As conservation projects continue in the Seven Mile Creek Partnership, its leaders are striving to grow community engagement.

The partnership is propelled by a four-year $1.7 million Targeted Watershed Demonstration grant received from the Board of Water and Soil Resources in late 2014. The grant’s objective is to concentrate conservation efforts  in a relatively small watershed where the scale of effort will be significant enough to measure water quality impacts, and ultimately to replicate the small watershed model in other areas of the State.

The measures are concentrating on reducing the amount of eroded sediment and nitrate that is reaching the creek that flows through Nicollet County into the Minnesota River, according to Partnership Coordinator, Karen Galles.

On Sept. 7, sixty-one people with varied interests in the watershed convened to discuss conservation projects in the 7 Mile Creek Watershed.

Galles said she left the meeting reassured that there was broad support for the water cleanup effort. She’s reinvigorated to continue working with farmers in the rural district to be trailblazers in water quality improvement.

“There was consensus that we want to work together and succeed at this. We want to become a model for other watersheds,” Galles said.

Farmer Doug Wenner was on the committee that organized the discussion event. He said farmers care about conservation, as their livelihood depends on a healthy ecology. But they resent regulations such as buffer strips that have significant impact on farmers’ yields without definitively proven ecological benefit.

He’s watching the projects being tried by the partnership and is open to trying them on his own land if they prove to have an impact, he said.

For the several area farmers already incorporating conservation measures, the Watershed Partnership provides support to alleviate their financial and time commitment. She takes the lead on planning project installations. She also writes grant applications and helps landowners access government financial incentives.

“We’re looking at what are the barriers and how can we make it easier for landowners to get involved,” Galles said.

Water quality improvement efforts completed so far in 2016 included six ravine stabilization projects and three erosion control projects along drainage ditches that feed into the creek.

Nearly 100 acres of former farmland have been converted back to native prairies. In coming weeks a couple of farmers will plant cover crops on approximately 600 acres of the watershed. Both help prevent soil erosion and reduce the amount of nitrogen that reaches the creek.

The last projects of the year will include installations of controlled drainage systems and woodchip bioreactors late this fall, according to Galles.

The new drainage tile systems will allow adjustment of drainage depths. When weather permits, the drainage level can be raised to allow for more filtration of contaminants from the rainwater before it reaches the creek.

Woodchip bioreactors are trenches filled with wood chips that are added to drainage systems to filter out nitrates.

Two additional community engagement events also are planned this fall.

On Oct. 8 the Partnership will invite the public to participate in a prairie planting. While they help plant milkweed and other plants that will attract pollinators, they can come learn more about the partnership and its work.

Excerpt from story by Kristine Goodrich for Mankato Free Press.

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