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Okabena-Ocheda Watershed members working hard to protect our resources

WORTHINGTON -- This week's column is the first in a three-part series highlighting the three government agencies that operate in Nobles County to protect our natural resources.

These agencies' work falls under the primary headings of the soil and water. This week's column will feature the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, with the next two weeks covering the Nobles County Soils and Water Conservation District and the Nobles County Environmental services department, respectively.

The Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District is made up of five members appointed by the Nobles County Commissioners that serve three terms at the commissioners' discretion. The chairman of this group is Les Johnson along with other members Rolf Mahlberg, Jeff Williamson, Galen Gordon and Jim Mc Gowan.

There is one employee in the watershed, and his name is Dan Livdahl -- the district administrator. Dan answers directly to the watershed members and is the point man on the ground charged with executing the watershed programs.

The watershed office is located in the Nobles County facility on Diagonal Road.

The watershed is funded by a tax levy as all watersheds are. The Okabena-Ocheda watershed currently levies only a little more than 50 percent of the state allowed amount, which leads me to believe that it is a very lean-run operation. The watershed receives its funding only from those living within its boarders.

As watersheds go, the Okabena-Ocheda watershed is a very small one, but does include Lake Okabena, Lake Ocheda, and Lake Bella. As a result, the water supply for the city of Worthington, and its protection, falls under its jurisdiction. This is obviously a high priority in its day to day activities.

The current mission of the watershed is to manage lakes, streams, and ground water resources. The watershed covers approximately 45,000 acres and was established in August 1960. Prior to the watershed establishment, the organization was called the Okabena-Ocheda Water Conservancy District.

The activities of this group have changed dramatically. In the past, it was involved primarily in various ditching and dam-building projects.

Today's activities are very different.

Protecting lake and ground water resources is now the highest priority. This is accomplished in many different ways.

Some of the projects the watershed district has completed in the past include the construction of a large siltation basin along Nobles County 25 north of the municipal golf course. This is designed to reduce the phosphorous loading in the watershed and also reduces the sediment load entering Lake Okabena. This was a large project and, with planning and other aspects, took several years to complete.

The group has also worked with most of the land owners in the district, in an attempt to protect the major stream course in the watershed, by convincing those land owners to plant protective vegetation buffers on their property adjacent to these same stream courses.

It is my understanding that these sensitive areas are now protected by these buffers for the next 15 years and, in some instances, this protection goes out for the next 45 years. This is a great accomplishment from any perspective when the goal is to protect water resources.

These projects are enhanced by the partnerships the watershed is involved with. They partner with many other public entities including: the City of Worthington, Worthington Public Utilities, Nobles County, Nobles County Soil and Water Conservation District, and the United States Department of Agriculture. Private partners include: Nobles County Pheasants Forever, local business entities, the newly formed Lake Okabena Improvement Association, and the Olson memorial trust. This list is by all means not complete, but you get the idea.

The watershed district is involved in many educational activities as well. From educational tours for school children to cooperating in the construction of area rain gardens for school facilities, these activities play a major role in helping our area youth to develop the desire to protect out resources beyond our lifetime. Protecting our resources today is vital, but helping develop those who will be protecting these same resources 100 years from now is just as important.

If you have a question or concern you can reach the watershed district at 507-372-8228 or if you prefer you can visit their website at

You should take a minute and check out this site. It has lots of interesting information on this subject.

The watershed district does many things most people think just happen by themselves. This couldn't be further from the truth. Take a minute to thank these important district volunteers. Their work will be visible on the landscape many years from now. Great job guys, my hat is off to you!