By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County Board’s executive committee has approved hiring a water conservationist to be added to the county’s environmental services staff.
The executive committee approved the new position at the October 1 meeting with the provision that the cost for the water conservationist for 2015 will be paid out of the county’s general fund for up to $90,000.
The Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development Committee recommended hiring a water conservationist.
Ron Verdon, president of the Tainter Menomin Lake Improvement Association, said a water conservationist would be important for public health and for the county’s economy.
“Let’s take some positive steps forward … all visitors and citizens deserve clean water resources,” Verdon said.
Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin experience problems during the warm summer months with toxic blue-green algae fueled by phosphorus runoff from the Red Cedar Watershed.
18 Mile Creek, which empties into the Red Cedar River at Colfax, has been polluted by colloidal clay runoff from the DS frac sand mine in the Town of Cooks Valley in Chippewa County.
The PRD committee also requested up to $100,000 from the county’s contingency fund for matching funds for grants or for incentives for the farmer-led watershed project.
The requests for $100,000 from contingency and $90,000 from the general fund will not change the 2015 budget but will earmark the funds for those activities, said Gene Smith, county manager.
Dunn County’s shoreland preservation zoning ordinance also needs someone to enforce the ordinance, noted Bob Walter, county board supervisor and chair of the PRD committee.
Dunn County has received a $25,000 grant from the state Department of Natural Resources to do a shoreland preservation demonstration project, but the environmental services department does not have the staff to do the project, he said.
A number of groups, such as TMLIA, are working on water projects in Dunn County. The county needs scientific data on fluctuations in the groundwater. A new phosphorus rule that includes a $50 per pound fee must be implemented. A plan to reduce phosphorus run-off must be formulated. And high capacity wells used to irrigate crops must be taken into account, Walter said.
Water quality and quantity in the Red Cedar River, 18 Mile Creek, Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin also are important, he said.
A water conservationist will give the county data and information that is needed to make decisions, Walter said.
“We only have opinions now about what should be done,” he said.
Steve Rasmussen, chair of the Dunn County Board, and chair of the executive committee, said he approved of Walter’s proposal to hire a water conservationist.
“It will raise (Dunn County’s) profile in the Red Cedar Watershed and will improve the quality of life,” Rasmussen said.
In terms of economics, cleaner water resources will help boost the county’s tourism economy, he said.
Rasmussen said he has had conversations with City of Menomonie staff about the county’s water conservationist, and they are ready to recommend to the Menomonie City Council that the city participate in cost-sharing for the position.
Point sources (cities and villages) have a deadline in 2016 to reduce their phosphorus discharge to a certain amount or else pay $50 a pound for phosphorus discharge into the watershed, Rasmussen noted.
The money collected from the municipalities will be distributed to the counties in the watershed, he said.
To capture those dollars, the county must have a phosphorus reduction plan in place, Rasmussen said.
“There are many pieces coming together to help make this more affordable, and I think we need to do this,” he said.
Taking $90,000 out of the county’s contingency fund to pay for the water conservationist will give Dunn County one year to identify other revenue sources to pay for the position, County Manager Smith said.
“We will go into the 2016 budget with a clearer picture of the cost, the revenues and the deliverables,” he said.
Creating a water conservationist position with a $90,000 budget would allow the county to fund the position for at least part of 2015, Smith said, noting that it will take a while to write a job description, advertise the position and interview job candidates.
Smith said he envisioned having a water conservationist to fill the position by April.
The executive committee approved several budget adjustments for the proposed 2015 budget that closed the $350,000 shortfall, which had been reduced to $280,000 by the time of the executive committee meeting on October 1.
The executive committee also approved paying for the water conservationist out of the general fund at $90,000 for 2015.
Adjustments to the proposed 2015 budget include a $75,000 reduction in the county’s health insurance fund.
Dunn County’s health insurance program for employees is self-funded, and the reduction would come from increasing the premiums by 5 percent instead of 6 percent, Smith said.
Additional adjustments to the proposed 2015 budget included using $150,000 out of the highway department’s $2 million unassigned fund balance, and $75,000 from the sheriff department’s unassigned fund balance.