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Published November 27, 2009, 12:00 AM

Rock River Watershed receives grant to address manure management

Money will be used to address fecal coliform bacteria issues
LUVERNE — The Rock River Watershed, spanning portions of Rock, Nobles, Pipestone and Murray counties, has received a nearly $150,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant to address manure management issues.

LUVERNE — The Rock River Watershed, spanning portions of Rock, Nobles, Pipestone and Murray counties, has received a nearly $150,000 Environmental Protection Agency grant to address manure management issues.

The funds will be used to provide cash incentives to livestock producers within the watershed for implementing nutrient management plans, installing flow meters on liquid manure application equipment and calibrating spreaders that transport manure solids.

Doug Bos, assistant director of land management in Rock County, said the projects will help producers “do a good job” of applying manure in the Rock River Watershed.

The EPA grant is the first to be awarded to the watershed since a TMDL assessment was completed on the Rock River and its tributaries in 2007. A meeting in January 2008, which included spirited comments from property owners within the watershed, led to the creation of an advisory committee and ultimately an implementation plan to address the impairments.

Bos said the committee looked at projects they thought would be accepted by producers, and used those ideas in the grant request to the EPA.

Kickoff meetings are planned in January to present the information about the Rock River manure management project. At that time, landowners in the watershed will be encouraged to apply for funds on the grant option they wish to implement in their operation. Meetings are slated for Jan. 13 at the Pizza Ranch in Edgerton and Jan. 14 at the Pizza Ranch in Luverne. Both meetings begin with a 9:30 a.m. registration.

“All of the educational meetings will double as a recertification opportunity for commercial animal waste technicians (custom applicators),” said Bos.

Addressing impairment

When the TMDL study was completed on the Rock River, there were two specific problems identified in the watershed — high levels of fecal coliform bacteria and turbidity. The EPA grant will be used to specifically address the fecal coliform bacteria, which is attributable to such things as non-compliant septic systems, urban runoff, wildlife and land application of manure.

Over the years, producers in the watershed have implemented manure management plans, but then some did not continue to update the plans after the initial three or four years, said Bos. As part of this grant process, financial incentives will be offered to producers in the watershed to either write their own, or hire an agronomist to write, the manure management plans. A social indicator study will also be conducted.

Bos said one thing the study will ask landowners is, “What does it take for you to continue a manure management plan?”

The three areas outlined for grant funds are hoped to have a positive impact on the watershed. Bos said the flow meters, in particular, will reduce the amount of liquid manure currently being applied to the land.

“The reason we are going with liquid flow meters is that some (manure management) plans are calling for lower rates than the application equipment can apply,” he said.

Some of the grant funds will also be used to purchase scale pads to weigh manure spreaders so producers can accurately calibrate the application rate, said Bos.

“With solid manure spreaders, many times it’s hard to know exactly what you’re putting on,” he added.

In addition to on-farm practices, Bos said the grant will fund maintenance of a manure test plot for the next three years. Different manure application rates will be demonstrated on the site, with an informational plot day planned at the end of the third year.

“The final component of the grant is intensive water sampling on the final year of the grant,” said Bos. “We’ll basically be sampling weekly the main tributaries that come into the Rock River to let us know if we’ve made a difference.”

Since that initial meeting back in January 2008, Bos said the public has gained a better understanding of the condition of the Rock River.

“Producers are concerned that they do (practices to improve the watershed) right, but they also want to make sure that other people do, too,” he said.

While this grant specifically targets manure management in the watershed, Bos said other projects are being implemented as well.

Replacement of non-compliant septic systems is an ongoing process in the watershed, while two rain garden projects were initiated earlier this year by the City of Luverne to create a filtering process as runoff flows into the river and its tributaries.

Landowners residing within the Rock River Watershed may contact their local Soil and Water Conservation District or environmental services office for more information.

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