$3.2M grant set to spark Cedar River improvements

AUSTIN, Minn.—The Hormel Foundation has made a unique grant to the Cedar River Watershed District in Mower County: $3.2 million for flooding and water quality improvement.

A CRWD flood risk reduction and stormwater treament project in Dexter Township.

AUSTIN, Minn.—The Hormel Foundation has made a unique grant to the Cedar River Watershed District in Mower County: $3.2 million for flooding and water quality improvement.

CRWD intends to use the grant to target 25 watershed projects that will address both flooding and water quality, which would help farm production in the long run.

"We’re hoping to get one of the projects built some time in November," said project manager Cody Fox. "These are going to be permanent projects."

There are three main kinds of projects in mind: creating basins to collect runoff, turf-reinforcements for ravines and building large berms to detain floodwaters, which protects crops and buildings.

"They’re like dams, except earthen," Fox said. "They’re going to let the water go through all the time, except in big events, it’s going to back up short term, then slowly drain out."


The CRWD has listed several project locations on a map, but the ideas for what most needs to be done are still evolving. They know Dobbins Creek needs help, so much attention is focused there.

"Dobbins Creek feeds one of our lakes, and it’s filling with sediment," Mower SWCD/NRCS Water Plan & Outreach Coordinator Tim Ruzek said. "From a community improvement perspective, that’s where the Hormel Foundation and the Austin Vision 2020 Waterways committee wanted to make a big step forward.

"It’s not going to make swimming safe overnight, but you’ve got to start somewhere."

Dobbins Creek runs through Austin’s northeast sector and through prime farmland in Mower County. It has been selected by the NRCS for funding through the Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watersheds Initiative.

Ruzek’s committee, Austin Vision 2020, requested the funding in 2015. Once it was received, the CRWD planned to complete nearly $8 million worth of projects by 2020.

"Water quantity and quality have been long-time challenges to the Cedar River and its contributing streams," CRWD administrator Justin Hanson wrote in the 2015 CRWD annual report.

The Cedar River is quite turbid, and with its recent flooding in Iowa, the need to address both problems is clear to the district. Dirty floodwaters can be devastating to crops, as Fox noticed traveling through Waseca.

"On a lot of the corn that’s still standing, you can see how high the water was," Fox said. "It’s black to that point with sediment catching on to it."


Numbers wise, he said that one of the projects, involving catching floodwater between two berms, could catch about 200 pounds of phosphorus and 200 tons of sediment to keep it on the land.

He said he’s appreciated that producers have been receptive to their efforts and understand how it affects them.

"A lot of these projects are going to involve working with agriculture producers," he said.

"We know tiling is going on, and getting the water off the fields is pretty important here. We’re not trying to flood their fields, but to hold the water back long enough that we can make a difference in the quality of it and prevent floods.

"It’s a fine line, and we’re in territory that some guys get a little nervous of. We respect that. But everyone’s been pretty willing so far."

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