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A regional approach to water, soil conservation gets local backing
  • Updated

While it’s just getting off the ground, a new collaboration is set to unite the region around efforts to make needed improvements to area water quality and soil health.

The new Cannon River Watershed Joint Powers Board is the product of years of planning and consultation with local stakeholders. It was created last year to implement the Cannon River Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan. While efforts to improve water and soil health have traditionally been guided by county Soil and Water Conservation districts, watershed joint powers boards are increasingly popular. Since the program was created five years ago, more than 20 local districts have been created statewide.

An April 2015 Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report representing data from 50 percent of the state’s watersheds shows half or more of lakes and streams monitored in the southern portion of the state are plagued by bacteria, sediment, nutrients and other pollutants, and are too polluted to swim in. According to the report, excess nutrients cause algae to grow that hurt aquatic life and recreation. Sediment can make it hard for fish and aquatic life to breathe, reproduce and find food.

“Water quality is a reflection of what happens on the surrounding land,” according to the report.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Clean Water Specialist Shaina Keseley said that creating new districts around watershed boundaries rather than county boundaries simply makes sense, given that different watersheds may face very different challenges than their neighbors.

Before the Cannon River Watershed Joint Powers Board was formally created, Keseley worked with the task force of local stakeholders to develop a plan that focused on local needs while adhering to the state’s broader One Watershed, One Plan program vision. Launched as a pilot program in 2014, One Watershed, One Plan is designed to help local authorities coordinate water and soil protection efforts. 2016’s One Watershed One Plan Transition Plan emphasizes that the new watershed districts are not meant to replace existing authorities.

Under the Transition Plan, Minnesota is divided into seven basins and dozens of individual watersheds. The Cannon River Watershed lies on the edge of southeast Minnesota’s Lower Mississippi and Cedar, Shell Rock and Winnebago basins.

The ultimate goal of One Watershed One Plan is to foster unprecedented collaboration between all stakeholders around a variety of water protection issues, from simple surface water and ground water quality protection, restoration, and improvement to wetland enhancement and restoration, and protection of fish and wildlife habitat and water recreational facilities.

The quality of Rice County’s lakes is a particularly significant concern. In 2016, the MPCA identified 36 lakes in Minnesota that were unsuitable for recreation due to pollution. Three were located in the Cannon River Watershed, all in Rice County. Improving water quality in those three lakes (Cedar, Box and Hunt lakes) will be a priority over the next 10 years. However, the Cannon River Comprehensive Watershed Plan concedes that the issues all face are so great that they likely won’t be resolved in that timeframe.

In addition to those lakes, the Joint Powers Board has identified five lakes which are high quality but in need of protection due to a risk of future degradation. They are Beaver, Dudley, Fish, Kelly and Roemhildts. Again, a lack of funding is expected to hinder the board’s efforts.

Joint Powers Board Chair and Le Sueur County Commissioner Steve Rohlfing noted that not all projects are given the same priority under the board’s plan. While most goals are listed as “Tier One” or high priority, others are categorized in the lower priority “Tier Two” or “Tier Three” categories and are likely to be dealt with only if the board ends up with more resources than it currently anticipates.

Rohfling emphasized that the list is not set in stone. Depending on the availability of funding, willingness of partners and other factors, some projects could be advanced much sooner than anticipated while others could face major delays.

Keseley said that one factor that makes the Cannon River watershed — which includes portions of Rice, Steele, Waseca, Le Sueur, Goodhue, Dakota and Freeborn counties — different from neighboring ones is the presence of a large number of lakes. Thus, the plan includes a significant focus on protecting those lakes from farm runoff.

The Cannon River Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan sets clear goals to reduce phosphorous contamination in those priority lakes. That includes significant investment in identifying phosphorous load and implementing structural practices, nutrient management practices and planting perennial vegetation on at least a portion of neighboring drainage areas.

A great start

Steele County Commissioner Rick Gnemi, a Joint Powers Board member, said that some landowners might be unaware of the large amount of soil and/or sediment runoff coming off of their land, while others may be unconcerned or unaware that they should be concerned. Regardless of why landowners are contributing to the issue of soil and water pollution, Gnemi noted that the effects of even just one polluting property can be broad. That’s why he’s glad to see that leaders in the Cannon River Valley has been a leader on the issue.

