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Big Sandy Area Lakes Watershed Management Project...

What is the Big Sandy Area Lakes Watershed?

A watershed is an area of land drained by a particular stream, water system, or body of water. The Big Sandy Lake Watershed is much more than just Big Sandy Lake. The watershed includes the following, and much more:

  • Portions of three counties – Aitkin, Carlton, and St. Louis
  • 4 cities – Cromwell, McGregor, Tamarack, and Wright.
  • Nearly 260,000 acres
  • 49 lakes, including Big Sandy, Minnewawa, Prairie Island, and more.

Volunteers plant native vegetation on the shore of Tamarack LakeThe Big Sandy Lake Watershed extends eastward from the Mississippi River about 26 miles and is about 18 miles wide in the north-south direction. Water in Big Sandy Lake originates from four main rivers: The West Savanna from the north, the Prairie and Tamarack from the east, and the Sandy River from the south. The watershed is about one third wetlands, and one third wooded upland, with the remainder being a combination of agriculture, open upland, lakes, industrial, residential, and roads.

The Big Sandy Area Lakes Watershed Management Project (BSALWMP) was organized in 1991 in an effort to provide a local mechanism to encourage equal partnership among all stakeholders and governmental agencies, in protecting and enhancing the esthetic, ecological, economic, agricultural, and recreational value of lakes, streams, shoreland, and wetland resources in the Big Sandy Area Lakes Watershed Management Project. It is believed that this coordinated, cooperative watershed approach is key to protecting water, shoreland, and wetland resources. This goal is best achieved through community-based collaboration.Automated water sampling equipment, housed in the box at this site on Minnewawa Greek, records constant data relating to stream flow and precipitation.

Projects Undertaken by the Big Sandy Area Lakes Watershed Management Project:

1. Clean Water Partnership Continuation Grant: The BSALWMP received $260,000 in grant funds from the MPCA in 2006. The funds are available for use until the end of the grant period in June of 2009, and are being used for a combination of on the ground water quality improvement projects, and education efforts. Projects include:

  • Shoreline Revegetation / Planting Projects
  • Lake Access Stabilization / Erosion Control
  • No-Mow Zone Incentive Contracts
  • Forest Stewardship Planning
  • Conservation Easements
  • Shoreland Homeowners Guides
  • Educational Workshops
  • Water Quality MonitoringExclusion fencing keeps livestock from watering in the Tamarack River - protecting the fragile shoreline.

2. Volunteer Monitoring in the Big Sandy Area Lakes Watershed: The BSALWMP recently received a Surface Water Assessment Grant from the MPCA. Volunteers will assist with taking water samples on Davis, Sandy River, and Island Lakes in Aitkin County. Two stream sites in St. Louis County will also be monitored. These include Hasty Brook just before it enters Prairie Lake, and the Prairie River near the county line. All sampling will be conducted during the open water seasons of 2009 and 2010. The monitoring plan has been designed to complete the assessment dataset for each site – giving us a good picture of the health of the waterbody.

Prairie River Snowmobile Access before stabilization.3. Demonstrating Shoreline Buffers in Big Sandy Lake’s Watershed: Beginning in the fall of 2009 the Watershed Project will focus on Shoreline Buffers.This project will promote the implementation of Shoreline Buffers through the use of demonstration projects, cost-share funding, educational workshops, and newsletters. Shoreline Buffers reduce non-point source pollution by stabilizing shorelines, controlling soil erosion, and filtering and slowing runoff. The combination of these efforts, focused on a common goal of promoting shoreline buffers, will provide a comprehensive effort that is successful in reaching the goal of protecting fragile shorelines while providing landowners with the tools they need to implement projects on their own properties. Typical shoreline development in this area often includesPrairie River Snowmobile Access during stabilization with GeoGrid Soil Confinement System. removing the vegetation at the lakeshore to create access and use areas, while opening up a view of the lake. This project will work to restore native vegetative buffers on fragile shorelines. Funding for this project is provided by an EPA Section 319(h) Grant.

The Big Sandy Area Lakes Watershed Management Project is coordinated through the Aitkin County SWCD office. The project is directed by a volunteer committee that meets monthly. All meetings are open to the public, and additional input and ideas are always welcome. For more information on any of the programs offered in the watershed or to learn about the next meeting, please call (218) 927-6565.Prairie River Snowmobile Access after stabilization.

Map of the Big Sandy Area Lakes Watershed Management Project.

Proposed Big Sandy Lakes Area Monitoring Stations.

2010 Water Quality Project Fact Sheet