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Dunn County approves participation in $640,000 Red Cedar Basin water quality project

By LeAnn R. Ralph

MENOMONIE  —  The Dunn County Board has authorized participation in a three-year $640,000 project funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for water quality in the Red Cedar River Basin.

The Dunn County Board unanimously approved the resolution authorizing participation in the Red Cedar River Basin Assessment for Water Quality Improvement Project at the June 15 meeting.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has declared Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin to be “impaired waters” because of toxic algae blooms during the summer that turn the water into the color of pea soup.

The algae blooms have been known to cause skin rashes in people and be toxic to pets that have drank the water.

The EPA recently approved the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Implementation Plan for Tainter and Menomin. The TMDL establishes limits for phosphorus loading in the two lakes.

Phosphorus is the nutrient implicated in causing the algae blooms.

The soil in the 1900-square-mile Red Cedar River Watershed is naturally high in phosphorus, and controlling run-off is an essential component in controlling the amount of phosphorus that ends up in the lakes.

After the EPA approved the TMDL implementation plan, UW-Stout, Barron County, Dunn County, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the DNR, the Tainter and Menomin Lake Improvement Association, the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission and UW-Extension formed a partnership to develop the Red Cedar Basin Assessment to Improve Water Quality.

The project will assess the biophysical, economic, and sociological attributes of the Red Cedar River Watershed to work toward implementing the TMDL, improving water quality and building “community capacity.”

Dunn County’s contribution to the project will be providing Land and Water Conservation Division staff time, valued at $29,385, to be used as a match for the assistance of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Dunn County staff will conduct outreach and education in the watershed for various activities, such as participation in the Farmer Led Watersheds, updating the county’s land and water resource management plan and managing the Red Cedar Demonstration Farm.

Hwy. M

During the report to the county board of Jesse Rintala, public works director in Dunn County, Gary Bjork, county board supervisor from Colfax, noted that when he drives his tractor on Highway M north of Colfax, he has noticed that the Red Cedar River is coming rather close to Highway M.

In the last six months, the river bank in that area has started to crumble more, Rintala said.

The county highway department worked with land conservation to assess the problem, and Dunn County is now working with the Army Corps of Engineers for project design to stabilize the bank, he said.

Stabilizing the bank of the Red Cedar River along Highway M will be part of the water quality improvement project.

A number of erosion sites were identified along the Red Cedar River from Barron County down to Tainter Lake as the result of a study commissioned a few years ago by the Tainter-Menomin Lake Improvement Association.

Hay River

The Dunn County Board also approved a resolution at the June 15 meeting authorizing participation in the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection-Producer Led Watershed Protection Grant program.

The Hay River Farmer-led Watershed Council has been selected to receive a $20,000 DATCP grant.

In 2013, Dunn County authorized participation in the St. Croix/Red Cedar Basin Farmer-led Watershed Council Project.

Land and Water Conservation Division staff in Dunn, Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties worked with UW-Extension and farmers to develop a farmer-led phosphorus reduction program in each county.

The DATCP grant requires a one-to-one match, and Dunn County will provide the match through wages and benefits paid to Land and Water Conservation staff as well as a grant from the McKnight Foundation.

The grant funds will be paid directly to farmers to cover part of the cost of installing grassed waterways and planting cover crops in the Hay River Watershed.