Though he doesn’t sit on the Joint Powers Board, Rice County Commissioner Jim Purfeerst is a local farmer who has implemented soil-healthy practices on his land, including the use of cover crops and grass waterways. Purfeerst, who served as an elected member of the Soil and Water Conservation District Board until last year, said he’s excited to see the program get up and running. He added that programs in neighboring watersheds like the Zumbro River don’t appear to be far behind.

Much like the SWCDs, One Watershed, One Plan Coordinator Julie Westerlund emphasized that the program is wholly voluntary. Counties and SWCDs don’t have to join local cooperatives, and landowners don’t have to seek assistance from Joint Powers Board staff.

Nonetheless, the state has robust goals as it hopes to see more farmers use practices that are friendly for soil and water health. Thanks to widespread local buy-in, Westerlund said that the program is off to a great start.

While the Joint Powers Board includes representatives from six different counties, it’s Rice County’s SWCD that has taken the lead as the fiscal agent. In January, the board received its first Clean Water Funds from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

While the Board of Water and Soil Resources may be the board’s main source of funding, Rice County SWCD Manager Steve Pahs said that he hopes it isn’t the only one. The board also plans to apply for other state and federal grants and seek private funding as well.

Still, the board will soon utilize the just over $1 million in funds it just received. Pahs expects programs to be rolled out within 2-3 months, though the organization can think long term as the primary goal of One Watershed, One Plan is to reduce pollution over the next decade.

The goals of the Joint Powers Board will be familiar to those familiar with the SWCD’s programming. Throughout the watershed, Pahs hopes to see an increase in use of terraces, cover crops and grass waterways.

By implementing such practices, farmers aren’t only protecting water health. By making a modest investment subsidized by the Joint Powers Board, they’re also preserving precious topsoil, making their farms much more valuable for generations to come.

“We have a lot of water quality goals we’re trying to meet, so we’re focusing on key areas and practices that will get us there,” he said.


News
spotlight
A regional approach to water, soil conservation gets local backing
  • Updated

While it’s just getting off the ground, a new collaboration is set to unite the region around efforts to make needed improvements to area water quality and soil health.

The new Cannon River Watershed Joint Powers Board is the product of years of planning and consultation with local stakeholders. It was created last year to implement the Cannon River Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan. While efforts to improve water and soil health have traditionally been guided by county Soil and Water Conservation districts, watershed joint powers boards are increasingly popular. Since the program was created five years ago, more than 20 local districts have been created statewide.

An April 2015 Minnesota Pollution Control Agency report representing data from 50 percent of the state’s watersheds shows half or more of lakes and streams monitored in the southern portion of the state are plagued by bacteria, sediment, nutrients and other pollutants, and are too polluted to swim in. According to the report, excess nutrients cause algae to grow that hurt aquatic life and recreation. Sediment can make it hard for fish and aquatic life to breathe, reproduce and find food.

“Water quality is a reflection of what happens on the surrounding land,” according to the report.

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Clean Water Specialist Shaina Keseley said that creating new districts around watershed boundaries rather than county boundaries simply makes sense, given that different watersheds may face very different challenges than their neighbors.

Before the Cannon River Watershed Joint Powers Board was formally created, Keseley worked with the task force of local stakeholders to develop a plan that focused on local needs while adhering to the state’s broader One Watershed, One Plan program vision. Launched as a pilot program in 2014, One Watershed, One Plan is designed to help local authorities coordinate water and soil protection efforts. 2016’s One Watershed One Plan Transition Plan emphasizes that the new watershed districts are not meant to replace existing authorities.

Under the Transition Plan, Minnesota is divided into seven basins and dozens of individual watersheds. The Cannon River Watershed lies on the edge of southeast Minnesota’s Lower Mississippi and Cedar, Shell Rock and Winnebago basins.

The ultimate goal of One Watershed One Plan is to foster unprecedented collaboration between all stakeholders around a variety of water protection issues, from simple surface water and ground water quality protection, restoration, and improvement to wetland enhancement and restoration, and protection of fish and wildlife habitat and water recreational facilities.

The quality of Rice County’s lakes is a particularly significant concern. In 2016, the MPCA identified 36 lakes in Minnesota that were unsuitable for recreation due to pollution. Three were located in the Cannon River Watershed, all in Rice County. Improving water quality in those three lakes (Cedar, Box and Hunt lakes) will be a priority over the next 10 years. However, the Cannon River Comprehensive Watershed Plan concedes that the issues all face are so great that they likely won’t be resolved in that timeframe.

