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With permission from nearby landowners, a local farmer installed a culvert a foot below the previous one to encourage drainage. The improvements are in violation of watershed regulations. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

Drainage dilemma

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news Worthington, 56187
Worthington Minnesota 300 11th Street / P.O. Box 639 56187

WORTHINGTON -- A rural Worthington landowner will be asked to restore a culvert that runs underneath a township road in Indian Lake Township after proceeding with the work without a permit from the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District.

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Ken Meyerdirk had requested a permit from the OOWD nearly a year ago to create a farmable waterway and lower a culvert under Sundberg Avenue. The watershed district denied the request last August, but not before Meyerdirk approached the Indian Lake Township board last July with the same request.

The township board, which had received letters of support from two affected neighbors, granted Meyerdirk permission to replace and lower the culvert, which he completed last fall at a cost of roughly $15,000.

"(The township board) didn't know they needed approval from the watershed board," OOWD Administrator Dan Livdahl told his watershed board of managers Tuesday.

In April, an anonymous complaint was made to the watershed district that Meyerdirk had replaced the culvert despite the OOWD's denial of a permit.

According to Livdahl, watershed district rules prohibit "replacement of culverts under public roads or private driveways with culverts ...(of) greater or lesser flow capacity, unless required for a conservation practice project meeting Natural Resources Conservation Services standards and specifications, or required for a project designed by a licensed engineer for flood water storage, or required for a project designed by a licensed engineer to comply with state standards and specifications for protection of existing structures or public safety."

"When Kenny applied for the permit, I told him I didn't think you'd approve it because we don't allow altering of culverts, but he wanted to apply anyway," Livdahl told his board, adding that the new culvert was placed about a foot deeper than the galvanized culvert.

Meyerdirk, reached Wednesday, said he replaced the existing galvanized 24-inch culvert with a 24-inch plastic pipe with a double wall that won't collect silt.

"Now it's staying nice and clean," he said, adding that the galvanized culvert was "half-filled with silt," when he removed it.

"I don't know why they'd be concerned about it, whatsoever," Meyerdirk said, adding that he thought permission from the other landowners meant the changes to the culvert wouldn't be a problem. He said the culvert replacement was beneficial to everyone involved.

"The (Jim and Gary) Langseth land ponds water on the southeast corner of their land," he explained. "If I relieved the ponding on my farm and Ernest Nelson's (land), then it would also relieve the ponding on the Langseth property.

"Virtually every year you had to wait for the lake to leave to plant or replant," he added.

Therein is the crux of the issue. Meyerdirk wants to get the water off his land as quick as possible, and the watershed district wants to slow the water down.

"Overall, we would like farmers to store water in their fields and meter it out over time," said Livdahl. "If everyone lowered culverts, you'd have more water rushing faster and filling up lakes faster."

In addition to draining the land quicker, the watershed district is concerned the "farmable waterway" could cause topsoil to wash through the system and into Lake Ocheda in large rain events.

"It should be (planted in) a perennial grass," said OOWD manager Jeff Rogers. "I think it will set a real precedence if we just blow this off. I'm sure there's a lot of culverts out there people would want lowered."

"Every couple of years we have people coming in and wanting to do that --'Get the water off my land and move it to someone else's'," added Livdahl.

During their meeting Tuesday, the watershed district voted unanimously to send Meyerdirk a notice of violation and request the culvert be restored to its original height. The violation is considered a misdemeanor, and noncompliance could lead to attorney involvement, Livdahl said.

This is the fourth violation of watershed rules in the past five years, he said, adding that it is likely also to be the costliest to bring back into compliance.

"In each of the other three, the owner was notified and complied quickly," Livdahl said.

Meyerdirk was told the notification will be sent to him yet this week and he'll have 60 days to take action. Still, he said he doesn't understand why the work wasn't appreciated.

"It's just baffling why anyone would complain when you look at the benefit," Meyerdirk said, pointing to the three, 160-acre parcels that were altered to improve water flow. He also installed railroad ties on each side of the culvert to protect it from future damage by farmers.

"It would sure be nice if the watershed district would come out and look at it rather than say this is the rule, it's black and white," Meyerdirk said.

Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.

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