Connecting Water Resources Science student skills with Cedar Lake community efforts

Contributors to this article include Mary Hannemann, RSDP Student Engagement Director, Cole Reagan, and Erin Meier, Southeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership Executive Director.

In the fall of 2016, Doug Malchow, since-retired Extension Educator in Water Resources, responded to inquiries from Dante Rand of the Cedar Lake Ambassadors of Rice County (CLARC) - a community of people interested in restoring, preserving, and protecting Cedar Lake in Rice County, Minnesota. CLARC is an action-oriented committee working in conjunction with the non-profit organizations of Cedar Lake Association and The Sportsman’s Club.

Malchow pulled in Extension colleagues Shahram Missaghi (Water Resources) and Erin Meier (University of Minnesota Extension Southeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership - SERSDP). Rand invited soil, water, and environmental services county officials along with staff from the Cannon River Watershed Partnership and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The group met in October 2016 to explore project options.

They identified the need for a research assistant to provide support in developing an actionable Lake Management Plan for restoration of Cedar Lake, including researching water quality and providing a baseline of measures as indicators for effectiveness of the action plan. This research and action plan will provide a long-term research-based strategy for improving the lake and implementing restoration efforts.

With help from SERSDP and Extension, CLARC applied for a Community Assistantship through the UMN Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. The Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) then supported the project through RSDP’s Mary J. Page Fund. The Mary J. Page Fund supports University of Minnesota students working on community-based sustainability projects in Greater Minnesota.


Water Resources Science MS student Cole Reagan created a soil and water assessment tool to measure stream flow, phosphorus concentrations and evapotranspiration values. Reagan is advised by Chris Lenhart.

Cole Reagan, a graduate student studying Water Resources Science at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, was selected to take on this project, starting in the summer 2017. Reagan’s expertise helped in the development of a Soil and Water Assessment(SWAT) Tool covering a 30-year time frame between 1987 and 2017. The model was useful in generating representative information not available through observed measurements, such as stream flow, phosphorus concentrations, and evapotranspiration values. Cole also developed a BATHTUB model using values from SWAT and literature data to try to identify the amount of phosphorus released from the lake sediment.

Due to the need for data to verify the model, Reagan identified appropriate stream flow and discharge monitoring equipment and measured the necessary elevation and slope to calibrate the monitoring equipment. In addition to the monitoring equipment, Reagan identified an additional water chemistry monitoring plan which includes sampling streams during high, medium, and low flow events for total phosphorus and orthophosphorus and sampling the bottom of the lake near the sediment for total phosphorus.

Upon completion of this early analysis, a sampling plan was developed into a second phase of the project to include collecting the data, which was funded by SERSDP. Data collection plans include installing the flow meters, capturing the water chemistry data and sampling the bottom of the lake near the sediment to give an empirical estimate of the internal load in a given year.

Capturing the baseline data is one step towards a longer management plan. Reagan also researched different management strategies and potential costs for treating phosphorus and aquatic invasive species. Reagan considers the community interaction as one of the project’s highlights. “It has been nice to work with the Cedar Lake Ambassadors and a community that is passionate about identifying steps necessary to restore Cedar Lake,” he said.

The University of Minnesota Extension Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships celebrate their 20-year anniversary this year in supporting community-driven projects across Minnesota and connecting University resources with needs identified by the community in four focus areas: agriculture and food systems, tourism and resilient communities, natural resources, and clean energy. Community organizations interested in learning more about the RSDPs can find information online at or contact the Executive Director in their region.