A vote for cleaner water
WORTHINGTON -- With nearly a dozen potential projects identified to help protect Worthington's water resources, the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District voted unanimously to increase its annual levy Tuesday.
The vote will increase revenue for the district from $150,000 to $170,000 in 2013. The watershed district has the authority to levy up to a maximum $250,000 annually without seeking a special project levy.
Topping the list of priorities is a stream bank stabilization project on the Okabena Creek, north of Whiskey Ditch.
The creek winds behind Solid Rock Assembly and the Sanford Clinic, and approximately 950 feet of the shoreline is eroding, sending sediment down the creek and ultimately into Lake Okabena.
The steep banks and curves of the creek make erosion control a challenge, and while riprap could help reduce erosion, it isn't supported by grants. Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl said the project could cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to complete. A portion of the creek is on property owned by the city of Worthington.
By increasing the levy an additional $20,000, the OOWD board will create a separate account to build up funds to put toward projects. The money will also be used to leverage more dollars, specifically from programs like Minnesota's Clean Water Legacy Amendment.
"We have potential of getting some of this amendment money, but they want you to have a percentage (of cost-share)," said board chairman Les Johnson.
The increase in the levy will have a minimal impact on property owners residing in the watershed district. According to Nobles County Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Balster, the 2012 tax capacity rate was 2.313 percent. A $20,000 increase in the levy for 2013, based on 2012 valuations, would result in a tax capacity rate of 2.622 percent.
"I would like to be more proactive and start to build a fund," said OOWD board member Casey Ingenthron in support of the levy increase.
"I think it's really cool if there's a way to respond to projects and we have this built in," added board member Rolf Mahlberg. "We've got targeted goals and it takes money to meet targeted goals.
"I think the community at large would be supportive of us taking a proactive approach," Mahlberg said. "If you're going to be effective, you can't stay with status quo."
OOWD board member Jeff Rogers expressed concern that by increasing the levy, more requests for funding will be made from landowners and the additional dollars meant for reserves would be spent.
"In the past, we've levied a lot on cost-share that doesn't get spent," responded Livdahl. "What that money has been used for is partnering with Pheasants Forever on land acquisitions in the wellhead protection area."
There are still some land acquisitions the OOWD would like to complete, as identified in its list of potential projects distributed to board members at Tuesday's meeting.
Among them are the King property in the north half of Section 27, Bigelow Township, which is in the Ocheyedan River corridor between Lake Ocheda and Lake Bella; and the acquisition of the Abramson property in Section 15 Worthington Township. That parcel would be used to build a storm water pond to treat runoff from agricultural land before it enters Homewood Hills.
Other projects making the list for completion within the next five years are placing permanent easements on approximately 152 acres of Conservation Reserve Program filter strips in the subwatershed; restoring a pair of wetlands; conducting a drawdown on Lake Ocheda for a restoration project; restoring vegetation on Lake Okabena; completing a shoreline stabilization project on Lake Bella; monitoring and eventual dredging of Sunset Bay, along with wetland restoration and land acquisition in the Sunset Bay subwatershed; and encouraging more use of conservation tillage practices by offering additional incentives to landowners.
Board members showed a consensus to concentrate on efforts on Lake Okabena initially, as much of the water quality improvement work has taken place on the northern end of the watershed district.
"We're going to have a TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load study) on Lake Okabena, Ocheda and Bella ... that would pinpoint the projects that you would need to do," said Paul Langseth, a member of the Nobles County Soil and Water Conservation District and the statewide Board of Water and Soil Resources. "Getting some of the known projects down and finding out the cost of them is being proactive.
"We're an impaired water," Langseth said. "It's going to come down that we have to come up with some solutions to deal with it. We're (the Nobles SWCD) going to need to have partners. Our hands are tied with what the county provides us with and grant money."
While the 2013 levy will increase to $170,000, Livdahl said the OOWD won't collect its first half of the tax revenue until June, with the second half paid to the district in December.
In other business, the board:
* Approved the reappointment of Les Johnson to the watershed board and accepted the retirement of Jim McGowan. A candidate to fill the vacant board seat is still needed. Anyone interested in applying to serve on the board may request an application from the OOWD office, 960 Diagonal Road, or from the Nobles County Government Center Administration Office, 315 10th St., both in Worthington.