In addition to those lakes, the Joint Powers Board has identified five lakes which are high quality but in need of protection due to a risk of future degradation. They are Beaver, Dudley, Fish, Kelly and Roemhildts. Again, a lack of funding is expected to hinder the board’s efforts.

Joint Powers Board Chair and Le Sueur County Commissioner Steve Rohlfing noted that not all projects are given the same priority under the board’s plan. While most goals are listed as “Tier One” or high priority, others are categorized in the lower priority “Tier Two” or “Tier Three” categories and are likely to be dealt with only if the board ends up with more resources than it currently anticipates.

Rohfling emphasized that the list is not set in stone. Depending on the availability of funding, willingness of partners and other factors, some projects could be advanced much sooner than anticipated while others could face major delays.

Keseley said that one factor that makes the Cannon River watershed — which includes portions of Rice, Steele, Waseca, Le Sueur, Goodhue, Dakota and Freeborn counties — different from neighboring ones is the presence of a large number of lakes. Thus, the plan includes a significant focus on protecting those lakes from farm runoff.

The Cannon River Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan sets clear goals to reduce phosphorous contamination in those priority lakes. That includes significant investment in identifying phosphorous load and implementing structural practices, nutrient management practices and planting perennial vegetation on at least a portion of neighboring drainage areas.

A great start

Steele County Commissioner Rick Gnemi, a Joint Powers Board member, said that some landowners might be unaware of the large amount of soil and/or sediment runoff coming off of their land, while others may be unconcerned or unaware that they should be concerned. Regardless of why landowners are contributing to the issue of soil and water pollution, Gnemi noted that the effects of even just one polluting property can be broad. That’s why he’s glad to see that leaders in the Cannon River Valley has been a leader on the issue.

Though he doesn’t sit on the Joint Powers Board, Rice County Commissioner Jim Purfeerst is a local farmer who has implemented soil-healthy practices on his land, including the use of cover crops and grass waterways. Purfeerst, who served as an elected member of the Soil and Water Conservation District Board until last year, said he’s excited to see the program get up and running. He added that programs in neighboring watersheds like the Zumbro River don’t appear to be far behind.

Much like the SWCDs, One Watershed, One Plan Coordinator Julie Westerlund emphasized that the program is wholly voluntary. Counties and SWCDs don’t have to join local cooperatives, and landowners don’t have to seek assistance from Joint Powers Board staff.

Nonetheless, the state has robust goals as it hopes to see more farmers use practices that are friendly for soil and water health. Thanks to widespread local buy-in, Westerlund said that the program is off to a great start.

While the Joint Powers Board includes representatives from six different counties, it’s Rice County’s SWCD that has taken the lead as the fiscal agent. In January, the board received its first Clean Water Funds from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

While the Board of Water and Soil Resources may be the board’s main source of funding, Rice County SWCD Manager Steve Pahs said that he hopes it isn’t the only one. The board also plans to apply for other state and federal grants and seek private funding as well.

Still, the board will soon utilize the just over $1 million in funds it just received. Pahs expects programs to be rolled out within 2-3 months, though the organization can think long term as the primary goal of One Watershed, One Plan is to reduce pollution over the next decade.

The goals of the Joint Powers Board will be familiar to those familiar with the SWCD’s programming. Throughout the watershed, Pahs hopes to see an increase in use of terraces, cover crops and grass waterways.

By implementing such practices, farmers aren’t only protecting water health. By making a modest investment subsidized by the Joint Powers Board, they’re also preserving precious topsoil, making their farms much more valuable for generations to come.

“We have a lot of water quality goals we’re trying to meet, so we’re focusing on key areas and practices that will get us there,” he said.


News
spotlight
Faribault Legion helps seniors celebrate Poppy Month
  • Updated

For exactly 100 years, a simple red poppy has served as a poignant way to remember all those who fought and died for our country. To commemorate the anniversary while staying COVID safe, Faribault’s American Legion is thinking outside the box this year.

The Legion’s Poppy Drive is traditionally a crucial fundraiser for the American Legion Auxiliary, helping it to fulfill its mission of promoting patriotism and helping veterans throughout the year. 2019 was Faribault’s strongest Poppy Drive yet, with $8,500 collected for the cause.

