Sand Hill River Fish Passage
$990,000 in the first year is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with the Sand Hill River Watershed District to restore fish habitat in the Sand Hill River watershed. A list of proposed restorations must be provided as part of the required accomplishment plan.
Protected, restored, and enhanced habitat for migratory and unique Minnesota species - This project will restore fish passage to 50 miles of spawning, nursery, and resident fish habitat that is currently inaccessible. Fisheries surveys will be conducted after the project is completed to document fish community changes..
This project will restore fish passage from the Red River to 50 miles of quality upstream Lake Sturgeon and Walleye habitats in the Sand Hill River by modifying four structures which currently block access.
Many native fish species migrate from the Red River to tributary streams, such as Sand Hill River, to access quality spawning habitats. This is especially true for Lake Sturgeon, a native species recently re-introduced into the Red River Basin, which make very long migrations to reproduce in riffles and rapids found in high gradient areas. Barriers to fish passage, such as dams, prevent fish from making this seasonal spawning run. The MN Department of Natural Resources in collaboration with federal and local partners has systematically removed and modified more than a dozen fish barriers in the Red River Basin over the past 15 years. Restoring connections from the Red River to these critical habitats helps to re-establish and maintain healthy, robust native fish communities with greater resiliency to invasion by exotic species.
Four concrete dams were installed on the Sand Hill River as part of a flood control project conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s. During normal flows, these dams create a vertical drop of approximately five feet. Surveys conducted by DNR Fisheries Biologists have conclusively identified these four dams on Sand Hill River as barriers to fish passage. Eleven species of fish were only found downstream of these dams. Many large river species such as Channel Catfish, Freshwater Drum, Goldeye, and Sauger that were present below the dams were not captured upstream of the dams. Several other species were captured in much lower numbers upstream of the dams. Five fish species were captured exclusively upstream of the dams.
Initially, six fish passage barriers existed on this stream segment. The Sand Hill River Watershed District (SHRWD), in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), developed the SHRWD Fish Passage Master Plan to restore upstream fish migration in the Sand Hill River by modifying these six structures. This project ranks third in the Minnesota DNR 2014 statewide Stream Restoration Priority List. To date, two of the six structures have been modified to allow fish passage but completing the project has been delayed due to lack of funding. Current plans are to modify the four remaining structures to transform the fish passage barriers into riffles with a more gradual slope. This will restore river connectivity to the 50 miles of Sand Hill River located upstream of dams. Reconnecting this substantial spawning and rearing habitat will improve the composition and quality of the fishery both in the Sand Hill River and Red River basin. This is an opportunity to complete the restoration project.
Numerous fish passage restoration projects have been conducted in the Red River basin, with almost immediate positive impacts to fish communities. A fish passage project similar to the one proposed for the Sand Hill River was conducted on the Wild Rice River, another major tributary to the Red River. Fisheries surveys found a low head dam on the Wild Rice River blocked fish passage and impacted populations. Similar to findings on the Sand Hill River, large river fish species such as Channel Catfish, Freshwater Drum, Goldeye, Sauger, Smallmouth Bass, and Walleye were common below but rarely captured above the dam. Within one year of passage restoration at this dam, these large river species were common upstream of the dam, with channel catfish captured 70 river miles above the previous barrier. Restoration of fish passage on the Sand Hill River would likely yield similar results.
The Sand Hill River Watershed District is responsible for administration of this project and has been a strong proponent of this project.
At the August 11 Council meeting, the Council approved the advancement of $990,000 of funds due to inadequate cash flow to the Sand Hill River Watershed District to be placed into a separate holding account in the Federal Government with the stipulation that within 60 days of anticipated project completion (November 30, 2017) receipts will be submitted to DNR Grants Management Unit showing the costs spent.
The state will determine if this deadline can be extended based on whether adequate progress on this project has occurred, the grantee has met all reporting requirements to date, and is demonstrating responsible contract management.
In addition, monthly receipts must be submitted to DNR Grants Management Unit showing money spent for the past month. All receipts to date must be submitted by March 30, 2016. Any future advancement of funds, approved by the Council, will not be transferred unless the state has determined that adequate progress on this project has occurred, the grantee has met all reporting requirements to date, and is demonstrating responsible contract management.