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Duluth's urban trout streams hanging on, but need help

John Myers, Duluth News Tribune on

Published in Outdoors

"We want to target efforts to where they are going to have the most bang for the buck," she said. "That's why we want to incorporate stream (protections) into projects that are already going to happen."

That means UMD plans ahead to improve campus stormwater control efforts as part of its new dormitory construction project. City officials incorporate stream protection efforts as they rebuild city streets and sewers. Slowing and storing warm, dirty water on developed sites is a big step toward cleaner streams. So is protecting wetlands and springs high on Duluth's hill, the sources of each stream, using conservation easements and tougher construction rules.

Deserae Hendrickson, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Duluth area fisheries supervisor, said reclaiming more natural stream channels also is key for trout, and restoration projects that followed the massive 2012 flood have done wonders. Chester Creek, for example, has seen a transformation from a dammed, channeled stream slowed by a pond to a more natural, free-flowing waterway thanks to a project by the South St. Louis County Soil and Water Conservation District. The effort also has helped the stream stay within its natural floodplain during major flood events.

The flood itself has some surprising benefits. When a man-made debris barrier blew out of Mission Creek in western Duluth during the flood, it opened up the upper stream for fish. Now, steelhead trout from Lake Superior are spawning far upstream for the first time in half a century, Hendrickson said.

"The flood did a lot of damage, certainly. But where it blew out (small culverts and small bridges) it allowed us to get larger passages replaced in those areas. So we saw a lot of re-connectivity there, opening up new areas for trout," she said.

In a few western Duluth streams, the DNR found cool water but no wild trout remaining. So they stocked the creeks and now the trout are reproducing on their own.

 

But problem areas remain. Tischer Creek just below Hartley Nature Area now is a warm water dead zone for trout, Hendrickson noted, in large part because the creek is dammed to create Hartley Pond. Removing the dam would help trout but destroy the pond, a favorite spot for local residents. There are possible solutions, such as separating the creek from the pond so the stream water can flow faster.

"We have stretches of streams that are impaired and need attention," Hendrickson said. "But we also have a lot of stream runs that, despite what we've done to them over the years, somehow hang on and support trout."

The PCA's Evens agreed.

"These trout, even if you don't fish for them, are part of Duluth's identity, part of the quality of life," she said. "Having trout streams in our city is part of why people want to live here."

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