Turtle Creek Watershed District in for changes

Published 9:16 am Monday, June 6, 2011

Landowners within the Turtle Creek Watershed District could be in for some big changes.

Private ditch owners within the Deer Creek Lateral Ditch to the J24 ditch system, which lies on both sides of the Mower-Freeborn line near Hollandale, will be affected. Many residents may be surprised at first.

Freeborn County Auditor-treasurer Dennis Distad said some people may initially become upset, but they should see the benefits in the future.

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Freeborn County is asking for bids from contractors until June 17 for several projects late this summer, which could cost about $1.5 million. Some tasks include: excavation and leveling, tree removal, tile construction, and riprap and seeding. Projects adjacent to private landowners’ properties will be assessed to the landowners’ property taxes based on costs, benefits to their land and soil types affected.

The county and watershed put the public in that area on one drainage system to accomplish several things: better ditches, larger grass buffers between fields and ditches and better structure for roads.

Shallower grades in ditches will allow for better filtering. The standard, 16-foot grass buffer between ditches and fields will trap sediment, as well. And the shallower ditches will better support the roads and reduce gravel loss.

Instead of homeowners dictating repairs or projects on their own ditches, the county and the watershed district will have control. The watershed will also determine when future projects are needed.

“We’re combining those ditches, and they will be under the guidelines of the TCWD, since it is within their watershed,” Distad added.

However, homeowners will still be in charge of their ditches, according to Distad.

“The ditch is still the landowner’s ditch. It’s not the watershed’s ditch, it’s not the county’s ditch,” Distad said.

But in the event of any flow-altering projects, the county and the watershed will have jurisdiction.

Another reason for the public system is consistency. Often, landowners complete ditch projects that affect their neighbors. Distad cited examples where landowners backed up flow in their ditches, which cycled back to neighbors’ ditches, and examples where landowners increased flow too much.

The public system offers some solace to farmers, however. Any crop acreage farmers lose by increasing their buffer strips to the 16-foot standard will be initially repaid by the county. The buffers must remain permanent.

Distad said projects that reduce cropland may wait until harvest, however, so no crops will be wasted.