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New survey set for Lake Okabena

WORTHINGTON -- Farmers who own land along Okabena Creek north of Worthington are getting a little extra incentive this year to keep marginal lands along the creek out of production.

The Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District received support from the local Clean Water Partnership joint powers board Tuesday morning for a rate increase from $100 to $150 per acre. The additional funds were made available to landowners in an effort to keep the stream protected and reduce the amount of phosphorus that reaches the creek and ultimately flows into Lake Okabena.

CWP board member Les Johnson, who also serves on the watershed district, said the rates needed to increase to be more competitive in an era where both land and crop prices are at an all-time high.

There are 27 landowners who have, so far, opted to maintain or create a combined 162 acres of grassed buffer strips along Okabena Creek between the city of Worthington and Herlein-Boote Slough at the northern reach of the OOWD.

Each landowner has the buffer strips enrolled in the 10-year Conservation Reserve Program. Because their enrollment years vary, the land adjoining a large share of the creek will be kept out of row crop production for anywhere from five more years to a decade.

The city of Worthington will cover half of the cost of the $150-per-acre incentive payment ($8,327.50), with the OOWD funding the remaining half.

Johnson said Tuesday he'd like to see permanent grassed buffers become a requirement along Okabena Creek.

"As you know, it might be unpopular, but at what point do you do that?" Johnson asked. There is at least one landowner who has refused to put in the buffers.

"In the drainage area ... does the farmer have the right to just ignore that?" he asked. "This isn't a small issue -- it's compounded by all the people doing it."

Mayor Alan Oberloh, one of two city council representatives on the Clean Water Partnership board, asked if it was possible to make the grass buffers a requirement.

"Why would we sit on our thumbs? Why wouldn't we do what we could to improve water quality?" Oberloh asked.

Buffer strips along Okabena Creek north of Worthington are deemed to have a direct correlation with the water quality in Lake Okabena. With sediment flowing into the lake -- particularly during large rain events in each of the past few years -- the Clean Water Partnership board also discussed conducting a survey of Lake Okabena's depth.

"In 1998, the watershed district, fishing club and other partners surveyed (Sunset) Bay and Lake Okabena," OOWD Administrator Dan Livdahl said. "At that time, it was done because the fishing club said the lake was filling up with sediment."

A survey had last been conducted in 1964, he said, and the results of the 1998 survey showed that in the 34-year span, the dredged holes appeared to be filling in but the other areas of the lake showed relatively unchanged elevations.

This time, the plan is to again survey both the lake and Sunset Bay. The bay was constructed as a sediment basin to filter water before it enters the lake. The last time it was surveyed, the results showed the bay's capacity would be sufficient for approximately 30 years before it would need to be cleaned out.

"We're halfway there, and with low water levels, people again are talking about the lake filling up with sediment and needing to be dredged," Livdahl said.

He was instructed Tuesday morning to get quotes on a new lake survey which, because of GPS technology, could be conducted via boat during open water or by walking on the ice after the lake freezes over.

While the survey has yet to be conducted, joint powers board members are already concerned about the results.

"Our budget, the watershed budget and the Clean Water Partnership budget doesn't have enough money to dredge that lake, and then, where would we go with (the dredged material)?" Oberloh asked.

"If the survey shows it is filling in, we would have 15 years to figure out what to do," Livdahl added.

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

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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