Program could bring changes in pollution reduction system

Funding to start a pilot credit-trading program could help the city get credit for pollution reduction outside of direct city management.

Shell Rock River Watershed District government relations liaison Judy Erickson said the groundwork for the program was laid in the Legislature, and Watershed District resource technician Courtney Christensen said the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources allocated $300,000 for the pilot program on Oct. 17.

According to Erickson, the city benefits from projects the Watershed District is able to complete upstream from city water. Right now, the city does not get credit on its wastewater treatment permits for pollution reduction achieved by work outside of that being done by the city. Additionally, the goal of the project is to incentivize voluntary pollution reduction efforts made by crop and livestock farmers, in-lake water management practices and stream restoration projects.

During the last legislative session, Erickson said the Legislature worked to define a project that would help them change this.

“We found out that this is a problem all over the place — these wastewater treatment and pollution reduction requirements,” Erickson said.

As it stands, Watershed attorney Matt Benda said there is a science gap. According to Erickson, the Watershed District has received approval to do the science and math to calculate costs and feasibility as well as to discern how to measure results in a way that indicate when to give credit to the city.

“We’ve got the perfect opportunity in this community to do a pilot project because of the good relationship between the city and the Watershed District, because of the good relationship that the Watershed District has with the agricultural community to just work out the, ‘How would this work?’”

According to Erickson, the project has the potential to increase the cost-effectiveness of how the city manages pollution reduction, as it would take the process back a step to be more proactive than reactive.

“I think what’s unique about this and what’s fun about this … is this is a project that could start here and expand throughout the state,” Director of Field Operations Andy Henschel said. Erickson said should the pilot go well, the project could be rolled out in other communities and the city would potentially have lower requirements to meet on wastewater permits.

“The Legislature, it was like they were hungry for this kind of project,” Erickson said.

In addition to working on the pilot, which Christensen said was due in mid-December, the Shell Rock River Watershed District is continuing a project begun last year to manage carp populations in Albert Lea and Fountain lakes. Shell Rock River Watershed District conservation technician Scott Christenson said he was able to find a better estimate for outside services related to the carp management program. Therefore, with the $16,000 difference, Christenson said the allocated funds will be used to purchase and install 90 radio transmitters to be implanted in lake carp. Christenson said these transmitter batteries last for two to three years, and the first batch of transmitters was implanted in 2016. With the next 90, Christenson can continue the tracking.

“The more data we have with where they school up in the winter, the better we can target them,” Christenson said. Christenson previously worked with Clear Lake, which similarly targeted carp and removed carp from the lake two to three times a year. Christenson said this is the strategy for the affected lakes in Albert Lea.

“It’s better to manage the lake with these carp than to try to draw it down or kill it off,” Christenson said, because the latter strategy could affect other fish.

Christenson said the carp removal project could be ongoing.

Also at the Shell Rock River Watershed District meeting:

The board approved a Board of Water and Soil Resources contract to help move forward a J9 storage ditch project for a ditch located where J9 crosses underneath Highway 69. Christensen said addressing nutrient values in the ditch is part of the larger effort to delist Pickerel Lake as the district looks at ways to help the lake meet state standards for phosphorous and nitrogen values. Christensen estimated that from preliminary testing, the nitrate value in the J9 storage ditch could be, conservatively, five to 10 times more than a comparison tributary in the Pickerel Lake subwatershed.

The Watershed District board approved a motion to form a communication subcommittee comprised of board members Brad Kramer and Mick Delger as well as Benda, district Administrator Brett Behnke, Henschel and administrative assistant Leah Lawrence. The subcommittee will have weekly call-in conferences, so they do not violate the open meeting law.

Shell Rock River Watershed District staff members and board member Delger attended the Nov. 7 planning commission meeting to discuss using sites around Fountain Lake for dredging and pipeline routes. Henschel said the Albert Lea Planning Commission submitted a recommendation for a vote at the Nov. 27 Albert Lea City Council meeting. Additionally, there will be another meeting between representatives of the Department of Natural Resources and the Shell Rock River Watershed District in which a map with new dredge specifications, which Henschel said is close to being finalized, will be discussed.

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