Last year, no Poppy Drive was held due to the COVID pandemic. The Legion Auxiliary’s Karen Rasmussen is hopeful that 2021 will be a banner year, with several new initiatives related to the poppy drive hopefully helping to drive interest.

The Legion’s new Poppy Coloring Book is among those new attractions, and it seems set to draw in both the young and the old. The book was designed by the national American Legion, and Rasumssen ordered some 400 in anticipation of great demand.

Over the last week, seniors at several local care facilities have gotten to work on their poppy coloring books. Seniors living independently don’t have to be left out of the fun either, as Rasumssen left a stack at the Buckham West Senior Center.

For a bit of extra fun, seniors who return their books by April 13 could have a chance to win the Poppy Coloring Book Contest. The winner or winners of the citywide contest will receive a ticket for supper at the Legion.

Kids have already had the chance to show off their artistic skills with the Poppy Poster Contest, which closed on April 1. Students were broken down into different categories, six based on grade level and a seventh for special needs students.

Soon, children will get a chance to try their hand at the coloring books as well. On April 15 and 16, books will be available 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at HyVee and Ace Hardware in Faribault. Extras will be available at the Legion after the 16th, with a final deadline of May 17 to return all books.

Poppy coloring books have certainly been a hit at local care facilities. Colleen Borchert at Mill City quickly finished coloring her book, using a mix of crayon and colored pencil. She particularly appreciated the patriotic story on the book’s back.

“It was a little bit of work to do,” she said. “But the pictures in it were very nice.”

At Pleasant Manor, Rene Trebino particularly enjoyed coloring his book because of his passion for the Legion. Trebino said he was always determined to help the Legion as much as he could, volunteering from everything from fish frys to burger nights to the chili cook off.

Marine Corps veteran Marlowe Andrle also took a crack at filling in his coloring book. Andrle served in the Marines on active duty from 1955 to 1958, and became involved with the Legion shortly after the military. He still proudly wears his Marine Corps hat.

Known as the “Picasso” of Pleasant Manor, Barbara Thomas loves to spend her time creating precise drawings and paintings. While always passionate about art, Thomas was particularly excited that the book offered her an opportunity to also celebrate American troops.

Though her involvement with the Legion never went beyond attending a few dinners, Thomas admires the organization’s work. She hopes that the sacrifice demonstrated by American troops and commemorated through the poppy will inspire more young people to serve.

David Hergler didn’t participate in the contest, but the poppy certainly has a special meaning to him. A Vietnam War veteran, Hergler sustained major combat injuries that continue to dog him today.

For Hergler, the poppy helps to remember the sacrifice by many of the soldiers he served alongside. Of the 187 warriors who participated in the parachute drop that left Hergler with life-altering injuries, he was one of only 26 that survived.

He has nothing but respect for the men he fought with, and the symbol of the poppy brought those memories pouring back.

“The red (part) of the poppy represents the bloody part,” he said. “It’s to remember all of the people who were there.”


News
spotlight
Supreme Court to hear convicted dealer's claim that sentence doesn't fit crime
  • Updated

The Minnesota Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a Faribault man who unsuccessfully sought to have his guilty plea withdrawn.

The case turns on the amount of heroin Anthoney Michael Fugalli sold a police informant in May and June 2018, and whether the mere agreement to sell is criminal. Fugalli, 30, who was convicted in August 2019 of first-degree drug sale, promised to sell a total of 13 grams of heroin in four different transactions, the actual weight was 8.9 grams, less than the 10-gram threshold needed for the first-degree charge.

The state Court of Appeals in December declined to overturn the conviction, finding that Fugalli’s November 2018 admission was valid.

“Because Fugalli’s admission to offering to sell at least the threshold amount of heroin acknowledges that he violated the statute regardless of the amount he actually delivered, the district court had a sufficient factual basis to accept Fugalli’s plea,” wrote the Appellate Court.

It also noted that state stature defines “sell” to mean not only, “to sell, give away, barter, deliver, exchange, distribute or dispose of” the drugs, but also “to offer or agree to” sell.

“Fugalli’s first-degree crime was completed by his offer to sell the specified quantity,” wrote the court, “and although his actual delivery of a lesser amount than was bargained for might suggest that he is imprecise with his buyers during his drug dealing, it does not reduce the degree of his drug-dealing criminality.”

