CRWD proposes project levy for water quality; Funds would contribute up to 12 percent of CIP initiative’s $8.4M cost

Published 10:28 am Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cedar River Watershed District is proposing a special tax levy to help construct major projects in farm fields over the next five years that aim to improve water quality and reduce flooding.

Last week, the CRWD Board of Managers voted unanimously to set a public hearing on the proposal for its Aug. 17 regular monthly meeting.

Under the proposal, CRWD would secure a 10-year loan for up to $1 million through the state Clean Water Partnership program offered by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The district then would pay off the loan by using a special project levy starting 2017 that would generate an additional $100,000 a year in tax funds for projects.

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The loan would operate similar to a line of credit in that the CRWD could draw funds when needed and pay 2 percent interest only on the money taken out for projects, according to CRWD Administrator Justin Hanson. The levy would add $100,000 per year in CRWD tax funds but it would be reviewed annually by the CRWD board.

If approved, CRWD would draw $400,000 of the $1 million loan to use immediately on its $8.4 million Capital Improvement Plan to build 25 projects over five years for water-quality improvements and flood reduction. The CRWD contribution would be up to 12 percent of the overall CIP cost.

“Nearly 10 years into the district’s existence, CRWD is in its strongest position ever to build projects that will make a big difference in the health of our watershed,” said CRWD Board Chairman Steve Kraushaar, a Freeborn County farmer who has been a manager since 2007, in a press release. “This would help us leverage more than $7 million in project funding from other sources.”

CRWD board members expressed that they were pleased with the state loan’s low interest rate and that it would enable the district to avoid significant costs associated with borrowing money through a bond issuance.

A year ago, the CRWD board pledged a $1 million commitment toward its CIP initiative when The Hormel Foundation approved a $3.2 million grant for the plan as requested by the Austin Vision 2020 Waterways Committee. The board since has weighed options for funding the district’s part of CIP.

To be used on projects, the Foundation’s grant funds require matching funds from other sources. CRWD has planned on $1 million from the district and $4.2 million from various state sources.

Estimated tax increases from the proposed project levy are available on the CRWD website,

In 2007, CRWD was established to address concerns with flooding and water quality in the Cedar River Watershed. The CRWD’s boundaries cover about 435 square miles, mostly in Mower County but also in parts of Freeborn, Dodge and Steele counties. The city of Austin is the largest urban area in the watershed district.

CRWD’s CIP initiative consists of a top 25 list of priority projects that range in size, complexity and location but generally are related to stormwater detention, ravine stabilization and flood-risk reduction. Projects at this time are targeted mostly in the Dobbins Creek subwatershed but numerous projects also are planned for the Cedar River north and south of Austin.

When entirely completed, the CIP initiative is projected to provide an eight percent reduction in flood flows to the Cedar River. This would be a major step toward the CRWD’s overall mission to reduce peak flood flows by 20 percent through building control structures with berms at hundreds of locations. These structures will detain flood waters, reducing potential damage to downstream crops and buildings as well as decreasing streambank erosion on waterways.

Estimated tax increase from CRWD levy assessment

Residential property

•$100,000 residential homestead:

No project levy funds: $7.16 a year

With 10-year loan repayment: $10.02

•$100,000 residential non-homestead:

No project levy funds: $9.97 a year

With 10-year loan repayment: $13.95

Agricultural land

•Ag non-homestead, 80 acres valued at $576,000:

No project levy funds: 72 cents per acre or $52.42 for 80 acres

With 10-year loan repayment: $1 per acre or $80.39 for 80 acres

•Ag homestead, 80 acres valued at $576,000:

No project levy funds: 36 cents per acre or $28.71 for 80 acres

With 10-year loan repayment: 50 cents per acre or $40.19 for 80 acres