Restoring Native Habitat and Water Quality to Shell Rock River, Phase 2
The SRRWD has successfully acquired fee title to 257 acres of land that encompasses the headwaters of the Shell Rock River located at the Albert Lea Lake outlet. This 257 acre parcel will now be a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Aquatic Management Area (AMA) guided by an Aquatic Management Plan.
The Shell Rock River Watershed District (SRRWD) Management Plan developed in 2004, revised in 2015, has identified goals for accelerating programs for improved habitat, water quality and flood control. Acquiring the 257 acre parcel allowed the SRRWD to meet these goals by protecting such a large portion of undeveloped habitat and opening opportunities for the public by incorporating recreation, hunting, and fishing into the property.
This project was time sensitive, as it was an essential step in securing access for the replacement of the Albert Lea Lake Dam. The Albert Lea Lake Dam and Fish Barrier Project was also funded by the LSOHC and was a 3-in-1 project designed to replace the failing dam and install a draw down structure that provided vegetation and game fish management, an electric fish barrier for protection from aquatic invasive species, and provided an aesthetically appealing rock arch dam. This project complements the 257 headwaters purchase as the water from the outlet of the dam continues to flow south through the middle of the property that was purchased.
The 257 acre parcel has various natural amenities that includes the headwaters and 1.4 miles of the Shell Rock River, floodplain and mesic hardwood forests, undisturbed highly diversified wetland complexes and a riparian and stream bank corridor that is a mile long and approximately ½ mile wide. A majority of the site has undisturbed native plant communities, but some locations have been mined for sand and gravel, and roughly 43 acres of this property was used for row crops. After the purchase of the property the SRRWD, using the MnDNR recommendations, seeded the cropland into native grasses and wildflowers, and once the gravel lease is up, the MnDNR will incorporate that portion into wetland ponds. With the cropland and gravel pit restored, it creates a 257 parcel habitat niche in a predominantly agricultural setting that is at pre-settlement conditions.
The Shell Rock River Water District was the fiscal agent that received the funds for purchase of this property. The process of this reimbursable grant was a relatively simple process that is well executed by LSOHC Staff and Council Members. The property is now in the process of being transferred into an AMA. This DNR management and appraisal process took longer than the District proposed because of the cumbersome DNR requirements. Once fully transferred, the DNR will have regulations for public use of this land as well as maintaining restored conditions.