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RIM Project will re-establish basin where Summit Lake once was

WORTHINGTON -- Summit Lake Township was aptly named for the lake that occupied a large portion of Section 11 in the late 1800s, but for nearly a century there has been no lake in sight.

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Section 11 of Summit Lake Township was once home to Summit Lake. Long since drained and tiled, the land has been farmed for decades. Now enrolled in Reinvest in Minnesota, the former lake bed will return to a shallow water body. (Julie Buntjer/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON - Summit Lake Township was aptly named for the lake that occupied a large portion of Section 11 in the late 1800s, but for nearly a century there has been no lake in sight.
That’s about to change.
During a public hearing Tuesday evening in Worthington, Nobles County Commissioners approved preliminary plans for a 260-plus acre parcel once home to Summit Lake, north of Reading, to return to a wetland.
The property was enrolled in a permanent conservation easement through Reinvest In Minnesota (RIM) by the Fred Gruis Trust, but due to legal issues with the will, the Nobles Soil and Water Conservation District recently took ownership of the parcel. The SWCD will see the RIM project through to fruition, with Minnesota’s Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) taking the lead on the project.
Nobles SWCD District Manager John Shea said the old lake bed will return to a large wetland to enhance water quality and benefit wildlife. Shea said the parcel was initially enrolled as a RIM-WRP (Wetlands Reserve Program) project but was never completed. Earlier this year, BWSR stepped in and said the work needed to get done.
Plans are to seed a 10-acre portion of the land later this month in a pollinator mix and then plant trees in the spring on approximately four acres along the northern and western edges of the property. 
Meanwhile, existing tile lines will be broken on the parcel to re-establish the wetland.
According to BWSR’s engineering report on the project, one large wetland will be created, along with several smaller depressional basins.
BWSR Engineer Terry Ragan said the project will include abandonment of approximately 5,300 feet of Branch G31, which traverses through the entire parcel. Two additional tile lines will be abandoned, and some tiles will be rerouted off neighboring lands to outlet into the retention basin.
The primary wetland will cover approximately 94 acres, with water depths ranging from one to four feet.
Because Judicial Ditch 11B runs through the property, a public hearing was required on the restoration project. The meeting drew more than a dozen individuals, none of whom spoke in opposition to the project. Concerns raised during the hearing were primarily about county tile underneath a gravel road on the south side of the property, and tile lines that extend to neighboring parcels.
Eric Joens said he was concerned about the plan to abandon 130 feet of tile under 180th Street. Saying that tile drains the road bed, he was concerned abandoning the line would lead to a waterlogged and saturated roadbed during rains. 
“I just want to make sure we don’t have a soft spot in the road,” Joens said.
Ragan said they can either leave the tile in place or install a riser to drain the water at the right of way line.
All of the work will be funded by RIM, and Ragan said the rerouted tile will become part of the ditch system. If problems arise in the future, the ditch authority (county board) will authorize repairs.
Kurt Deter, legal counsel for Nobles County on drainage issues, told commissioners that while there are still a lot of unanswered questions on the project - particularly about hydrology - he suggested they grant preliminary approval for the project and request a meeting with affected landowners when the final reports are completed. Deter also suggested a public hearing be planned after the project is completed to make sure it is doing what it was intended to do.
“If I was a landowner, I’d want to know exactly what’s going in there,” Deter said.
Once the wetland is restored, Shea hopes it will be managed by another agency.
“It’s very unusual that the SWCD owns it,” he said. “It’s already state property. I would hope Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever or a watershed (district) could own it.”
That decision will need to be made by the SWCD Board of Directors.
Also Tuesday night, commissioners acted on a petition from the Minnesota Department of Transportation to make minor alterations to Judicial Ditch 10 and three of its branches: H, I and J.
MnDOT will be replacing four tile crossings on the ditch system during a highway project next year. The work includes replacing a 22-inch main with a 24-inch main and installing 12-inch tile for the remaining crossings. 
There was no public comment on the proposed work, and commissioners approved the request.

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This Summit Lake Township map from 1914 shows the lake that existed at that time in Section 11. The lake was drained sometime in the 1920s.

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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