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Neighbors drown out landowner’s request to move water

WORTHINGTON -- A potentially contentious issue over which direction water flows from a parcel of land in Bigelow Township led Nobles County commissioners, acting as the county's drainage authority, to table a nearly hour-long meeting Tuesday to a...

WORTHINGTON - A potentially contentious issue over which direction water flows from a parcel of land in Bigelow Township led Nobles County commissioners, acting as the county’s drainage authority, to table a nearly hour-long meeting Tuesday to allow the property owner to gather more information.

Jesse Drost, who owns a parcel in the southwest corner of Section 7 in Bigelow Township, appeared before the drainage authority with a petition to outlet surface water from his farmland into Consolidated Judicial Ditch (CJD) 1 on the southwest corner of his property. Some of the water from his land already drains to the open ditch.

Drost said he wants to shift surface water that collects on the northwest corner of the property to CJD 1 as well, primarily because his neighbor to the north won’t let him hook into an existing drain tile there.

“The northwest corner is my biggest problem,” Drost said, noting that he has about 15 to 20 acres in a low spot that causes him to replant due to drown-outs in wet years. “We need every acre to produce to the fullest that we can.”

While acknowledging it would be better for the water to drain to the north, Drost said, “That doesn’t seem to be an option at the moment.” He also said he could install lateral tile to move the water, but the petition to outlet into CJD 1 seemed his best option.

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Ron Ringquist, a ditch viewer who was asked by the county to investigate the drainage issue on the Drost property, provided the board Tuesday with a summary report, noting approximately 13 acres of Drost’s property currently drains into CJD 1. His request to outlet water from the northwest corner of his parcel would result in approximately 12 additional acres draining into the open ditch.

Since the ditch authority is tasked with ruling whether CJD 1 has enough capacity to handle the additional water, Ringquist noted that the ditch was constructed in 1922 and no improvements have been made to the system.

The county’s legal counsel, Kurt Deter, had already advised the board that from a pure drainage perspective, all of the ditch systems are under capacity.

During the public meeting, several individuals spoke in opposition to Drost’s request.

Warren Wass, representing the individual who farms to the north of the Drost property, said the existing tile system and ditch are already overloaded.

“His 15 acres that is drowned out is an exaggeration,” Wass said. “I have a bottom that drowns about 15-20 acres, and I lose far more ground to flooding than they do. With the tile already overloaded, I see no reason to add to flooding already there.”

Scott Wildeman lives to the west of the Drost parcel and said he doesn’t want the water, either.

“I’m already drowned out,” he said. “I have far more ground that drowns out than Drost ever does. … It’s going to do me far more harm than anything.”

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Wildeman presented board members with a letter from his landlord, who also requests the board deny Drost’s petition. He then asked Nobles County Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder to comment on the issue.

Schnieder said contours of the Drost property show the northwest corner drains to the north, while the west side of the property drains into Judicial Ditch 10. He said Drost would have to cut his land down three to four feet, plus a few additional feet, to get the water flow to drain to the southwest.

“Even at that point, you may end up with a forced outlet,” Schnieder said. “There’s a lot of questions regarding natural flow.”

Aside from the issue of ditch systems having the capacity to handle water if it is redirected on the Drost property is the fact that shifting the water a different direction actually moves it from one watershed into another.

Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl told the drainage authority that the petitioner’s request would move water from the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed into the Kanaranzi-Little Rock Watershed.

“If you approve this, we would require a permit from Drost,” Livdahl said. “We have a list of about 16 considerations we go through to decide whether we’d approve that permit request.”

Leighton Gruis, a member of the K-LR board of managers, followed Livdahl’s comments by saying the K-LR board takes the same position as the OOWD.

“We don’t have a direct policy, but the consensus of the board is we don’t care to start shifting water from one watershed district to another,” Gruis said.

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Based on the testimony provided during the public hearing, Deter advised the drainage authority to table the hearing and ask Drost to provide an engineering analysis to show capacity for redirecting the water flow.

“I have to defend whatever you decide,” Deter said. “It’s going to be controversial whatever you decide, so let’s get it right.”

The meeting will be continued to 10:30 a.m. April 4 in the Nobles County Board Room.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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