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Tri-county agreement reached for drainage ditch improvements in west central Minnesota

WILLMAR — Since it was dug 105 years ago, there have been numerous additions made to Judicial Ditch 1, but very little maintenance work to keep the water flowing away from farm fields and — eventually — into the Mississippi River.

Side-slope erosion, beaver dams and fallen trees have compromised the sprawling drainage ditch system that stretches from Little Kandiyohi Lake to northeast of Cosmos.

The lack of maintenance to the system, which includes 35 miles of open ditch and carries water from 30 different county ditches, joint ditches and tributaries, was discussed Wednesday by the JD 1 Ditch Authority.

Made up of three Kandiyohi County Commissioners, one commissioner from Renville County and one commissioner from Meeker County, it’s been at least 15 since the board last met.

Because of the size of the ditch and the number of tributaries, there are “a lot of drainage needs and expectations” placed on Judicial Ditch 1, said Loren Engelby, Kandiyohi County drainage and agricultural inspector.

But there’s been a “hodgepodge” of maintenance work on the ditch, said Kandiyohi County Commissioner Harlan Madsen.

Part of the problem is because the ditch is also the South Fork of the Crow River.

That part of the river was channelized for agricultural, but it is protected under the state’s Wild and Scenic River Act, said Madsen.

While the channel can be cleaned and the shoreline stabilized, there are restrictions on topside changes, such as removing living trees.

The commissioners agreed Wednesday to do an on-sight inspection of the ditch and proceed with routine maintenance that could include dipping out areas of silt, sandbars and downed trees that floated downstream.

They will also contact the state Department of Natural Resources for potential grants.

Just dipping out areas of the ditch will cost $5,000 a mile, said Renville County Commissioner Randy Kramer. A more thorough cleanout would cost millions of dollars, he said.

Before any larger maintenance projects are undertaken, a meeting will be held with property owners to discuss options and costs.

The process would also include a redetermination of benefits that would readjust how much each property benefits and how much the property owner thus would pay for improvements.

That meeting could be held yet this summer.

Engelby said it would take at least two years before ditch viewers would be available to begin the redetermination of benefits process. He said there’s a statewide shortage of ditch viewers because so many counties are trying to bring outdated ditch benefits lists up to date.

Ridgewater College in Willmar is working with area counties to conduct classes to train ditch viewers to help meet the demand. But Madsen said there has been difficulty getting qualified appraisers to agree to serve as teachers for the class.

Madsen said Kandiyohi County has enough work to keep ditch viewers busy for the next 10 to 20 years.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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