Guest Column: Many commended for water quality efforts

Published 9:35 am Friday, March 31, 2017

Guest Column by Brett Behnke

Brett Behnke is the administrator of the Shell Rock River Watershed District.

It has been a busy March for the Shell Rock River Watershed District. In addition to holding our annual meeting earlier this month, we have been working closely with our partners at the state level on our funding and permitting processes. We are still awaiting legislative approval on the sales tax renewal but remain optimistic that the measure will pass this summer. Thank-you to our local legislators for assisting with this process.

Brett Behnke

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In the interim, we have been collaborating with our partners at Freeborn County to prepare the best funding package for the timely continuation of the Fountain Lake restoration project. We are ready to initiate the bid process for contract one of the dredging project (yes, putting the dredge in the water!). We are requesting the support of Freeborn County to move forward. 

It is our intent to issue a bond for $1.8 million to proceed with the project this year. When a bond is issued, the bond provider requires a secure source of income to ensure that bond payments will be made. As we do not have legislative approval for the sales tax renewal, we are missing this important piece of the bond puzzle.

We have proposed to the county that they petition us for the completion of this project. If this petition process is reviewed and approved by the commissioners and their legal counsel, the Watershed District will be given the option to levy properties within the district (not countywide) up to a state mandated cap of 0.00798 percent of total estimated market value of the entire district. Based on 2017 land values within the district, according to the information received from Freeborn County Auditor Pat Martinson, the total levy amount would be $166,000. The effect of this levy on a typical home of $100,000 would be an increase of approximately $6 per year; and a $200,000 home an increase of approximately $15 per year. On a typical 80-acre parcel, the increase would be approximately $55 per year.

As emphasized recently in the Albert Lea Tribune, the district’s historical use of property taxes has been very minimal. Of the $40.21 million that will have been spent by the end of this year, only $3.25 million has been generated by the administrative property tax levy; only 8 percent of our total revenue has been generated by a property tax levy. To look at this from another perspective, the $3.25 million in property tax levy has been leveraged to obtain nearly $37 million in non-property tax funds. Our funding approach will have financed $37 million worth of water quality improvements in the county with no cost on your property tax statements. 

Meanwhile, the annual meeting of the district was held on March 16. A special thank you to all who attended and participated in the meeting. In addition to reviewing budgets, revenues, expenditures, assets, insurance and the district’s annual audit status, the SRRWD 2016 Urban Conservationist and Rural Conservationist honorees were named, and the year’s progress was reviewed through the introduction of our 2016 Clean Water Annual Report.

The SRRWD recognized the extraordinary conservation efforts of Freeborn County Commissioner Mike Lee by awarding him with the 2016 Rural Conservationist honor. The Albert Lea Lakes Foundation Board was recognized for its continued commitment to the betterment of our waterways with the 2016 Urban Conservationist honor. The continued efforts of Commissioner Lee and the Albert Lea Lakes Foundation in improving water quality in the district are commended and appreciated by the district.

In the first quarter of each year, the district summarizes our water quality efforts and impact through the publication of a Clean Water Annual Report. This year’s report highlights our water flow monitoring efforts (including findings from our 13 monitoring stations), an important carp update (White Lake has a gold fish population), water quality and phosphorous concentration readings and findings from eight lakes in the district (Fountain Lake’s water quality improved in 2016), a feature on Pickerel Lake project progress (water clarity declined in 2016), a feature on the Shell Rock River (Albert Lea Lake is the source of the Shell Rock River — winding 12 miles south to the Iowa border where it leaves Minnesota and our district), and a recap of the district’s news in 2016. The report is available on our website,,  and at our office. We strongly encourage you to review the 2016 report for more information on our annual efforts and progress.

We also encourage all community members to learn more about the district by joining us at our monthly board meetings. Our next meeting is at 8:30 a.m. April 11 at the City Council Chambers. As always, please contact our office for more information or to learn more about our efforts at 507-377-5785.