South Branch Buffalo River

Project Overview


Over a century ago, the construction of Judicial Ditch No. 3 resulted in the rerouting of the South Branch of the Buffalo River, completely changing its flow characteristics. In the first phase of this multi-phase project, the Buffalo-Red River Watershed District (BRRWD) in partnership with landowners, federal, state, and local agencies, will put much of the rerouted channel back restoring up to 4.6 miles of the South Branch with up to 100 acres of associated riparian habitat corridor. Additional restorations of straightened stream and river channels along the South Branch and Whisky Creek will be completed as funding permits.


About the Issue


The construction of several legal ditch systems and other channel straightening efforts eliminated hundreds of acres of quality of stream habitat within the BRRWD. In some cases, the channelization simply straightened the stream channel and in others the constructed ditch diverted water away from the natural stream. Straightened channels create homogenous habitats, they no longer have the shallow riffles and deeper pools that are required by fish at various stages in their life cycle. The straightened reaches also tend to lose access to their floodplains which increases erosion in the channel and causes downstream flooding. In addition, aggradation of the downstream channel due to increased sediment loading reduces habitat quality and makes flooding worse. Over the last several years, the BRRWD, with input and in partnership with landowners, federal, state, and local agencies, designed comprehensive subwatershed restoration plans and intends to implement these plans over the next several years. A component of these plans includes the restoration of numerous reaches of straightened and abandoned creek and river channels throughout the Watershed District. Prioritization of projects is largely based on ecological benefits, being shovel-ready and having landowner and other stakeholder support. In the first phase of this multi-phase project, the BRRWD plans to restore up to 4.6 miles of perennial stream with up to 100 plus acres of associated riparian corridor habitat along the South Branch of the Buffalo River. The project will divert water from Wilkin County Ditch No. 44 (formerly called Judicial Ditch 3) back into the abandoned South Branch channel. The South Branch will be restored using natural channel design principles. The river restoration has been designed with direct input from the MN DNR Stream Habitat Program as well as the MN Board of Water & Soil Resources (BWSR). A sinuous riffle-pool natural channel design is proposed to recreate the aquatic habitat diversity that was lost in the straightened ditch. The naturally stable restored channel will not only recreate lost habitat, but will reduce the current erosion that is overloading downstream reaches of the South Branch. This project is being completed in conjunction with a Reinvest in Minnesota project being implemented by the MN BWSR. As part of their comprehensive subwatershed planning process, the District has completed planning and design on three additional stream reaches which are included as part of this application package. These include the restoration of Whisky Creek, its tributary, and the South Branch of the Buffalo River and their associated riparian corridors. Additional stream restoration enhancement along the South Branch of the Buffalo River and Whisky Creek will be completed as funding permits when and if additional sources of match funding become available. Combined, these comprehensive projects have the potential to restore and enhance more than 38 miles of natural prairie stream. Ultimately, over 1400 acres of floodplain wetland and grassland habitat along these restoration reaches will be protected and restored.