If the high court agrees that Fugalli’s actions don’t meet the criteria for first-degree sale, Fugalli would likely be convicted of a lesser second-degree charge. That would reduce his 78-month prison sentence to a a 38-month probationary sentence.

“The length of a person’s sentence should turn on what was actually sold not on what the defendant said he was going to sell. A person should not have to serve extra prison time for mere puffery,” Fugalli’s attorney, Sean Michael McGuire, wrote in a petition to the Supreme Court.

Fugalli is also awaiting trial on charges of second-degree drug sale and third-degree murder for the June 19, 2018 overdose death of a Faribault man. COVID-19 related delays and closings have pushed off a trial, and no date is currently set.

Following his June 2018 arrest, Fugalli reportedly confessed to selling the victim heroin, saying he warned him that the drug may contain fentanyl, an opioid more powerful than heroin.

The Supreme Court has not yet set a date for a hearing for Fugalli.


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spotlight
Grant, community support help Ruth's House stay afloat during pandemic
  • Updated

Ruth’s House of Hope is designed to help women and children in crisis situations, and with COVID-19 being a crisis situation on its own, the shelter itself has needed support more than ever this past year.

Ruth’s House of Hope can serve nine families with a capacity of 27 people at one time. And pandemic or not, the house is always full and always has a waiting list.

“That’s something that always remains consistent,” said Sandy Varley, communications and outreach coordinator for Ruth’s House. “Especially now after COVID, there’s been 13 shelters just in Southeast Minnesota that have closed, so there’s definitely a huge need in our area.”

In many respects, Ruth’s House is lucky to survive during an unusual and difficult year for many nonprofits. A virtual fundraiser replaced its annual gala, and a grant opportunity this past month was the good news the nonprofit needed. More donations and volunteerism is always welcome, said Varley, but she said the community has already stepped up significantly during a rough year.

“People are in a giving mood, and especially the people of Faribault have always been very generous, and they understand our mission,” Varley said. “Like every other year, they’ve really helped us. We can’t thank the community enough for supporting our shelter.”

In place of the Heart’s Gala, which typically gathers roughly 300 guests at the Faribault American Legion, Ruth’s House hosted its first annual Helping Hearts online fundraiser Feb. 13. The community responded positively, according to Varley, who noted the nonprofit released a survey after the event to collect community feedback. The event raised $107,000 for Ruth’s House of Hope as well as Sarah’s House, a sober-living home in Northfield where up to five women may stay at a time after they complete rehabilitation treatment.

“Our goal was $120,000, so we did fall short, but we were happy with the money we raised,” Varley said. “This was the first time we had attempted something like this. Portions like the dessert auction and some of the games we play cannot be replicated in the virtual setting, but we were very thankful for the support we had from local businesses and our sponsors.”

Not every fundraiser for Ruth’s House was able to have an alternative virtual event. The local Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus, a big proponent of Ruth’s House of Hope, did not host its annual Hope and Harmony Concert in the fall. Combining that event’s proceeds from other Lakelander fundraisers, such as a winter parade in Montgomery and singing Valentines in February, the group divided $6,000 among Ruth’s House and two other local charities in 2019.

Lakelander George Trudeau said the chorus was unable to host the fall concert or any other fundraisers last year. The group has some parades lined up for the fall, however, so they’re hopeful about using their voices for the greater good again.

Ruth’s House did receive some positive news in March: the nonprofit had been selected as a recipient of the Otto Bremer Trust Award, with the prize being $50,000. Ruth’s House was among 190 grant recipients in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

“Organizations throughout the region continue to feel the impact of the pandemic, making their needs that much more critical,” Daniel Reardon, co-CEO and trustee of Otto Bremer Trust, in a press release. “We are inspired by their resilience during these challenging times.”

Varley said this monetary amount will cover basic costs for running the shelter, which is much needed after a rough year due to COVID-19.

Planning ahead, Varley said Ruth’s House hopes to have an online art auction in August and to eventually coordinate an in-person event. In the meantime, she offered a couple suggestions for community members who want to support the shelter.

“We are always thrilled when we receive a donation of course,” she said. “Volunteers are welcome. We have a lot of outdoor projects that need to be done this spring, so they can certainly call our outreach office. That includes yard work, painting, helping us clean up our playground — things like that are always welcome.”


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