Saint Peter Herald, Wednesday, December 31, 2014
By DANA MELIUS firstname.lastname@example.org
The Seven Mile Creek Watershed expects to be the primary beneficiary from the $1.7 million grant recently awarded to the Nicollet County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD).
“It was really competitive,” Galles said. “But we got early word that we would receive the funding. But it’s still somewhat of a surprise. But we’re ready to be proactive.”
The grant is part of the state’s Targeted Watershed Demonstration Program, a new approach to addressing pollution directly resulting from watershed run-off. The Nicollet County project centers on the Seven Mile Creek Watershed, which includes prime agricultural land as well as a county park near the creek’s flow into the Minnesota River.
Galles, as project coordinator, serves in a partnership with the St. Paul-based organization, Great River Greening, and the Nicollet County SWCD. But the county’s soil and water conservation district is one of 20 entities that make up the Seven Mile Creek Watershed Partnership. It’s a broad coalition representing conservation, agriculture, community and recreation groups, according to Galles. Besides Green River Greening, other metro-based partners include the Minnesota Agricultural Water Resources Center and the University of Minnesota.
“Seven Mile Creek is exactly the right place to demonstrate that significant water quality improvements can be achieved in agricultural watersheds without sacrificing the economic vitality of the surrounding farms,” Galles said. “We are fostering a locally led, collaborative process and this grant will allow us to demonstrate that those characteristics are essential for achieving water quality improvements in any agricultural watershed.”
Galles said this “collaborative approach” is essential for project success. And she calls the perceived conflicts between agricultural and environmental interests “blown out of proportion.”
“These two goals aren’t at odds with each other as one would think,” she said. “It is in everyone’s interest to improve water quality and reduce peak flows, which do a tremendous amount of damage.”
There are means to put in place “controlled drainage” which can be implemented within the watershed’s agricultural “while still respecting that farmers need to make a living,” according to Galles. “There are plenty of ways all parties can work together.”
But Galles also stresses that the $1.7 million grant brings with it some incentive to come up with long-term options for similar watersheds.
“We’ve been working on these issues for some time and we really need some kind of success,” she said.
Galles’ organization, Great River Greening, calls the Seven Mile Creek Watershed a “priority” for Nicollet County. The 630-acre county park is widely used by regional residents for fishing, picnics, horseback riding, hiking and biking, the organization states. The creek, which is a designated trout stream, flows into the Minnesota River about six miles south of St. Peter.
Galles will lead the partnership’s efforts “to pursue both the relationship building and conservation implementation,” according to Great River Greening’s communications manager Mary Anne Welch.
The organization believes that “community dialogue and leadership development will lead to long-term, sustained improvements.” Project goals over the next four years expect to reduce sediment levels in Seven Mile Creek by 40 to 50 percent, nitrate levels by 15 to 25 percent, and E. coli levels by 20 to 30 percent, according to the organization’s press release.
The Nicollet County SWCD grant application was one of 19 local governments requesting up to $30 million. Only $5.4 million was awarded. Other grant recipients included the Chisago Chain of Lakes Watershed, Cook County SWCD for the Poplar River Watershed and the Scott Water Management Organization for the Sand Creek Watershed.
Reach reporter Dana Melius at 507-931-8568 or follow him on Twitter @SPHdanajohn