AUSTIN, Minn. — Water quality in the Root River watershed got a protective boost this year with the construction of more than 4 miles of grassed waterways in the upland areas of eastern Mower County.

The Mower Soil and Water Conservation District, based in Austin, led seven projects which built nearly 4.2 miles (22,040 feet) of grassed waterways through mostly cropland in the headwaters of the Root River’s south and middle branches.

Grassed waterways are graded channels seeded to grass or other vegetation that slows stormwater along a path that often has eroded the land into a gully or ravine due to rain storms. These waterways also move stormwater through cropland to a stable outlet at a speed which doesn’t cause soil erosion.

These projects involved 10 different landowners. Most of the work was funded through a state grant for the Root River One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P).

Mower SWCD board member Jim Kellogg, a member of the Root River 1W1P’s policy committee, said he’s pleased to see progress happening in Mower County.

“These are win-win projects for conservation and the farmers who are losing productive land to erosion,” Kellogg said. “Hopefully this will create more interest in the county for other conservation work.”

Mower SWCD’s Paul Hunter, a USDA-certified conservation planner, has helped lead the waterway construction this year as well as work with landowners on an overall conservation plan for their land. Hunter’s work involves field walkovers, drone flights and landowner conversations to create an in-depth evaluation of a farm. From that, Mower SWCD is better able to provide an array of options for potential funding and technical support to help protect or improve water quality and soil health.

After harvest this fall, Hunter wants to connect with more farmers and landowners – especially in the targeted areas of the Root River’s middle and south branches – to look at fields for constructing grassed waterways in 2021 through the 90-percent cost-share assistance. More grassed waterways and other conservation work are planned for the Root River watershed in Mower County next year.

All three branches of the Root River State Water Trail begin in eastern Mower County.  Starting as a drainage ditch, the Root River flows east through much geologic diversity — including glacial till, karst topography and bluff land before emptying into the Mississippi River in Houston County.

Root River 1W1P’s planning area covers more than 1.3 million acres in parts of six counties (Dodge, Fillmore, Houston, Mower, Olmsted and Winona) and includes the Root River Watershed; Minnesota’s portion of the Upper Iowa River Watershed; and Houston County’s Mississippi-Reno Watershed.    

This article was submitted by Mower Soil and Water Conservation District.

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