Grants put clean water at forefront

FAIRMONT — The Martin County Soil and Water Conservation District has received a $220,000 grant through the Clean Water Fund, thanks to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

In addition, Soil and Water District has been informed it will receive another grant through the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

According to Jesse Walters, outreach coordinator for the district, once the grants are received, Martin Soil and Water will seek landowner cooperation.

“The projects and practices within both grants are targeted to reduce soil erosion, recycle nutrients and reduce pollutant loads to improve soil and water quality within the Fairmont chain of lakes watershed,” he said. “A ‘watershed’ is a term used to describe all the land that drains to a specific point. In this case, that point is the Fairmont chain of lakes, specifically Budd Lake, which is the drinking water source for the city of Fairmont residents.”

Information provided by Walters states that the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources approved $13.7 million in Clean Water Fund grants on Dec. 19 to improve water quality in streams, lakes and groundwater across the state. From the funds, $11.7 million is allocated for voluntary conservation projects across Minnesota, $1.4 million will support accelerated implementation for high-priority projects and $610,000 will fund multipurpose drainage management.

“All Minnesotans deserve water that is safe for drinking, swimming and fishing,” former Gov. Mark Dayton said when the grants were announced. “These 52 grants will improve water quality throughout our state, and help provide more Minnesotans the clean water they expect and deserve.”

“The $13.7 million will fund 52 separate grants, 36 of which are dedicated to specific projects and practices,” Walters noted. “For example, a grant awarded to the Martin Soil and Water Conservation District will support their efforts to improve drinking water in the Fairmont chain of lakes watershed by implementing agriculture best management practices within the Fairmont chain of lakes watershed.

“Upon project completion, sediment in the chain of lakes is estimated to be reduced by 130 tons each year. This project will help reduce nutrient and pollutant loads, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which are contributors to drinking water problems and algal blooms.”

As for the Pollution Control Agency grant, no dollar amount was immediately available. However, Walters was able to share some information about the history of the program that provides for the grant.

Minnesota voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008 to protect, enhance and restore wetlands, prairies and forests, as well as fish, game and wildlife habitat; to preserve arts and cultural heritage; to support parks and trails; and to protect, enhance and restore lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. The Clean Water Fund receives 33 percent of the sales tax revenue generated by the Legacy Amendment.

“The MPCA has selected 10 watersheds for longer-term federal funding, starting in 2020,” Walters said. “The selections are part of the transition in the federal Clean Water Act Section 319 program from one-time grants to more reliable funding focused on small watersheds. The goal of the program is to help local governments make measurable changes toward water-quality improvements.

“Based on input from many local governments, the program is designed to provide a reliable and longer-term funding source to address all pollutants in small watersheds. After 41 local government units applied for funding, the MPCA conducted telephone interviews with all applicants and chose 19 for site visits. The agency then chose 10 for funding based on criteria such as state priorities and collaboration, along with input from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.”

Walters said that if people have questions, they are welcome to call the Martin County Soil and Water office at (507) 235-6680, or visit at 923 N. State St., Suite 110, in Fairmont.