WORTHINGTON — Building a pond on District 518-owned land west of the Intermediate School would prevent about 300 pounds of phosphorus from reaching Lake Okabena, where it contributes to algae blooms, sediment and poor water quality in the lake.

The Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Board of Managers and the District 518 Board of Education met Tuesday evening to discuss the potential for a pond project, which could also store water in the event of a flood. No decisions were made, but both bodies agreed to continue considering the project.

“It would not solve the lake’s problems, but it would make a contribution to solving the problems of the lake,” said Watershed Administrator Dan Livdahl, explaining that about 4,000 excess pounds of phosphorous enters Lake Okabena annually. The pond would also prevent sediment from reaching the lake, which would be particularly helpful because Lake Okabena is no longer dredged to remove the excess sediment draining in.

Should the two bodies go forward with the project, ultimately District 518 would give an easement to the watershed district allowing them to build and maintain the pond on District 518 property. The Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District would be responsible for all upkeep, and the project could potentially be paid for with a 75% cost share with the state of Minnesota, Livdahl said.

“We’re not asking for an easement tonight,” Livdahl said. Instead, he explained, the watershed district wanted to find out if the school board was interested in the project, because the next step would be to hire engineers to investigate further and create potential plans. That could cost the watershed district up to $50,000.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The lack of a specific plan, however, meant that many factors about the project were still unknown, such as the exact footprint of the pond, volume of water storage and easement area, all of which would require District 518’s input to determine.

“We want to know if you guys are interested in doing this at all,” Livdahl said. “Are you open to the concept of doing this? … a lot of questions you’re asking would be answered in that next step.”

Many questions were asked.

School Board member Adam Blume said he felt that given what the school paid for the land, it ought to be for future school use only.

“If you’re in that hundred-year flood plain, what’s the value of it?” asked Rolf Mahlberg, president of the watershed district board of managers.

“... they don’t generally want people to be building in flood plains,” said Steve Schnieder, school board member and Worthington city engineer. “It doesn’t mean you can’t use the area, it just means you’re going to have to fill it in.

Schnieder pointed out that if the school hoped to make some of its land into ball fields, as is shown on a map of potential future land use, those fields would have to be leveled off anyway — and that would be at the school’s expense.

“I personally think that doing something with that low area to mitigate the problems with water quality is the right thing to do, and is a thing we should be doing,” Schnieder said.

Joel Lorenz, vice chairman of the school board, said that the land had cost District 518 $3 million, but that $50 million in facilities have already been built on it — and that the district would not likely develop the whole property for school purposes.

“You’re talking like $3 million is pocket change,” said Tom Prins, school board member, who said he also objected to seeing any standing water on school property due to mosquitos and drowning risk. “I’m not for this project, I’ll be point-blank with you.”

Schnieder said he understood the concern about the money, but that many people in the community want to see the lake be successful and be better quality. A pond project could be done to minimize the area of impact and use land that is too wet to be usable anyway.

“There’s still useable property and if we work with the watershed, we could make some adjustments and potentially create more usable property,” said District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard. “There’s always going to be water on this location, that’s just reality. … I guess I would tell you I think it’s a good move to consider working with the watershed.”

Jeff Rogers, a member of the watershed board, said there could potentially be many educational opportunities associated with the pond, particularly for students in biology, natural resources or agriculture classes. Another option would be the creation of trails for cross country students.

The two bodies agreed to consider the issue further, and Mahlberg thanked the school board for meeting with the watershed district board.

“We didn’t want to look back and have the community say ‘Well, why didn’t you work with the (school) district?'" he said.