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Tainter Creek Watershed Council discusses plans and challenges for upcoming year

VERNON AND CRAWFORD COUNTIES - Fifteen farmers and interested citizens braved the cold temperatures to attend the Tainter Creek Watershed Council’s first meeting of 2018 at the Franklin Town Hall in Liberty Pole on Monday, Jan. 8.

The group’s next meetings will take place on Mondays, Feb. 12 and Mar. 12, at 1 p.m. at the Franklin Town Hall.

The Tainter Creek Watershed Council has received a $13,000 Producer-Led Watershed Grant from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP). The group’s original application was for $38,621.

The final approved budget includes $7,500 for cost share on installation of cover crops, $3,500 for outreach and education events, $1,800 for surface water testing, and $200 for meeting facility rental.

DATCP received grant applications for almost three times the total amount of dollars available, and so grant recipients received smaller amounts than originally requested.

Plans for 2018

Plans for 2018 and how to make best use of the grant funds dominated the group’s agenda. The two major categories of expenditures called for in the group’s budget, which was approved by DATCP, were a cost share for installation of cover crops and education/outreach field days.

The group agreed to create two sub-committees to make recommendations for each of the two areas. The Cover Crop Sub-Committee includes Grant Rudrud, Berent Froiland and Dan Sheldon. The Events Sub-Committee includes Josh Engel, Ralph Hendrickson and Dan Sheldon.

One field day has already been agreed upon by the group. June 2, 2018 is ‘Kids Fish for Free Day,’ and the group plans to hold an educational event in the watershed, with a ‘fish electroshocking’ as a tool to educate youngsters and other participants.

Electrofishing is a management tool used to analyze the quantity and type of fish in a pond, lake or river. The water is shocked by an electric current, which temporarily paralyzes the fish, allowing them to be counted.

Duke Welter of Trout Unlimited (TU) Driftless Area Restoration attended the meeting, and shared plans for TU efforts in the Tainter Creek Watershed in 2018. The group plans stream bank restoration efforts on the creek from the County C bridge in Star Valley to the County B bridge in Towerville. These initiatives will be in progress by the June 2 date for the first education event, and will be one of the educational features.

The work will include removal of box elder, sloping of the banks to restore the floodplain, and re-vegetation with creation of a grass buffer. Welter said that the effort would also ensure protection of seeps and springs in the targeted area.

Although funds for expanded surface water monitoring were cut back from the amount in the group’s original grant application, Valley Stewardship Network will continue to expand monitoring in the watershed. Techniques and results of surface water monitoring will also be a feature of the educational event.

A special sub-committee of Duke Welter, Bruce Ristow and Matt Emslie was formed to make a plan for the event to bring back to the larger group.

Discussion of hemp

There was a lively discussion of the possibilities for industrial hemp in the watershed. Some of the farmers present expressed interest in growing the crop, and discussed its many potential conservation properties such as soil-building, weed suppression and expanded options for rotation.

Groundwater testing

At the meeting, there was discussion about Grant County’s decision to move forward with a countywide groundwater testing initiative, without cost share dollars being approved. The county will work with the Center for Watershed Science and Education, a program of UW-Stevens Point and UW-Extension/Stevens Point.

“I was disappointed to see that the DATCP did not approve the funds for a cost share on groundwater testing,” Grant Rudrud said. “I was really excited about not only being able to monitor surface water quality in the Tainter Creek Watershed, but also to see what our groundwater quality is.”

One of the budget line items cut from the group’s original application was $11,000 for a cost share for well water testing in the watershed.

“I have tried to encourage the county to do groundwater testing for the entire time I’ve worked for the Land Conservation Department here,” said Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn. “I’m not sure we could get the level of participation we want without a cost share program.”

In discussion about what could be done to encourage Crawford and Vernon County to pursue county-wide groundwater testing, Alicia Leinberger suggested that the group could draft a resolution to be put before the boards of both counties. There seemed to be support from the group for this approach.

There was discussion of finding members of each of the county boards who might be willing to champion such an initiative.

Vernon awards banquet

Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn told group members about the Land & Water Conservation Awards Banquet to be held on Tuesday, Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. in the Viroqua High School cafeteria. Tickets for $15 must be purchased in advance of the event, which will include food, awards, raffles, door prizes and fun.

At the banquet, the Vernon County Land & Water Conservation Department will recognize the Conservation Farmer of the Year, Conservation Landowner of the Year, and Conservation Teacher of the Year.

Wojahn also reported that his department had received a cover crops grant. They are collaborating with the Crawford County Land Conservation Department, the Wallace Center, the Pasture Project, USDA-NRCS, and UW-Extension to offer cover crop education events in 2018.

The first event in the series, ‘Grow Your Own Cover Crop Seed,’ will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at the Community Commerce Center in Gays Mills. The registration deadline is Friday, Jan. 19. To register, call 608-326-0270.

The second event in the series, ‘Cover Crops - Faster and Easier,’ will be offered in Westby on Wednesday, Feb. 7, and Hillsboro on Wednesday, Feb. 14, from 12 noon to 3 p.m. The registration deadline is Feb. 1 – to register, call 608-637-5480.

The Westby event will take place at Borgen’s Café, and the Hillsboro event at Breezer’s Bar & Grill. The events will both cover Interseeding/Overseeding, Termination, Cover Crop Problem Solving, Biomimicry, Soil Health and field demonstrations.