Watershed district prepares for next decade of projects

Published 1:00 pm Sunday, March 19, 2017

Graphic by Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

Dredging of Albert Lea’s 2 major lakes a top priority

Shell Rock River Watershed District officials have focused on cleaning area bodies of water for more than a decade. For the next 10 years, the organization hopes to dredge at least one local lake and continue the progress it has already made.

“Obviously the big projects are to finish the Fountain Lake restoration and then we are going to move into Albert Lea Lake restoration,” said Administrator Brett Behnke. “But along with that, we have multiple (Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council) projects, and we’ll continue to work on flood hazard mitigation dollars and any other available grant opportunities that we have.”

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District officials are working through 12 permits they must secure to dredge Fountain Lake, a project Behnke needs to be successful for officials to dredge Albert Lea Lake.

Officials hope a dredge enters Fountain Lake this summer. When the lake is dredged, a mixture of water and sediment will be pumped to a confined disposal facility, and the CDF will siphon off and settle the water.

Officials have said dredging Albert Lea Lake will be more expensive than the $15 million Fountain Lake project because of its size — Albert Lea Lake is approximately five times the size of Fountain Lake. Behnke said the timing of the project will depend on funding.

Officials hope to renew the district’s half-percent sales tax for either 15 years or until $15 million has been collected for Fountain Lake dredging.

Behnke said a common misconception of the sales tax is that the $15 million comes immediately. The $15 million comes gradually through the use of the sales tax.

“We’re working on creative, strategic funding opportunities so we can make that project a success, so we can move on to Albert Lea Lake,” Behnke said.

Several district projects have been funded by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The district received $2.4 million the first year it applied for funding and $1.4 million the second year. Funding typically starts July 1.

“We’re out there seeking funding sources for proposed projects,” Behnke said. “But until you have the money in hand, it’s difficult to obtain the easements and planning the design of the projects.”

Behnke said it is a balancing act between having good, shovel-ready projects and having the funding to conduct them. Officials must adjust planned projects to available funding.

“There’s hundreds of projects we can do, but we look for the best project that is going to give us the most loading reduction or best habitat enhancement,” he said. “Whatever benefits our conservation priorities the best.”

Behnke said though the district’s goal is to meet water monitoring standards measured by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, it has other goals.

“Our real report card is our water monitoring and what the health of our lakes are,” he said. “So, the goal of the Watershed District over the next 10 years, we’re going to clean up these lakes, period. We’re going to push and do some things that are not the status quo, which we always have. But at the end of the day, we are going to have a cleaner, healthier lakes system for less money than the traditional view by the conservation agencies in the state of Minnesota.”

Slated Shell Rock River Watershed District spending in the next 3-5 yrs.


General maintenance on Lake Chapeau, Wedge Creek, White Lake Outlet Creek, Goose Lake Outlet Creek and Pickerel Lake.

$15 million

Fountain Lake dredging


Yearly monitoring


Establishing a wetland basin on an unnamed creek on Albert Lea Lake: Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council


Pickerel Lake dam replacement


Upper Twin Lake pumping station


Lower Twin Lake fish barrier reclamation


Wedge Creek wetland establishment

$1.2 million

Land acquisitions to protect and re-establish native vegetation through the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council


Kill rough fish and reestablish native aquatic vegetation on Halls and Sugar Lake: LSOHC and DNR.

Varies by project

Enhance water quality through restoration of aquatic plants, wildlife habitat and fisheries.


Board of Soil and Water Resources Targeted Watershed Projects: Two wetland restorations, a two-stage ditch, streambank restoration and installing rock inlets and waterways


Cost share each year on projects that include rain barrels, rock inlets, rain gardens and the industrial, commercial and municipal stormwater BMP Incentive Program

Varies by project

Flood mitigation

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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