Watershed Officials Request Funding for Area Projects

The Shell Rock River Watershed District was at the Minnesota state Capitol Wednesday to request funding meant to help area water quality.

The district's $3.7 million funding request was made to the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The council has the responsibility of providing annual funding recommendations to the Minnesota Legislature from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.

If approved, the funding will reportedly restore, enhance and protect 1,469 acres of critical shallow lake, wetland and stream bank habitat, benefiting fish, waterfowl and wildlife populations.

Included in the request is the establishment of wetland basins for waterfowl habitat and northern pike spawning, re-establishment of native vegetation to improve game and waterfowl habitat, treatment to kill rough fish and re-establish native aquatic vegetation on School Section, Halls and Sugar lakes, and to acquire 218 acres ofland to protect and re-establish native aquatic vegetation on School Section, Halls and Sugar lakes, and to acquire 218 acres of land to protect and re-establish native vegetation and improve upland game and waterfowl nesting habitat.

The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council is expected to meet again in October to make the final recommendations on projects to be funded. It will forward those recommendations to be voted on in the 2016 legislative session.

The number of projects to be completed will depend on the amount of money approved by the state, said Andy Henschel, director of field operations at the Shell Rock River Watershed District.

He expects the district to receive about $2 million out of the request.

"This allows us to leverage outside funds with our local option sales tax," Henschel said. "This helps us increase the amount of projects we can do without spending all of our money on the projects. We couldn't do this amount of projects without the help of the LSOHC."

Henschel said the local option sales tax is vital for the district because it helps leverage the funds from the state sales tax, as well as other grant programs. He said the Lessard-Sams council is looking for a match from the local municipalities when deciding what projects to fund.

"We've taken the local sales tax and leveraged that money into close to $30 million brought into this district for clean water and habitat," he said.

The council allocates roughly $98 million of outdoor funds gathered by the state sales tax each year.

The first request the district made to the Lessard-Sarns Outdoor Heritage Council was in 2009.

The district received $900,000 for two electric and one mechanical fish barrier. In 2011, the district requested $2.56 million for headwaters land acquisition that covered 257 acres from Freeborn County Road 19 to County Road 84 along the Shell Rock River.

The district has received approximately $7 million to $8 million from the heritage council over the last six years. A brand new Albert Lea Lake darn and fish barrier have also been constructed, as well as the Goose Lake fish barrier, Wedge Creek stream restoration and new projects approved from 2014 appropriation.

"This helps the district put more money on the ground in projects that help the community through clearer water throughout the watershed district." said Courtney Christensen, resource technician at SRRWD.

Henschel said if everything goes well, a grant agreement could be signed with the Minnesota Department ofNatural Resources in July 2016 to be able to expend the funds allocated by the council. The district would have three years to complete any project after signing the grant agreement.

© 2015 Shell Rock River Watershed District, 305 S 1st Avenue, Albert Lea, MN 56007