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Carlton SWCD reports 'good year'

Shown at Breakfast on the Farm are Ryan Clark (right), Carlton SWCD's ag water quality specialist, educating attendee on MAWQCP. Contributed photo 1 / 2
Kelly Smith (left), Carlton SWCD's forestry conservation technician, teaching fourth-graders how to plant and care for trees during an Arbor Day planting activity. Contributed photo 2 / 2

"This last year was a very good year for the Carlton SWCD," said Brad Matlack, district manager for the Carlton Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), and that means it was also a great year for Carlton County residents.

Both are shown true through the recently-released 2017 Carlton County SWCD Annual Report, which highlights the SWCD's top activities during the year to "assist landowners in protecting and enhancing the natural resources of Carlton County." It also shows that much of the SWCD's work is guided by the county's Comprehensive Local Water Management Plan (Water Plan).

The Water Plan, now under SWCD responsibility to implement, has three priority concerns: water quality in county lakes, rivers and streams; development impacts and land use; and promote and educate the public about the county's water resources. Multiple projects identified in these three areas were tackled and/or completed during 2017, using over $700,000 in grants and water plan dollars brought into Carlton County.

The following are seven highlights in the 2017 Annual Report that show the outstanding benefits county residents achieved through SWCD projects and activities to protect and improve water quality.

First, two stream restoration projects were started in 2017 to address the erosion and high sediment levels caused by failing red clay dams. Construction on these projects is planned for 2018 and will be funded by Board of Water and Soil Resources' Clean Water Funds (BWSR CWF), an Enbridge Ecofootprint Grant and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Fish Passage Program.

Four other projects were also implemented which stabilized over 1,000 feet of roadway and/or waterway, keeping over 2,000 tons of soil out of Stoney Brook, Midway River, Elim Creek and an unnamed lake.

Second, water monitoring continues to be a high priority in the Nemadji and Kettle River Watersheds. During 2017, eight streams and ten lakes were monitored in these watersheds by SWCD staff and local volunteers under Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) grants. Regular monitoring was done to determine the levels of total phosphorus (TP), cholorophyll-a (Chl-a), E. coli and other nutrients, as well as the secchi dish transparency level.

High E.coli counts were found in the Blackhoof River, Skunk Creek, Net River (downstream of Holyoke Park), Nemadji River and Kettle River. Carlton SWCD plans future work with other agencies to determine the sources of E.coli contamination and ways it can be reduced.

In addition, Bear, Merwin and Twentynine Lakes were all found to have high TP and Chl-a levels and low secchi levels. High levels of one or more of these indicators were also found in Hanging Horn, Moose and Kettle lakes. These data are being further evaluated by MPCA and other experts. Some of these Carlton County lakes may eventually be listed as impaired and eligible for possible funds for water quality improvement projects.

Third, a county-wide culvert inventory was created in 2017, funded by an Enbridge Ecofootprint Grant. Working with the Carlton County Transportation Department, the SWCD has been gathering data about every culvert on county-maintained roads. A total of 890 culverts were inventoried during 2017.

Fourth, Carlton SWCD took on the task of determining the county's status of buffer compliance during the past year. Minnesota's 2015 Buffer Law aims to protect our state's water resources from erosion and runoff pollution by establishing roughly 110,000 acres of buffer along public waters of Minnesota. These buffers are areas of perennial vegetation along waterways that aid in filtering runoff before it reaches streams, rivers and lakes.

Fifth, Carlton SWCD continues to oversee the northeast area for the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP). Since the program began in 2016, 40 northeast Minnesota farms have become MAWQCP certified.

In addition, with help from funds dedicated for this program, three conservation practices have been completed on applicant farms in this area and 30 more practices are scheduled to be completed in the next couple of years. This funding is mainly coming from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Some of these projects/practices may not have been otherwise completed.

Sixth, during 2017, forest stewardship plans were written for 797 acres, 10 forestry plans were developed for 100 acres and two forestry projects were implemented on 80 acres. These projects include reforestation, forest stand improvement, invasive plant control and pollinator habitat, and all will bring improvements in timber value, forest health, wildlife habitat and water quality. These practices and plans were located on Deer Creek, Bear Lake, Nemadji River, Moose Horn River, Hanging Horn Lake, Midway River and Blackhoof River.

In addition, work was planned or completed with riparian buffers on the Midway River, Hay Creek, Elim Creek, West Branch River, Blackhoof River, and Bear Lake. Eleven plans were developed for 17,740 feet of bank and six maintenance projects were completed on 13,855 feet of bank. These projects will protect shoreline and improve water quality and fish and wildlife habitat.

Seventh, the SWCD continues to sponsor, coordinate and promote various conservation education activities and events in our county, for adults and children.

The 2017 Carlton SWCD Annual Report is available at under "About Us," then "Reporting" tabs.