A robust rock riffle response

Minnesota conservation group's efforts improve health of region's rivers

Sometimes going with the flow just isn’t an option.

It’s a bit of a simplified explanation, but it also captures the importance of the Sand Hill River rock riffle project in northwest Minnesota to soil and water conservation in the region.

The Sand Hill River is eroding at a less-than-desirable rate, and that’s why conservationists are installing rock riffles—short, fairly shallow lengths of stream over coarse stream beds that create turbulence and slow down the flow of a stream.

“These structures will reduce erosion, increase water quality and clarity, and provide habitat for aquatic life,” says Nicole Bernd, district manager of the West Polk Soil and Water Conservation District, a local organization that has been working to preserve the sustainability of the region for more than 50 years.

The West Polk SWCD’s project involves installing 18 rock riffles and two rock arch rapids to help prevent thousands of tons of sediment from being deposited downstream—not just in the Sand Hill River, but the Red River of the North, into which the Sand Hill flows.

“This project will benefit the general public by reducing the amount of sediment in the Sand Hill River and improving the overall health of the river, as well as increasing recreational use for swimming and fishing,” says Bernd.

The West Polk SWCD’s rock riffle project is being supported by Enbridge as one of 12 initiatives selected during the first year of our three-year, $3-million Ecofootprint Grant Program. The Ecofootprint program directs funding dollars to help protect and restore the natural environment in communities in North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin along the Sandpiper and Line 3 Replacement project routes.

“The Ecofootprint program promotes partnerships and collaborations that support environmental stewardship at a local level with far-reaching results,” says Cindy Finch, a Minnesota-based senior public affairs advisor with Enbridge.

Enbridge has provided a grant of $100,000 for the West Polk SWCD’s rock riffle project.

Some regional municipalities draw drinking water from the Red River of the North, notes Bernd, and this project will reduce the costs associated with treating that drinking water—as well as contributing to the water quality in Lake Winnipeg, thanks to a reduction in phosphorus and sediment coming from the Red River of the North.

“We recognize that preserving and restoring the natural environment strengthens our communities and creates lasting benefits,” says Finch. “This is a project that provides us with an opportunity to make a significant contribution to conservation efforts in the region.”