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Water plan in jeopardy

The viability of the Wadena County Water Plan is in jeopardy due to cuts in state funding, according to Kari Tomperi, water resource management technician.

The Soil and Water Conservation District has requested $20,000 in county funds to make up for a financial shortfall caused by cuts in state funding for water plans, she said. The water plan currently receives $2,247 in a levy match and would like an additional $17,753.

State funding plummeted from an annual allotment of $37,500 to around $5,000 in 2003. Since then the water plan has received $20,262 per year in state money.

"It's a valuable program," she said. "We help the local citizens help themselves."

Citizens provide input in developing the plan and volunteer to implement its priorities.

The priorities of the Comprehensive Local Water Resource Manage Plan are to protect drinking water, protect surface water and to plan efficient utilization of water in the county.

Tomperi said the water plan has used up its reserves and needs additional county money to function properly.

The water plan has brought in nearly $1 million in grants into Wadena County for projects since it was organized in 1994, she said. Counties need to have a Minnesota Board of Soil and Water approved water plan in order to receive most grants.

The projects have included everything from stream bank stabilization to shoreline and lake quality management, she said.

An ongoing project to protect drinking water involves nitrate and coli-form bacteria testing for people with private wells. Tomperi said the testing is especially important for people with older wells, because there is no guarantee their water has ever been tested.

Several years ago the Soil and Water Conservation District received a $100,000 grant in partnership with Becker County to close ag waste pits that had been left full by dairy farms that went out of business, Tomperi said. They closed 19 pits in Wadena County and 22 in Becker County. The cleanup was designed to protect ground and surface water, she said.

The SWCD raises funds through equipment rental and by selling trees. The revenue from selling trees has declined in recent years due to a change in government windbreak designations from five rows to three. The recent Wildlife and Conservation Expo was also an attempt to raise funds, although Tomperi does not know how much money the SWCD actually made off of the event.

Tomperi's hours have been cut back from 40 hours to 36 hours a week to save money, she said.

The district usually needs to have matching funds in order to receive grant money, she said. The match depends on the type of grant. Not all matches are dollar-for-dollar, and the cost of the landowner's time is sometimes figured into the SWCD's total cost for the project. BWSR grants require a 50/50 match, Tomperi said. The money shows that they are serious about the projects.

Counties are responsible for water management and implementing plans based on local priorities. Wadena County updated the water plan in March, she said.