Stearns County’s Middle Sauk River Watershed named Pilot Project Area for New Water Quality Program

Stearns County SWCD supervisor Chuck Uphoff,  of New Munich, along with Gov. Mark Dayton and USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (seated) announce a new water quality program.
Stearns County SWCD supervisor Chuck Uphoff, of New Munich, along with Gov. Mark Dayton and USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack (seated) announce a new water quality program.

The Middle Sauk River Watershed in central Stearns County has been selected as one of four pilot project areas for the new Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification program. The program is designed to accelerate voluntary adoption of agricultural practices that enhance water quality, while maintaining Minnesota’s productive agricultural economy.

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification program is the first of its kind in the nation and is the product of a state-federal Memorandum of Understanding signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson in January 2012.

Under the certification program, farmers who implement and maintain approved conservation plans will be certified and in turn assured that their operations meet water quality goals and standards for a set period of time.

“A goal of this program is to offer certified farmers a 10-year exemption from regulations that would be enacted at the State and Federal level, said Chuck Uphoff, New Munich dairy farmer and board supervisor for the Stearns County Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD).

“Producers will need to take a hard look at their entire operation and incorporate water quality best management practices such as buffers, grassed waterways, manure storage structures, nutrient management, and conservation tillage.”

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Press_Release_MapWEBMinnesota Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Matt Wohlman says that this 3-year pilot project in the Middle Sauk River watershed is a real opportunity for farmers.

“Agriculture is a cornerstone of our state’s economy. We also value the health of our rivers, lakes and streams. We believe this collaborative, historic program presents enormous opportunities to achieve measurable water quality outcomes,” said Wohlman. “We look forward to working with producers in the Middle Sauk River watershed to demonstrate to the public that farmers care about our water quality and are committed to adopting conservation practices.”

Stearns County is the top dairy producing county in Minnesota and agriculture is a key economic driver in the area.  The Middle Sauk River watershed, with dairying and  livestock as the chief enterprise among its 727 producers, is in a great  location that could have a positive impact on the local economy.

The Minnesota Legislature appropriated $3 million in Clean Water Legacy funding to launch this program in the four pilot watersheds. These funds will leverage $6.5 million in federal funding previously announced by Vilsack. Funds are currently available to assist farmers in installing conservation practices, such as grassed waterways, water and sediment basins, feedlot runoff control structures, and many other practices.

Uphoff urged farmers to contact the Stearns County SWCD and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at the USDA Service Center in Waite Park for more information (320-251-7800 #3).  “This may be the last chance we have to hold back regulations, “he said.