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Crow Wing SWCD helps to preserve Twin Cities water source

The district worked with private landowners and Crow Wing County on acquisitions to protect forestland in the Pine and Leech Lake river watersheds that protect habitat and drinking water.

Rocks in a body of water can be seen clearly under the water.
Rocks in a body of water can be seen clearly under the water.
Contributed / John Pearson
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BRAINERD — A land acquisition made possible with a Outdoor Heritage Fund grant will help to preserve water quality in a Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District priority watershed that supplies the Twin Cities with a source of drinking water.

The five parcels totaling 200.52 acres lie in the Pine River watershed, surrounded by 105,000 acres of county-owned land. The $436,900 purchase nudges the district’s goal of keeping 75% of forestland within the Ruth Lake subwatershed forested.

The district purchased the land from two couples and then donated it to the Crow Wing County Land Services department, which will manage it for timber production and wildlife habitat.

“The more we can keep forests as forests, the more we’re going to be able to keep this water clear and good so when it comes down to the Twin Cities, people don’t have to pay as much money to treat it,” District Manager Melissa Barrick stated in a news release.

The Pine River flows to the Mississippi River, a source of drinking water for more than 1 million people in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud.

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A Minnesota Department of Natural Resources study determined that protecting 75% of forestland within a lake’s watershed helps to preserve its water quality. When more than 25% of a lake’s watershed is deforested, phosphorus runoff spikes. Phosphorus feeds the algae that turns lakes green.

When it prioritized 500 lakes within the 785-square-mile Pine River watershed, the district ranked Ruth Lake among those deserving the highest level of protection based on water quality, sensitivity to phosphorus, economic significance and probability of attaining the 75% goal.

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“The No. 1 goal for the Pine was to protect habitat, forestland and groundwater. And the best way to do that is through either acquisition or through conservation easements because we’re basically buying the rights so that land doesn’t get developed,” Barrick said. “It’s a three-for-one: habitat, water protection, forestland.”

By working with landowners to install best management practices, the district also aims to reduce by 5% the amount of phosphorus that enters Ruth Lake. That translates to 18 pounds a year.

Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources Board Conservationist Chris Pence added land access and consolidation to the list of stacked benefits.

“It’s not too often that you’re going to find a piece of property like this that’s completely forested and surrounded by county land. It’s an island to itself,” Pence stated in the news release.

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