Cleaning up the coulee: Trash removal just one piece of the puzzle in improving English Coulee water quality – Grand Forks Herald

Mats of cattails and green duckweed. Plastic bottles. Large pieces of foam sheeting. Cans. Blocks of wood. Balls of all shapes and sizes, including a basketball and volleyball.

Cleaning up the mess would be a big job, but that was the task facing Justin Parks, watershed coordinator for the Grand Forks County Soil Conservation District, and his co-workers, Jill Kvasager, Joshua Moe and Ryan Thorson.

While Kvasager and Thorson tackled the job from shore, Parks and Moe gathered debris from a canoe with garden rakes and a landing net.

By the time they wrapped up the job, they had collected some 200 pounds of trash. The work wouldn’t have been out of place in an episode of “Dirty Jobs,” the reality TV show that ran from November 2003 to September 2012.

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“It’s not just that place,” Parks said. “This year, we’ve seen a lot of rain, so it’s been flushing the coulee pretty good.

“This is kind of the highlight of where all the trash accumulates.”

Spreading the word

In his job as watershed coordinator, Parks is tasked with bringing awareness to water quality issues on the English Coulee and other water bodies in the county. The English Coulee is classified as a Class III stream, with water suitable for ag and industrial uses. Class III streams generally have low average flows with limited value for recreation, fish and other aquatic life.

Despite that lowly status, the coulee still should be maintained to protect recreational uses, fish and other aquatic life and wildlife habitat, the Soil Conservation District says on its website. The goal, Parks says, is to increase awareness of that and also the need to keep the English Coulee free of debris and to improve water quality within the coulee watershed, which covers nearly 86,000 acres.

That’s an uphill battle.

Like many waters in the state, the English Coulee is listed as impaired by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, Parks said, primarily for high nutrient levels and E. coli bacteria. Parks takes water samples weekly at five sites along the coulee from spring thaw until freeze-up, except when there’s no flow. He sends the samples to the state Department of Environmental Quality, where they’re tested for everything from nutrients and trace metals, to total suspended solids and E. coli.

“There are spikes throughout the season – mostly after the spring thaw and then after heavy rain events,” Parks said. “We see a lot of runoff, and it’s not just ag fields.”

People using the coulee as their personal dumping ground for everything from trash to grass clippings don’t help, he said. That’s what prompted Tuesday’s clean-up effort, nasty though it was.

“Plastic is always on our minds, but it gets to the point where you just feel like you have to do something and not just talk about it,” Parks said. “It’s hard to walk by it every day and not do something.

“There’s all kinds of stuff in the coulee.”

Cost-share funding

The Grand Forks Soil Conservation District offers 60/40 cost-share funding through the 319 program – named for Section 319 of the Clean Water Act – for homeowners and others to establish best management practices to benefit water quality, Parks said.

Funding through the conservation district is limited to the English Coulee watershed, he said.

Septic systems, cover crops to reduce runoff and erosion, watering facilities and fencing to keep cattle and the waste they produce away from the water, prescribed grazing plans and various kinds of technical assistance are just some of the examples of what’s available for people who live within the watershed, Parks said.

“We do riparian work, too,” he said. “If there’s any chance of riparian or bank stabilization, we would help with that.”

Getting the word out is the challenging part, Parks said. There hasn’t been “a ton” of outreach, he said, but the goal is to change that and let people know what’s available. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is a partner with the SCD, also offers various programs to improve water quality.

As Tuesday’s effort proved, the need is there.

“It’s being aware of what you’re doing,” Parks said. “That’s the overall goal.”

For more information on cost-share funding available through the 319 program, contact Parks at (701) 772-2321 ext. 3674, by email at or check out the Grand Forks Soil Conservation District website at

Dokken reports on outdoors. Call him at (701) 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1148 or send email to

Cost-share projects

Here’s a look at some of the best management practices eligible for 319 program cost-share funding through the Grand Forks Soil Conservation District for residents who live within the English Coulee Watershed. The program pays 60% of the project cost, and the participant pays 40%.

  • Septic system replacement/repair.

  • Portable windbreaks for livestock.

  • Prescribed grazing.

  • Livestock watering facilities.

  • Cover crops.

  • Field buffers and grassed waterways.

  • Nutrient management.

  • Pasture/hayland planting.

  • Riparian buffers.

More info:

— Brad Dokken

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