Project levy next step for CRWD

Published 9:07 am Thursday, July 28, 2016

Justin Hanson

CRWD administrator

“I was seldom able to see an opportunity until it had ceased to be one.”

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Mark Twain put this thought to paper many years ago, and it still rings true today. This quote reminds me of a time or two where I missed an opportunity because I didn’t see its value until after it had passed.

I thought about those times when talking earlier this month with the Cedar River Watershed District’s Board of Managers about the need for a special project levy to help generate matching project dollars. A project levy would implement a new tax, which CRWD then would use as a match to implement projects to improve water quality and reduce flooding.

Taxing authority is a sensitive issue with the CRWD board and staff. Our board was formed in 2007 with the expectation that project dollars would need to be generated some day if the community ever was going to see the benefits of less flooding and better water quality. The CRWD board has been careful not to run up the local tab and not use local funds to pay for 100 percent of projects.

Instead, the CRWD Board of Managers has taken the approach of investing in the development of local data, acquiring water-quality monitoring and using part of the administrative levy to fund initial projects. By taking this approach, CRWD is in a position to understand the watershed’s needs and the most-efficient way to get the results wanted by the district’s taxpayers. It also has put the district in the position to act if the opportunity ever arose to leverage outside funding sources.

CRWD is using the best scientific data available to plan and target effective projects. Our data’s value, the CRWD staff’s ambition and the unique, outpouring support from our community have put the district in a position to accomplish special things over the next few years.

Our community has been presented with a great opportunity. A window through which to act and develop significant projects, with local funds contributing a minimal amount.

Last year, The Hormel Foundation put $3.2 million dollars on the table — at the request of the Austin Vision 2020 Waterways Committee — to fund CRWD’s highest-priority projects in the watershed under our Capital Improvement Project (CIP). This grant came with a challenge for us to find matching dollars.

CRWD staff has been working hard to leverage outside funds to cover a majority of the foundation’s matching requirements. We are planning the 25-project CIP initiative at a cost of more than $8 million. If our outside funding sources come through, CRWD is asking the watershed to come up with $1 million. That only would be up to 12 percent of the CIP’s overall cost.

Some in our community will disapprove of a levy to fund water-quality and water-quantity projects. Some will oppose any local government levy increase, regardless of the amount. Those sentiments are understood and appreciated. There is, however, risk in missed opportunities.

What’s the cost for not acting? I believe Mark Twain recognized that opportunities have a shelf life and, if they are missed, you might not get another shot.

Leveraging $1 million from our watershed district to bring back more than $7 million is a significant and rare opportunity. The CRWD Board of Managers has held off on instituting a project levy until there was an opportunity like this. All of us at CRWD appreciate the great, continuing support from our community, and we look forward to delivering projects that make all of us proud.

Mower Soil and Water Conservation District provides technical assistance to landowners with conservation practices that protect land and water resources. SWCD also administers the Cedar River Watershed District to improve water quality and reduce flooding.

This column runs monthly on the last Thursday. For more, visit the Mower SWCD and CRWD websites and Facebook pages. Comments can be sent to