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Cedar watershed officials look at management plan

What happened: A consultant presented a proposed surface water management plan Thursday for the Cedar River Watershed District.

Why it’s important: It proposes structures or projects on roads, culverts and bridges that could help reduce flooding and improve water quality in the area.

What’s next: The Turtle Creek and Cedar River watershed district boards plan to discuss the study. It could be the first plan approved for the new Cedar River Watershed District.

By Tim Ruzek

truzek@postbulletin.com

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Flooding severity and poor water quality could be addressed in the upper Cedar River watershed by doing work on existing roads, culverts and bridges, officials said Thursday.

The work ideally would start at the watershed’s upstream end and move downstream, building various structures to better control the flow of water, mainly in the area north of Austin.

Steven Klein, a civil engineer with the Minneapolis-based Barr Engineering Co., presented a proposed surface water management plan for the Cedar River Watershed District. The Upper Cedar River Ad Hoc Committee, which led the movement to form a watershed district for the Cedar, hosted the two-hour meeting at the Austin nature center.

Submitted in September, the study, which focused on the area north of Austin, started about a year ago with funding from a $50,000 state grant and $5,000 from the city of Austin.

Costs for the projects in the upper area could range from $2.86 million to $5.65 million to approach the watershed district’s goal of reducing the severity of flooding in Austin by 20 percent, Klein said. At the same time, it would help improve water quality.

Focusing many of the projects to the northeast of Austin in the watersheds of Wolf and Dobbins creeks will have a greater effect on the Cedar, Klein said.

The Cedar River watershed has 278,540 acres overall, including much of western Mower County and parts of Dodge, Freeborn and Steele counties. Al Layman, one of the managers with the Cedar River Watershed District, said he likes the study’s proposed system because it can be as small or large as finances allow.

"It seems like a plausible way to get started and keep at it," Layman said.

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Some in the audience, however, expressed skepticism with the proposals and concerns about potential effects on farm land from projects. Klein said each site would have to be considered individually but that overall crop land wouldn’t have problems.

Throughout his presentation, Klein used examples from similar work with a watershed district in the area of Watertown, S.D.

Mower County board member David Hillier expressed several concerns, including the potential effect of projects on roads and the amount of money needed for the work if grants don’t come through.

State legislators have indicated support for funding through a bonding bill for structures in a watershed, ad-hoc member Bev Nordby said.

City Engineer Jon Erichson said the Austin area had "tens of million of dollars" in damage from the record flood in September 2004. A lot of money would be involved in the proposed work but there would be many benefits, he said, adding that it’s a cost-effective plan. Klein suggested first doing pilot projects.

"All I say is give it a try," he said.

Members of the Turtle Creek and Cedar River watershed district boards plan to discuss the study.

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