The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Special Report: Amber Waves to Muddy Waters

December 6, 2011

Special Report, Day 1: From Amber Waves to Muddy Waters


MANKATO — Fisher said he’d rather see metro-area cities and the state put some funding into upgrading municipal systems, but put a majority of the money into projects that reduce sediment loading and erosion along the river valley. One way to do that is to create systems that store water so it can be released more slowly into the rivers.

A project near Mapleton, for example, creates an overflow basin alongside drainage ditches. Other projects use farm tile drainage systems that, through a series of smaller tiles or mechanical gates, slow the rate of water draining from fields.

The mechanical tile systems are, however, more expensive to install and maintain and don’t work well on sloped farm fields.

The storage basins along ditches take crop land out of production.

Anything taking land out of row- crop production runs up against skyrocketing farmland prices. In fact, the amount of land in grass and vegetation is likely to lessen in coming years as it is pulled out of the Conservation Reserve Program. CRP pays landowners to keep environmentally sensitive land out of production for a set number of years.

Statewide, about 128,000 acres of CRP contracts will soon expire, while only about 33,000 acres were enrolled during the recent spring sign-up period.

In the next three years, more than 550,000 acres of CRP are scheduled to expire.

Conservationists believe much of that land won’t be re- enrolled in the program because of high farmland and crop prices.

Another partial solution, which does not take farmland out of production, is to shore up steep bluffs to slow erosion. On the Le Sueur River, crews are using a mixture of trees, sand and dirt to weave a protective barrier over the surface of steep bluffs and river banks. It’s similar to the traditional stone rip-rap but costs about three-fourths less.

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Special Report: Amber Waves to Muddy Waters