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Committee sets out land and water goals

A citizen advisory committee to the Marathon County Environmental Resources Committee (ERC) has named four goals for a 10-year (2020 to 2030) county land and water resources plan.

The goals were presented to the ERC at its June 30 regular meeting.

A first goal is to protect and improve the county’s land resources, emphasizing a reduction in erosion on cropland and improvement in soil health.

Strategies to achieve the goal are to increase use of best management practices and establish grass waterways in cropland gullies, as well as increase the use of no-till farming and better manure management. The goal calls for management of public forest and protection of prime agricultural lands. Outcome measurements for this goal include:

_ Increasing the percent of cropland that has tolerable soil loss from 79 to 90 percent by 2030.

_ Compile an inventory of cropland gullies by 2023 and stabilize the gullies by 2030.

_ Have all land within 300 feet of a waterbody follow required land management practices by 2030.

_ Increase the acres under nutrient management plans from 60 to 80 percent by 2030.

_ Increase the level of organic matter in county agricultural land from 3.3 to 3.5 percent.

_ Increase the acres under reduced till and no-till farming from 21 percent to 40 percent by 2030.

_ Increase the cropland acres planted in perennial forage (hay or pasture) from 41 to 46 percent by 2030.

_ Acquire an average of 320 acres per year of land for the Marathon County Parks and Forest System.

_ Encourage towns participate in county zoning to protect farmland from development.

A second goal is to protect and improve surface water quality by reducing agricultural run-off to a Phosphorus Index of 2.5 pounds per acre, restoring 35 foot riparian buffer strips to all surface water and wetlands and enhancing administration of animal water and livestock facility ordinances.

Outcome measures for this goal include:

_ Re-establish 35 percent of riparian buffers by 2030 and complete an inventory of degraded wetlands by December 2022.

_ Restore 25 percent of degraded wetlands by 2030.

_ Have 80 percent of agricultural land meet state performance standards by December 2030.

_ See that the Fenwood Creek Project goals are met by December 2026 and meet Total Maximum Daily Limit phosphorus levels by 2030.

_ Survey by 2024 the knowledge of landowners with the Wisconsin River Basin about practices to improve soil health.

_ Install 25,000 lineal feet of riparian buffers that are 35 feet wide.

_ Insure that all private waste systems are in compliance with county ordinance by 2026 and that 50 percent of shoreland owners are in compliance with buffer requirements by December 2030.

A third goal is to protect groundwater by updating county mapping to include municipal well recharge areas and make sure all private water systems work properly by 2030.

The plan calls for developing three wellhead protection plans and one source water protection plan for public drinking water by the end of 2030. It also seeks to coordinate private well testing with five municipal townships by 2024.

A fourth goal is to improve public awareness about agricultural practices that protect land and water quality. An outcome is to hold 15 on-farm educational demonstration days and five educational activities at schools each year to discuss water quality. A second outcome is to survey shoreland owners on their knowledge of water quality improvement practices. The plan calls for a bi-annual survey of farmers to assess how they prefer to receive information on conservation practices and to stress the importance of conservation with school teachers, 4-H leaders and environmental groups.

Going forward, ERC members will debate these four goals and determine whether whatever goals are adopted will be achieved by voluntary compliance or new regulation.

Members of the citizen advisory committee include county supervisor Randy Fifrick; Mary Kate Riordan, Maple Ridge Farms; Peter Arnold, grazing based dairy farmer; Meldon Maquire, dairy farmer; Tom Mueller, MilTrim Farms; LeeAnn Podruch, Pike Lakes Sportsman Club; Wayne Breitenfeldt, dairy and cash grain farmer.