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Watershed district earns state honor

HERON LAKE -- The Heron Lake Watershed District (HLWD) accepted the 2006 Environmental Education award Wednesday at the Minnesota Environmental Initiative's 13th annual banquet in Minneapolis.

The honor, considered the Academy Award for environmental service, was presented to the district for its Watershed Assistance Through Education and Resources (WATER) program. HLWD staff members accepted the award at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis campus, and dedicated it to their former co-worker, Dan Dols, who died as a result of an accident earlier this year.

"WATER is Dan," said Kelli Daberkow, watershed technician with HLWD. "He came on board in 1997. He put his heart and soul into the job."

Melanie Luinenburg, education coordinator for the watershed district, said Dols developed many of the ideas in use today to help improve environment and water quality in the district.

The WATER program uses a variety of methods to educate citizens about water quality issues. It encourages environmental stewardship through programs such as best management practices -- using filter strips along water courses, developing field windbreaks, waterways and terraces, or farming practices that increase protection of exposed soils.

WATER was initiated to help increase public awareness of water quality issues, improve water quantity management within the watershed, monitor lake water quality, improve wildlife habitat and reduce point- and non-point source pollutant loading.

Since the program began, 495 projects have been completed within the watershed district, including more than 3,000 acres of filter strips and 145 acres of wetland restoration. At the same time, the district's efforts have reduced phosphorus levels by approximately 2,210 pounds per year, and sediment by 1,862 tons per year.

Luinenburg said the district's success is due in large part to the cooperation it has with agencies throughout the four counties located within the Heron Lake watershed.

Jan Voit, HLWD district administrator, said the agency works with soil and water conservation districts, Extension personnel, the Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and numerous other entities in addition to private landowners.

While watershed district staff members are excited about the state honor, they say they realize there is still much work and education that needs to be done.

"We want to continue the programs we have, continue to meet the needs of the residents and find out ways to improve water quality," said Voit.

"We need to stay on the leading edge with innovative projects like the new rock inlet program," added Daberkow.

In all, six awards were presented during the Minnesota Environmental Initiative banquet. Other honorees included the Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTS), the Neighborhood Energy Consortium's Hourcar program in the Twin Cities, Best Buy's consumer electronics recycling program, the City of Woodbury's intercommunity groundwater protection program and the Blue Earth River Basin's Third Crop Initiative program.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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