Watershed

The Hawk Creek Watershed Project has been working during the past 18 years to reduce the flow of sediment and nutrients to the Minnesota River. A young angler tries his luck fishing the Minnesota River in this Tribune file photo.

RENVILLE – Too much water moving too fast remains at the heart of the problem for the Hawk Creek watershed, where monitoring shows that the waterway continues to carry excessive levels of sediment, phosphorus and nitrates to the Minnesota River.

“There’s a lot of erosion problems happening in the watershed,’’ Heidi Rauenhorst, executive director of the Hawk Creek Watershed Project, told attendees at the organization’s annual meeting on Feb. 28 at the Renville Community Center.

The Hawk Creek Watershed Project works with landowners in the 958-square mile watershed to address water quality issues. The waterway runs 65 miles from its start at Eagle Lake in Kandiyohi County to the Minnesota River in Renville County just downstream of the Upper Sioux Agency State Park.

The watershed project is aiming for water quality goals adopted by the state for a stream in an agricultural landscape. Last year’s monitoring found that the levels of total suspended solids and phosphorus were measured at anywhere from 2 to 2-1/2 times the desired level at sites near Maynard, Beaver Creek and the outlet at the Minnesota River.

There is currently no state standard for nitrogen, but levels of the nutrient are also well above what most would like to see, according to the information presented at the meeting.

These are examples of the erosion problems found last year in the watershed and addressed with help from the Hawk Creek Watershed Project.

In terms of long-term trends, Rauenhorst said that the overall picture is mixed. There are areas where the watershed project is seeing reductions, especially in phosphorus and suspended solids, although there are also areas where they have gone up.

When it comes to nitrogen, the majority of sites being monitored show a general trend upward, she said. “So to me that’s a concern,’’ said Rauenhorst.

She said the watershed project is continuing to work at ways to hold more water on the landscape and slow its movement.

The director said there are many landowners in the watershed who are willing to adopt best management practices to address erosion concerns.

She noted that in the 18-year history of the project, it has helped 941 landowners with 1,627 projects aimed at improving water quality. Those projects have reduced the phosphorus that would have been carried to the Minnesota River by 55,522 pounds.  They have saved 16,752 tons of soil and reduced the sediment load by 19,925.

Overall, $1,549,260 has been spent on the projects, while over $3 million in loans were awarded to help upgrade septic systems within the watershed.

Rauenhorst also is encouraged by growing interest by farmers in cover crops to improve soil health and reduce erosion. The watershed project worked with 15 farmers to seed 1,018 acres with cover crops in 2015. Last year, the project helped 22 farmers who seeded 2,261 acres.


Monitoring results

Total Suspended Solids  — 65 mg/l standard

Maynard – 140 mg/l

Granite Falls 171 mg/l

Beaver Creek 141 mg/l

Phosphorus  — 15 mg/l standard

Maynard .34 mg/l

Granite Falls .43 mg/l

Beaver Creek .37 mg/l



Maynard 6.7 mg/l

Granite Falls 7.0 mg/l

Beaver Creek 7.0 mg/l

The Watershed Project is finding increased interest in the use of cover crops, shown in this example from the past year.