Fenwood watershed results fall short
County gets to about half of phosphorus reduction goal
An $805,000 grant-funded county program to reduce phosphorus and soil sediment run-off within a small slice of the Big Eau Pleine watershed has largely failed to meet its goals after three years, Ken Pozorski, conservation analyst, told members of the Big Eau Pleine Citizen Organization (BEPCO) at the Green Valley Town Hall on Sunday.
The Conservation, Planning and Zon- ing (CPZ) employee told BEPCO members the county had hoped the Fenwood Creek Watershed Project would be able to reduce phosphorus run-off and soil sediment loss by 45 percent, but, as of now, according to computer modelling, the program has only been able to reduce these pollutants by about half of that amount.
Specifically, the subwatershed plan called for a 2,698 pound reduction of phosphorus run-off, but only 1,335 pounds has been kept from running off farm fields, said Pozoski. Likewise, the plan targeted keeping 11,783 tons of soil out of watershed ditches. Only a 6,500 ton reduction has so far been achieved.
The Fenwood Creek Watershed Project was recommended by a task force that met for three years following a 60 percent fish kill on the Big Eau Pleine Reservoir in 2009. The project was designed as an experiment to see if a targeted, voluntary approach with local farmers could reduce pollution in a small, 25,000 acre segment of the larger, 238,000 acre Big Eau Pleine watershed. If successful, the project’s approach would be replicated across the larger watershed, which sprawls across Marathon, Clark and Taylor counties.
The Fenwood Creek subwatershed was selected because it is representative of the bigger watershed. It has 64 livestock operations, including 43 dairies with around 2,000 cows, nine heifer raising operations and nine beef farms. Farmers in the watershed raise corn, soybeans and forages.
Pozorski said farmers were interested in getting help to change cropping practices, but proved resistant to put in “hard structures” such as manure pits and barnyard enclosures. The county staffer said the county had $740,000 in 70 percent cost-sharing money to incentivize farmers to install the structures, but, as of now, only $104,000 has been spent. The project hoped to get three manure pits installed; it got none. It hoped for three barnyard projects; it got two. It had hoped for three feed leachate systems installed and three wetlands restorations; it got zero of either. Pozoski theorized the poor dairy economy persuaded farmers not to accept the costsharing dollars. It was different when it came to cropping. The project had hoped to put 1,500 acres under Nutrient Management Plans and get no-till, reduced tillage or cover crops on 1,500 acres. The project managed to get 6,500 acres under Nutrient Management Plans and 1,266 under these more environmentally friendly cropland management practices. The project initially thought it would spend $25,000 in cost-sharing to change cropping practices. It wound up spending $53,000 at the end of phase one.
The watershed project spent $237,500 or less than a third of the total grant received by the county.
Marathon County land and water program director Paul Daigle on Monday said his office has not given up on the Fenwood Creek Watershed Project and is hopeful that a new strategy, pursued by an organization, the Eau Pleine Partnership for Integrated Conservation, will reduce pollution through use of “superior farming systems” that include no-till and cover crops.
“We need wide scale adoption of superior performing farming systems to be successful in the Fenwood,” he said. “We will continue these efforts and believe the work of EPPIC will be critical to reach more farmers.”
Daigle said CPZ has hired a dedicated staff person to help promote EPPIC’s approach in the Fenwood Creek watershed.
The director said the county needs to learn from the Fenwood project and not replicate unsuccessful programming in other parts of the county.
“I am committed to not moving into other impaired watersheds until we can demonstrate success in the Fenwood,” he said. “It would not be a good use of taxpayer funds to think we would be successful in any other watershed until we can prove it effective in the Fenwood.”
Daigle said the county will continue its voluntary approach to conservation, but admitted that if it doesn’t work, the county may need to consider a “mix of both voluntary and regulatory approaches.”
Any change in regulations, he clarifi ed, will require the county’s Environmental Resources Committee to ask the state to tighten up on cropland performance standards.