The West and East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation Districts were honored as top conservation districts statewide earlier last weekend by two Minnesota organizations.

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Conservation efforts named best in state

December 20, 2015 by

The West and East Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation Districts were honored as top conservation districts statewide earlier last weekend by two Minnesota organizations.

The Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts named the West Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District as the 2015 Conservation District of the Year at its 79th annual meeting, held Dec. 6-8 in Bloomington.

Additionally, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources honored Brad Mergens, district manager for the west district, and Darren Newville, district manager of the east, as the 2015 Outstanding SWCD District Employees of the Year. This marks the first time two individuals have received the award in the same year — and they are both Otter Tail County District managers.

The association notes the Otter Tail County Buffer Initiative as the reason they received this award. The West Otter Tail team reached out to their neighboring district, East Otter Tail, and their county to develop a three phase, nine-year plan to move in the direction of 100 percent voluntary compliance with the existing shoreland buffer ordinance.

The county adopted the buffer initiative drafted jointly by the two districts. The county supported the district organization financially to inventory, map and provide technical assistance to landowners who may be out of compliance.

The association commended the effectiveness of this buffer initiative brought on by them sharing staff between the two districts. These districts share a shoreline specialist and a county ag Inspector.

District managers named outstanding employees

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources awarded Brad Megens and Darren Newville for their work together on the buffer as well.

According to the board, the Otter Tail County Buffer Initiative will install 50-foot vegetated buffers on 100 percent of the agricultural land adjacent to the county’s lakes, rivers, streams and ditches. The effort will benefit 1,049 lakes and 1,174 miles of waterways by helping keep soil on the land and runoff out of the water.

The county also received the 2014 County Conservation Award from the Association of Minnesota Counties for this work, which pre-dates the buffer legislation that became law earlier this year.

In addition to the county-wide buffer initiative, Mergens’ district became the second district in the state to house a Pheasants Forever Farm Bill biologist position. They are key partner in the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification program, according to the board. The board also notes the district’s continuous works with other partner agencies at the local and state levels to provide landowners with more opportunities to implement conservation practices.

Newville has other contributions to receive the award as well. He contracted with a neighboring district to provide managerial and accounting support, has been a statewide leader recognized by the board for best management practices for irrigation and provided support to the Minnesota Ag Water Quality Certification Program by housing a specialist in their district office.

By Jeff Meier

Published 10:09 am Monday, December 14, 2015

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