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Dunn County hires Boyceville native as new water conservationist

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE —  Dunn County has hired a Boyceville native as the county’s brand new water conservationist.

Amanda Hanson began her duties as Conservation Planner — Water Quality Specialist several weeks ago.

But Hanson is not a new face to Dunn County by any means.

“I began my career with Dunn County Land and Water Conservation Division during the spring of 2002. I was a conservation engineering technician with the South Fork Hay River Priority Watershed Project. I assisted farmers with soil sampling and writing nutrient management plans,” Hanson said.

The Dunn County Planning, Resources and Development Committee recommended hiring a water quality specialist last fall, and the county board’s executive committee approved the position October 1, 2014.

Dunn County has significant water quality issues. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has listed Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin as impaired waters because of the toxic blue-green algae blooms every summer.

The algae blooms, fueled by phosphorus runoff and other nutrients from the 1,900-square-mile Red Cedar Watershed, can cause skin rashes. The algae blooms also create a noxious odor, and experts recommend not letting pets or livestock drink the water.

Hanson earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Broad Area Agriculture and minors in Agronomy and Animal Science at UW — River Falls. She also is a Certified Crop Adviser.

As a conservation planner with Dunn County, Hanson worked on a number of projects to help reduce phosphorus runoff, including the Town of Grant Phosphorus Reduction project, the Hay River Farmer-Led Watershed Committee, the Red Cedar Water Quality Partnership and the implementation plan for the Red Cedar River Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for phosphorus.

Hanson’s previous work as a conservation planner on projects related to water quality gave her a head start on projects related to the new water quality specialist position.

“As we prevent erosion and preserve our land, we also conserve and preserve water. Most of the prior work I have done is related to water quality,” Hanson said.

“During stream ecology workshops with schools, children learn about the macroinvertabrates present in the water and how the quality of the water affects the diversity of the species present,” she said.

“A nutrient management plan guides a farmer to use fertilizer and manure in a manner to produce a crop yield that is economically beneficial while following guidelines to prevent nutrients from leaving the field by surface water runoff (from rainstorms) or leaching into the groundwater,” Hanson said.

All conservation planners work on a wide variety of projects that enhance water quality through the reduction of erosion, she said.

A conservation plan, for example, details a crop rotation that will reduce soil erosion while also enhancing the infiltration of water by using grassed waterways, grade stabilization structures and other practices, Hanson said.

Hanson also has previously worked on the annual transect survey that inventories crops, crop residue and tillage practices throughout  Dunn County.

When combined with information from previous years, the transect survey can show trends in land use and soil loss, she said.

New job

Hanson’s new job with Dunn County is, of course, the first time that a conservation planner position has had a specific water quality emphasis.

Hanson said she applied for the job for a number of reasons.

“Throughout the years I have worked here, I have seen a need for bridging the gap of communication between people. If we all focused more on what we, as a citizen, can do on our own, and in the groups of people we associate with, to enhance water quality in our area — and if we keep an open perception and learn about what other groups and citizens are doing — we can all benefit from the results, no matter how large or small they are,” Hanson said.

“Farmers want people to know they care about the land they farm and work to preserve it for the next generation,” Hanson said.

“Other citizens are doing their part too. If everyone becomes a stakeholder and takes action at their own homes, land and places of work or interest, we will all see the benefit of everyone’s actions,” she said.

In her new position as water quality specialist, Hanson plans to continue her previous efforts as well as add new initiatives.

“I will continue to be a member of the Red Cedar River Water Quality Partnership and assist with the development of the implementation plan for the Red Cedar River Total Maximum Daily Load. The Hay River Farmer-Led Watershed is another project I will continue to be part of,” Hanson said.

Dunn County also is considering participating in a tri-county groundwater level monitoring study, and Hanson would be involved with that as well.

In addition, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is planning some biological inventories this summer at sites monitored in 1994 as part of the South Fork of the Hay River Priority Watershed.

“I have already been involved in some of the site selection process with DNR. Other historical data that is available may need to be reorganized to be useful today,” Hanson said.

Dunn County’s Land and Water Resource Management Plan will have to be revised, too, she noted.

What can we do?

The soil in this part of Wisconsin is naturally high in phosphorus, and water coming out of the tap in Colfax, for example, is at or above the legal limit for phosphorus.

Although the problem of improving water quality throughout Dunn County seems as if it is too large for any one person to have an impact, Hanson says that’s not true.

“We all have an influence, and too often it is overlooked,” she said.

“You should ask yourself, ‘What can I do to improve water quality where I live, where I work, and where I spend my time?’” Hanson said.

“Remember that our land and water is a resource we are borrowing from our children,” she said.

Even something as simple as soil testing your garden or your lawn before applying any nutrients is helpful, Hanson said.

“Follow the recommendations of the test results with your application. When applying nutrients, put on the correct kind and amount in the right place at the right time,” she said.

And because improving water quality is such a large project, Hanson says she is concerned that people will want to see instant results.

“It will take time to see the results of any changes, so remember to be patient,” she said.

“This is an opportunity to educate people about what we [the Dunn County Land and Water Division] do and why we do it. It is an opportunity to learn more about the surface and groundwater in Dunn County, how to maintain the exceptional waters and how to improve the impaired waters,” Hanson said.

Dunn County has several trout streams that are considered exceptional.

For example, the South Fork of the Hay River from the Dunn-Barron county line to four miles downstream is listed as a Class I trout stream for brook trout, and Elk Creek east of the Village of Elk Mound is listed as a Class I trout stream from brown trout, according to an article published in the Dunn County News in May of 2011.

Hanson says she plans to work with a wide variety of people, either in a group setting or a formal meeting, or simply in discussions to address the need and interest in soil and water conservation.

Hanson became a conservation planner for Dunn County when the South Fork of the Hay River Priority Watershed project ended.