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Mississippi Makeover plan finalized

After about two and a half years of meetings, collaboration and goal setting, the Mississippi Makeover Project has finalized its implementation plan for revitalizing Spring Lake, the Lower Vermillion River and pool three of the Mississippi River. The plan was finalized at the end of June and is the result of the project's first phase.

The Mississippi Makeover Project is a part of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) studies being done on Lake Pepin and the Lower Vermillion River. The project aims to bridge multiple projects and agencies working to protect and improve water quality, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities in the area.

The problem

Last summer, the project's Citizen Advisory Group (CAG), a group of citizens, elected officials and various stakeholders involved in guiding the project, took a trip downstream to visit pool five by Buffalo City, Wis., where they saw a clear water river with plenty of healthy aquatic vegetation, fish and birds - a place that's attractive for all sorts of recreation.

The picture in Spring Lake, the Lower Vermillion River and pool three is much different. High populations of rough fish, wind and sediment flowing into the area from upstream have left the water murky and wanting in the plant species that encourage gentler fish and insect populations and make for a better bird habitat.

The solutions

The CAG identified indicators of a healthy water system - water clarity, aquatic vegetation, sedimentation rates in Lake Pepin, invertebrates, fish and waterfowl. When these things are present, it means the waterway is healthy. But the question was, what has to be done in order to establish the indicators in and around Hastings?

Through much discussion with technical experts in multiple agencies in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the CAG identified, and later prioritized, a list of strategies that have been shown to achieve the sort of results the CAG and Mississippi Makeover Project are looking for.

At the top of the list are island building in Spring Lake and lower pool two, a water level drawdown in pool three, island building in North and Sturgeon lakes and a water level drawdown in pool two. After those come island building in upper Lake Pepin; rough fish management in floodplain lakes such as Mud Hen, Clear, Goose, Wildcat and Birch lakes; and the development of a comprehensive management plan for the Gores Wildlife Management Area.

Island building increases habitat diversity, reduces wind-stirred sediments and allows aquatic plants to establish themselves behind the protection of the island. Water level drawdowns mimic historic river flow patterns that are no longer happening due to river level management for barge traffic. They also allow sediment to consolidate and give aquatic vegetation a chance to rise out of the water.

At an earlier meeting, the CAG noted that just because an item is a top priority, it doesn't mean that task will be the first to happen. The priorities were set according to highest ecological impact on the entire area.

With the priorities set in the Mississippi Makeover Project, other organizations are starting to coordinate their efforts as well. The Lower Mississippi Habitat Restoration Partnership has put the first phase of island building in pool two at the top of its priority list in a funding proposal to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The Army Corps of Engineers is also considering using dredge spoils to build islands in the area, said Laura Jester, who has coordinated the efforts of the CAG and the Mississippi Makeover Project.

Continuing efforts

The first phase of the Mississippi Makeover Project ended June 30 with the finalization of the implementation plan. The project did receive funding for a second year, and was slated to begin July 1; however, because it's funded by a state contract, work won't begin until the government shutdown is ended.

Phase two involves developing a report card of sorts to document progress. Jester said they also hope to find a champion in the state legislature to help move projects forward.

To view the entire Mississippi Makeover Project implementation plan, go to