Grant program will help feedlots improve water quality protection
Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District Conservation Specialist Marlow Mielke helps landowners with a feedlot project.
Protecting and enhancing water quality in Winona County is a goal of many, but one small office in Lewiston has been a flurry of activity in recent years, using a large new grant program to assist landowners in dozens of projects that work toward that vision.
The Winona County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) has been helping landowners through the Minnesota Clean Water Amendment (CWA) program, which has brought nearly $900,000 in funds for county projects in 2011. The competitive grant program includes a 75 percent cost share for landowners and a low interest loan option for the remainder of the project expense. The grant program also includes dollars meant for technical assistance, and the SWCD staff help guide landowners through the process and projects from start to finish.
For the CWA dollars in 2011, 16 projects will help farmers with a variety of issues linked to water quality. SWCD Conservation Technician Daryl Buck and Conservation Specialist Marlow Mielke said the projects range from new manure storage facilities to new native buffers. “This particular grant will go toward feedlot projects,” said Mielke. An example, he said, would be in a runoff control structure project that helps control liquid runoff, guiding it to an engineered filtration strip. “If everything is working right the liquid should never leave the end of that filter strip. The pollutants are filtered out before they can enter any water or stream.”
Buck said that these kinds of projects are especially important in this region, with karst topography often meaning many sinkholes and areas with shallow bedrock. “With the terrain we have in southeastern Minnesota and the soil types, the distance from a feedlot to a potential contamination site is often very short,” he said. “The gullies and ravines could instantly take the runoff from the feedlot to a stream. There’s a very high potential for pollution to occur without these kinds of projects.”
The CWA funds are only available for farm operators who have less than 300 animal units, and the dollars cannot be used for projects aimed at expanding a herd. Thus, the funds are aimed at smaller operators who, without some assistance, might not have the ability to fund these water protection projects alone. “With the dairy prices, especially right now, it would be really tough I think for them if we weren’t able to continue to give help,” said Mielke.
“It is difficult to make the cash flow to do these project,” agreed Buck. “But we really don’t want to lose livestock in Winona County.”
Many of the projects are geared toward helping small farmers move toward compliance with the Minnesota 2010 Rules and other regulations meant to reduce the number of open feedlots in the state, and to regulate runoff control methods. For many small operators, complying with the regulations has and will continue to mean years of planning, saving, and working with grant programs to stay in business.
To apply for 2012 CWA funds, a landowner should first contact SWCD staff members, who will help create a project plan, make an estimate of the cost, and apply during the application period. The application period has changed in recent years for the CWA funds, and it’s unclear when the period will begin in 2011 for the 2012 dollars, SWCD staff said. But there are other cost share programs, and landowners interested in learning more can contact the SWCD at 507-523-2171.
The $900,000 in projects in line for 2011 won’t just help landowners. “The local impact of the Clean Water Amendment money is huge,” said Brein Maki, District Administrative Assistant. “Not only does it affect the district, but the landowners we serve. It stimulates the economy by creating new jobs for contractors, material suppliers, banks, etc. The 2011 grant alone will bring in $893,950 in cost share to the landowners and technical and administrative money to the district.”