Rat River Watershed Project Is Born

With help from a grant, three farmers are working to improve the water quality in the Rat River Watershed.

Winnebago County Land and Water Conservation Department in partnership with Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance earned a $200,000 grant from the Great Lakes Commission to reduce sediment and phosphorus pollution that enters the Winnebago System.

County watershed coordinator Emily Dufeck, also an Oconto County dairy kid, shares the details of how the Rat River project got started, and how it plans to continue when the three-year timeline is finished:

Phosphorus and sediment pollution negatively impact water quality of the lakes and rivers throughout the region. This has resulted in poor water clarity, degraded habitat and harmful algal blooms. These impairments reduce recreational enjoyment, potentially limiting economic potential from tourism dollars in the area.

There are several human activities that contribute phosphorus and sediment pollution to the Winnebago System including certain land use practices in urban and agricultural areas and point source discharge from permitted entities such as wastewater treatment plants.

The Rat River Watershed in Winnebago County, the focus of this grant project, is listed as a priority for reducing sediment and phosphorus pollution.

The grant dollars will help three local farmers overcome hurdles of installing cover crops, no-till and low-disturbance manure injection for three on 200 acres of cropland. The soil health practices will reduce 484 pounds of phosphorus and 72 tons of sediment pollution each year in the Rat River Watershed.

The farms are Lydell Pethke of Ledgerock Farms, Dan Rieckmann of Rieckmann Farms, and Larry Engel of Engelwood Farms.

The farms will get cost-share and incentive payments in exchange for documenting and sharing their successes, barriers and solutions for conservation farming practices.

The goal is to increase adoption of these conservation practices by other farmers through on-farm demonstrations and other outreach activities. In other areas where these practices have been consistently implemented multiple years in a row, farmers have found significant benefit to their business’s bottom line and soil health while also helping to protect local water quality, Dufeck explains.