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SWCD bus tour shares water quality improvement efforts

What landowners do today can have a profound and lasting impact on tomorrow, and the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District's bus tour Friday took that message on the road.

Deerwood Mayor Mike Aulie addresses the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District bus tour participants Friday near Serpent Lake about revising local city ordinances to protect the lake. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch
Deerwood Mayor Mike Aulie addresses the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District bus tour participants Friday near Serpent Lake about revising local city ordinances to protect the lake. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

What landowners do today can have a profound and lasting impact on tomorrow, and the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District's bus tour Friday took that message on the road.

The Brainerd Lakes Conservation Tour was an invitation-only event presented by the SWCD, and county commissioners Paul Koering and Doug Houge went along for the ride.

"We do work with landowners to do voluntary conservation to help protect the lakes that we have in this area," SWCD District Manager Melissa Barrick said.

County Land Services Director Gary Griffin and Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, were among the guest speakers who spoke about conservation efforts and who expressed their appreciation.

"The tour was to showcase to elected officials and locals what people are doing in the district and to kind of give those people inspiration that they can do something, too," Barrick said.

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Other stops along Friday's bus tour included visits to a stream restoration site along Little Buffalo Creek that included Brainerd City Engineer Bill Westerberg and a stop at a Little Pine River boat launch to discuss easements that help permanently protect soil and water.

Rain gardens

The Brainerd Lakes Conservation Tour began aboard a chartered bus behind Westgate Mall, and the first stop was a private home on Cedar Street in Brainerd to see a runoff rain garden.

The city removes the sediment from the 17 rain gardens installed to revitalize Little Buffalo Creek, which flows under South Sixth Street and into the Mississippi River. The total cost of installing the 17 rain gardens was about $194,000 and was shared by project participants.

"The purpose of these rain gardens was to treat stormwater, reducing the amount of water that runs off of our roads and our homes and right into Little Buffalo Creek," said Beth Hippert, an SWCD technician.

The curb-cut rain gardens required the willingness of residents with properties upstream of stormwater drains, who were recruited to help plant, weed and maintain the rain gardens. The project also involved the city of Brainerd, Central Lakes College and the University of Minnesota Master Gardeners.

"A lot of cities want to fix these problems of runoff in their communities, but a lot of times they either don't have the technical assistance to either design them and kind of come up with a solution to it, or they don't have enough money to do such a project," Barrick said.

Almost 30 elected officials, city staff, local residents and representatives from environmental agencies were among those on the six-hour tour of various sites in the county Friday.

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"Our economy is based on tourism, and if we don't protect the great pristine area that we have here as far as water quality, as far as our forests-manage those properly-then people just aren't going to come here," said Koering, who represents the lower half of the county.

Conservation efforts

Ruud is chairwoman of the Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee. She addressed the bus tour's participants during the lunch break at Crosby Memorial Park Pavilion near Serpent Lake.

"If we don't fund the boots on the ground, nothing gets done-and you are the boots on the ground, you are the folks that get the job done. Making sure that you get the funding for the projects that need to be done was really a priority, and so that's what we did," Ruud told them.

"We always spend all this money on restoring (our lakes) ... but the conversation needs to slowly change into protect. ... It just needs to change because it's so much more expensive to restore than it is to protect."

The Crow Wing SWCD is a separate entity from Crow Wing County. SWCDs receive funding from state, county and federal partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

"We do not have taxing authority to levy our own tax dollars. We receive rent and IT services from Crow Wing County and minimal support from the federal partnership. Additional support would go a long way for our conservation efforts," Barrick said after the bus tour.

"Our main focus is to help people do stuff on their land that benefits them and the environment, anything from tree planting to shoreline restoration. We are a resource if people have questions ... and we also try to provide grant money ... and technical assistance."

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Serpent Lake

The stormwater project in Crosby treats runoff from about 14 acres that previously drained directly into Serpent Lake through a 1928 pipe. With help from a Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources grant, Crosby and Deerwood also adopted ordinances to regulate runoff.

"Part of what our job is includes making sure that we are protecting our natural resources for future generations," Koering said before the tour ended along the Little Pine River near Crosby, one of the waterways that feed into the Mississippi River.

Todd Holman of Baxter, program director at The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to conserving water and land, also spoke as part of the tour, as did Reed Larson of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which has an office in Brainerd.

"I'm hoping that people get inspired to maybe do something on their property or work with their own communities to do something," Barrick said of the flooding that used to occur at Summer Place neighborhood in Deerwood along Serpent Lake.

Serpent Lake received a $1.2 million BWSR grant in 2014 targeting the main sources of phosphorus entering the lake. The board's mission is to improve and protect resources by working with local organizations and private landowners.

"This project is a really great example of using the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment sales tax to be able to do things to fix lakes that are still healthy," Barrick said of the Deerwood Summer Place stormwater project.

For more information about SWCD, call 218-828-6197, email info@crowwingswcd.org or visit www.crowwingswcd.org .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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