Watershed district considers options for its dredging goal

While the Fountain Lake dredge permit is still not what the Shell Rock River Watershed District would like it to be, the watershed director of field operations said he sees potential that the lake will be dredged to the volume the district wants.

At Thursday morning’s special meeting, Director of Field Operations Andy Henschel outlined for the board what the limited dredge permit looked like after last Friday’s conversation between the Shell Rock River Watershed District and the Department of Natural Resources.

“I’m very comfortable that we hopefully will be able to work through these issues and hopefully bring back a permit that works for the board,” Henschel said.

Henschel said the Department of Natural Resources would not change the angle of dredge allowed for the side slope near the shore from the 10:1 it states in the limited permit. The Watershed District originally requested a steeper 3:1 ratio, which allows for more sediment to be removed closer to shore. However, Henschel said accepting the 10:1 ratio proposed by the DNR will not necessarily mean the Watershed District is unable to dredge the volume it hoped for.

“In the grand scheme of things, if we can get our volume, 10:1 is not that big a deal,” Henschel said.

Henschel said the sediment volume left in the lake due to a softer side slope could be made up for from the bottom of the lake. Originally, the Watershed District understood a depth mark at 1,206-foot elevation on a DNR lake map to be the deepest it could dredge outside of two specified zones with a deeper allowance. However, the conversation with the DNR last Friday clarified that the 1,206 mark does not necessarily dictate the depth of dredge allowed. Instead, there could be room for best management practice regarding dredge depths.

Before moving forward, the engineers working with the Watershed District will have to go back to see how much volume will be lost by the 10:1 slope and create a new map accordingly.

Additionally, Henschel said the Watershed District still needs to work out what the dredging will look like in bay areas in the northwest and southeast portions of Fountain Lake. While the DNR limited permit sets aside areas in these bays for the lake to remain undredged, Henschel said the Watershed District would still like to have best maintenance practice dredging allowance in these areas so boaters can move in and out of the areas without stirring up the lake bottom.

However, Henschel recommended the Shell Rock River Watershed District consider the further implications of a back-and-forth with the Department of Natural Resources.

“I agree there has to be political pressure on the DNR,” Henschel said. “I will say, though, however, that political pressure we put on the DNR hinders us on other projects that we do.” Henschel said they are already seeing the DNR raise unexpected red flags on the two other projects the Shell Rock River Watershed District is working to get permits for.

Earlier in the meeting, the Watershed District board proposed three strategies for communication as it tries to move forward with the Fountain Lake dredge project. District administrator Brett Behnke said the district will begin sending out weekly emails to board members that will be public information in order to keep board members better informed on what is happening with the dredge. In addition to that communication, the board considered how better to communicate with the public.

“We’ve got to be transparent, and we’ve got to take these tough battles on publically,” Behnke said.

Behnke said two options were an internal communications team composed of current watershed employees or an external communication team brought in to help create a cohesive narrative for board members and employees to share with the public.

Shell Rock River Watershed District board chairman Dan DeBoer also suggested a teamwork approach that would potentially see the Watershed District working together with the city and county. He saw the Watershed District’s goal of clean water for the community reflected in goals the city has.

“We always have that common vision,” DeBoer said.

The watershed board agreed to talk further about its communication plan and to see an updated depth map at the monthly board meeting, which takes place Nov. 14.

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