Representatives of state and county government, several state agencies, soil and water conservation districts, enough to fill a bus, spent Wednesday on the 2012 Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources tour across Lyon and Lincoln counties.
"The Board takes the tour annually to see what local conservation districts are doing on the ground," said Jen Maleitzke, BWSR staff member at the Marshall office. "They look at best practices, water retention projects, conservation resource programs, to get an overview for people who don't usually get out. It's an opportunity to see what's happening on the ground."
BWSR is a state agency that administers programs aimed at preventing soil erosion into lakes and streams and protect fish and wildlife habitat. The agency is headed by a 20-member board composed of representatives from five agencies, watershed districts, soil and water conservation districts, townships, cities and citizen members. Unlike all other state agencies, the director is chosen by the board rather than being appointed by the governor and Legislature.
The 2012 Board of Water and Soil Resources tour took in the Coot Working Lands Initiative wetlands restoration area in Lincoln County on Wednesday. The 823-acre watershed area holds 241 acres of conservations easements.
"BWSR is the only state agency that has a citizen board that oversees the agency," said Paul Langseth, BWSR board member. "It's a very unique agency in that it has a lot of citizen input into the programs and how they're overseen."
The purpose of the 2012 tour was to get a first-hand look at 25 local flood control, road retention and wetland restoration projects. The reason for touring projects in Lincoln and Lyon counties lies in the unique topography of southwest Minnesota. Area II of the Minnesota River Basin Projects, Inc. is comprised of nine counties within the Coteau des Prairies area, a glacial ridge that runs from southeast South Dakota, through southeast Minnesota, to northwest Iowa.
"Couteau is within the Redwood River watershed," said Kerry Netzke, Area II executive director. "From Pipestone there is 636 feet of fall over 40 miles to Marshall. From Marshall to Redwood Falls there is 38 feet of fall in 38 miles. So the land goes from tremendously steep to almost flat."
This creates periodic flooding problems, according to Netzke. The rivers and streams in the area were formed by glacial melt at the end of the last ice age. They are close together and run parallel to each other, which means that there are many crossover points between drainage areas where flood waters can burst out of one flood plain to another, with catastrophic effect.
"We have to be able to slow the flood waters because they take the soil with it," Netzke said.
The tour began by driving by the Marshall Flood Control Project completed by the Army Corps of Engineers in fall 2000, at a natural crossover point between the Redwood and Cottonwood River watersheds, and ended at the city of Ghent FEMA floodplain mitigation project. The city of Ghent is looking into diking around a floodplain in the Bluebird Addition, as well as upstream floodwater retention.
Along the way, the tour took in small dams creating water retention basins, lake outlet structures, restored wetland areas and walk-in access sites established under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.