AUSTIN EDITION Wetlands program called 'great first step' for Mower County residents

By Tim Ruzek

Mower County landowners can help with the area's flood problem by taking part in a wetland restoration program for the next three years.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty announced Monday that Minnesota will be part of a three-year, $16.2 million Wetlands Reserve Enhancement Program with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Under the plan, landowners in designated areas can volunteer to receive financial and technical aid in restoring wetlands and increasing wildlife habitat.


The targeted restoration funds will focus on about 7,250 acres throughout Minnesota, including 3,000 acres in the five counties declared presidential disaster areas. Those are Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Mower and Steele counties in southern Minnesota.

Severe flooding in September caused millions of dollars in damage in southeastern Minnesota. Austin experienced its worst flood in history on Sept. 15.

WREP will help "alleviate" recurring flood issues, according to the governor's office. "We have made it a priority to find ways to prevent flooding from occurring in the future, and this is just one of the steps we will take to help prevent the problem," Pawlenty said.

The program will target areas within the watersheds to achieve strategic flood storage related to water quality and wildlife benefits.

Austin Mayor Bonnie Rietz said she hopes people will take advantage of the restoration program.

"That's a great first step," Rietz said.

Area officials need to consider wetlands when discussing options to reduce the severity of future floods, Rietz said.

With the USDA's approval, Minnesota will be the second state to take part in WREP. Under the plan, the USDA will contribute $2.8 million in 2004 and will commit a total of $15 million over three years. The state will provide $1.2 million allocated over three years.


Bev Nordby, manager of the Mower County Soil and Water Conservation District, said WREP will concentrate on areas that currently have crops and likely don't retain water. The program could turn those places into low, grassy areas that could retain water during a flood.

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