EQIP to fund water projects
WORTHINGTON — Landowners in Nobles, Rock, Pipestone, Murray and Cottonwood counties who have agricultural land within a Drinking Water Supply Management Area (DWSMA) now have added access to funds for implementation of water quality improvement projects.
The Minnesota Department of Health has identified 250 drainage water management areas in 59 counties across the state where special Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) dollars may be utilized. Nobles County is home to four of those areas, including the Malcolm well field southwest of Worthington near Smith Lake, the Lake Bella well field, and wellfields north of Ellsworth and southeast of Adrian.
Stephanie McLain, district conservationist at Worthington’s Natural Resources Conservation Service office, said the new Source Water Protection (SWP) initiative is aimed at protecting and improving the quality of Minnesota’s vulnerable drinking water resources used by public water suppliers. This will be done through promotion and adoption of agricultural best management practices.
Both sites in the Worthington wellhead protection area are classified as high vulnerability, with very high vulnerability status placed on Lincoln-Pipestone Rural Water’s wellfield in Pipestone County.
The EQIP SWP dollars may be used for development of nutrient or pest management practices or implementation of cover crops, said McLain. NRCS has $250,000 available statewide this year to assist landowners in projects, she added.
“Practices like cover crops and nutrient management are also eligible for EQIP under general payment schedules, but (those applications) compete for funds across the entire state,” McLain said. “(The SWP) has farmers competing against just those counties in the source management area.”
Applications for EQIP funding may be submitted at any time during the year. However, there are a couple of dates when NRCS conducts rankings of applications; this Friday is one of those deadlines. Landowners within the DWSMA are encouraged to submit applications as soon as possible.
McLain said the deadline could be extended, especially with the recent authorization of a new farm ill. She said her office is still waiting to hear of any changes to EQIP, awarding new contracts or moving through the funding cycle.
Landowners within the DWSMA can choose from a variety of project options to help improve water quality in their neighboring wellfield. McLain highlighted cover crops — planted between commodity crops — as a way to protect the soil and reduce sediment drift into water sources, as well as soak up excess nitrogen in the soil that might otherwise leach into groundwater.
Residue management practices such as strip-till and no-till are also eligible and would address runoff, particularly phosphorus that can be carried away with sediment. Meanwhile, nutrient management practices that address fertilizer and manure application also qualify for grant funds. McLain said there is a payment cap of $15,000 per year for three years if landowners are willing to work with crop consultants on a management plan.
Finally, funds are also available for well decommissioning through the special EQIP program.
“Anyone that has a well that they’re not utilizing, this is money to help them close the well,” McLain said, adding that unused wells that aren’t sealed off can become a direct point source for pollution within the DWSMA.
Dan Livdahl, administrator of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District — where two of the highly vulnerable wellfields are located — said incentives offered through the district have helped protect waters in the Lake Bella well field.
“We’ve done a lot of wellhead protection in that area already,” Livdahl said. “Streams are pretty well buffered from Lake Ocheda to Lake Bella and east of Lake Bella, too.”
Scott Hain, manager of Worthington Public Utilities, said while water in the well field is high in iron and manganese — both of which are common — there aren’t any pollution issues.
“With the cooperative efforts we’ve been able to engage in with the watershed district, Lake Bella is pretty well protected,” Hain said.
Meanwhile, the Malcolm wellfield, after testing positive for bacteria in the past, is no longer used as a drinking water source for the city, Hain said. The wells are shallow and offer little impact to the city’s water needs.
The water supply in the Ellsworth and Adrian well fields have each experienced issues with nitrates in the past, Livdahl said, adding that both are located within the Kanaranzi-Little Rock Watershed District.
Daily Globe Reporter Julie Buntjer may be reached at 376-7330.