During the Mitchell City Council special session Monday, Public Works Director Joe Schroeder revealed the approximately 95% completed wetland design that will cover approximately 30 acres of land along Firesteel Creek, approximately 2 miles west of Lake Mitchell.

The roughly $ 29,000 design of the wetland that Ducks Unlimited worked on last year aims to reduce the flow of phosphorus and sediment into the lake.

“This design does not include a weir structure or dam,” said Schroeder, noting that the plan includes digging dirt to create the wetland that is by the creek north of the former Kelley house that the town is listed on the market Has.

Originally, building a dam in the wetland was discussed when the city bought the 371 hectares in 2019. Instead, the crews will dig debris in four adjacent areas around Firesteel Creek to create the wetland. According to Schroeder, the cattails that are planted in the wetlands will trap the phosphorus and sediment in such a way that there is no need to build a dam.

“So it comes through and allows the sediment to essentially slow down and settle in those cattails. The cattails then eat the phosphorus out of the material, so it should work very well, especially with the large area the cattails are in, “he said.

As for the project’s schedule, Schroeder said the goal is to open bids in the fall to start construction either in winter or early spring 2022.

Councilor Stephanie Ellwein said the planning phase and overall scope of the wetland project, including construction, will be fully funded by non-point source grants from the municipalities of the State Rotation Fund (SRF) available to municipalities that have sanitation improvement projects take over. Rainwater and drinking water projects.

The city has received approximately $ 1.1 million in grants from undesignated sources for the wetland project.

“Everyone still thinks we are going to spend more and more money on the wetland, but the project is fully funded by grants. The only money the city has available for this wetland project is the purchase of the Kelley property, ”said Ellwein.

Since the city’s wetland project took shape two years ago, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said it has resulted in a growing number of agricultural producers stretching across the Firesteel Creek watershed, seeking to minimize grazing and practice other sustainable farming practices .

With the partnership the city has partnered with Ducks Unlimited and Steve Donovan, a biologist and former conservation program manager at Ducks Unlimited, it has paved the way to more aggressively improve the Firesteel watershed by working with landowners and farmers upriver to help restore Lake Mitchell.

Firesteel Creek has a watershed that spans 350,000 acres that collects approximately 900 parts per billion phosphorus each year and contributes to algae growth in the lake into which the creek flows. The watershed extends north from Lake Mitchell through Aurora County and all the way to Wessington Springs in Jerauld County. Previous studies of the lake found that about 53 percent of the phosphorus and sediment that enters the lake comes from Firesteel Creek, while 47 percent is in the lake itself.

The city’s mission to work with landowners to reduce creek runoff across the Firesteel basin received a huge boost from the $ 1.1 million grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). During the council meeting on Monday, Donovan explained how the NAWCA grant will be used to minimize grazing, restore wetlands, and replace marginal farmland with grass planting to improve the drainage basin.

“We provided US dollars for around 1,000 hectares of grassland seed. The idea here is to take dollars and spend them on private land that is only marginal farmland and the landowner has decided that he really isn’t making any money farming those poor soils that contribute to water quality problems and wants to get them back to Grow grass. said Donovan, who was selected to manage the city’s NAWCA grant funds. “We have about $ 63,000 for livestock water and we have about $ 83,000 for fences. We have set aside $ 185.00 for land lease, which is more of an incentive for a landowner looking to turn marginal farmland back into grass. “

For Council President Kevin McCardle, looking at the city’s progress with the landowners upstream is a milestone in the lake restoration effort.

“You need to purify the water that goes into the lake before you start cleaning the lake yourself,” said McCardle.

Donovan said there were already a few landowners with land along the Firesteel watershed willing to participate, and one was considering how to build a wetland in the Mitchell area.

While working with farm producers working within the Firesteel watershed is a priority for the city to help solve Lake Mitchell’s algae problems that have plagued the waters for decades, Donovan said working with landowners is just as important who manage under- or adjacent watersheds to Firesteel’s watersheds.

“As a biologist, I’d say this is a huge watershed, and the phosphorus that fuels the algae problem comes from every corner of the watershed. So we need to have projects across the watershed, ”said Donovan. “We have a few options for doing some of these projects, and these will have a big impact on the water quality in the lake, maybe even bigger. We could create 40 to 50 hectares of wetlands in some of those catchment areas up there. “