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Grant award will help clean up St. Croix River

Efforts to protect water quality in the St. Croix River Basin got a boost with the announcement that the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway is one of 76 national parks to receive funding through a new cost-share initiative, the Centennial Challenge.

The Riverway is receiving $200,000, which will be matched with funding from the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, to develop a watershed model that will help achieve nutrient reduction goals for the St. Croix River.

The model, which will simulate nutrient loading, will be developed at the Science Museum of Minnesota's St. Croix Watershed Research Station.

The St. Croix and one of its major tributaries, the Namekagon, are federal wild and scenic rivers.

"These rivers were designated 40 years ago to protect water quality, scenic beauty, and boating, fishing, camping, canoeing, and other recreation opportunities," said Riverway superintendent Tom Bradley. "We know that phosphorous loading needs to be reduced by 20 percent in order to maintain the kind of water quality that supports these uses. This project will be a big step forward toward achieving that goal."

National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar said, "With the nearly $25 million Congress has appropriated and nearly $27 million of matching commitments from our park partners, the Centennial Initiative today moves onto the landscape and into people's lives. It's a great day for the National Park Service and a great day for the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway."

The National Park Centennial Initiative is a 10-year program to reinvigorate America's national parks and prepare them for a second century.

The initiative includes a focus on increased funding for park operations plus a President's Challenge: up to $100 million a year in federal funds to match $100 million a year in philanthropic donations to the National Park Service. The Centennial will be in 2016.

"This is how we put our Centennial goals on the ground and it's quite a beginning," Bomar said. "We have 110 programs and projects involving more than 130 individual, public and non-profit partners benefitting 76 national parks in 38 states and the District of Columbia."

An interagency St. Croix Basin Water Resources Team has been pooling resources for a decade to protect water quality in the river basin. The team has undertaken a number of research projects to gain understanding of water quality threats. Introduction of phosphorous and other nutrients into tributary streams and, eventually, the St. Croix is the primary concern.

In 2008, Lake St. Croix, the lower 25 miles of the St. Croix Riverway, was named an impaired water by both Minnesota and Wisconsin because it does not meet Clean Water Act standards for phosphorous and chlorophyll a, which is associated with algae blooms. Pollutants that enter the river from tributaries and upstream reaches accumulate in this part of the Riverway because of the lake-like conditions.

The watershed model, known as the Soil and Water Assessment Tool, or SWAT, will identify sources of tributary loading, the management practices that will be effective in reducing loads, and where those practices would be most effective. It can be used by communities, watershed districts, county conservation districts, private landowners, and others to help achieve water quality goals for the St. Croix.

The National Park Centennial Initiative provides a framework for the National Park Service to engage the public in its mission. Its goals and strategies will embrace new constituents and gain support from a broad array of public and private partners to ensure America's national parks continue to thrive into the next 100 years.

The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, a unit of the National Park System, was established by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. It is one of a group of eight rivers in the country that first received this recognition. For 252 miles, the St. Croix River and its tributary, the Namekagon, flow through some of the most scenic and least developed country in the Upper Midwest.