City, county may cooperate on the revised Grass Lake project

WILLMAR -- The city of Willmar and Kandiyohi County may be working together on a project that could help relieve flooding issues in some parts of Willmar, and improve the quality of storm water to downstream lakes and rivers.

WILLMAR -- The city of Willmar and Kandiyohi County may be working together on a project that could help relieve flooding issues in some parts of Willmar, and improve the quality of storm water to downstream lakes and rivers.

At their meeting Tuesday, the Willmar Public Works/Safety Committee unanimously supported a proposal to share the cost of a revised Grass Lake project with Kandiyohi County. The initial phase of the cost-sharing proposal includes splitting the cost of a modeling study to provide additional data on a proposal to pump storm water from Willmar into Grass Lake.

If the proposal proceeds, the city and county could share the cost of the project that isn't covered by a state capital improvement bond.

Chairman of the Kandiyohi County Commissioners, Richard Falk, told the city committee that the county's water board agreed last week to be a financial partner with the city on the Grass Lake project, including paying 50 percent of the cost of the modeling study.

The study, which would be conducted by Barr Engineering, will provide information that could be used to develop a project plan, including water elevations in Willmar in the case of a 100-year rain and the estimated cost of construction and maintenance of the project. The cost of the study is estimated at $13,000.


The County Commissioners will need to take action on the proposal before any county money is spent, said Falk.

Grass Lake is a dry lake bed located southeast of Willmar. Ditch 23-A runs through the middle of Grass Lake, carrying storm water from Willmar and run-off from area farmland. The ditch eventually flows into downstream lakes, like Lake Wakanda, where residents said they've seen the water quality deteriorate in recent years.

A plan developed in the 1990s to pump the city's storm water into Grass Lake, which would serve as a settling pond, was shelved by the city because of the high price tag. A proposal earlier this year by the Board of Water and Soil Resources included a new option that would route the city's storm water around Grass Lake, where it would then meet up with Ditch 23-A.

Not many people liked that plan, including county and city officials and people living downstream.

When it became evident that plan wasn't going anywhere, the Board of Water and Soil Resources, which is known as BWSR (pronounced bow-ser), came up with a revised plan, said Mike Schmit, Willmar city administrator.

With the new design, dams would be built on both ends of Grass Lake. Storm water run-off from Willmar would travel down a widened Ditch 23-A to the dam. Water would then be pumped into Grass Lake. Water from area farm land would also flow into Grass Lake. All the water, which would be filtered in Grass Lake, would eventually flow out of the lake and into Ditch 23-A.

In the case of a heavy rain, water from Willmar would flow into a by-pass ditch around Grass Lake, and into Ditch 23-A at the outlet of Grass Lake.

Schmit said the plan will reduce flooding problems in the southeast areas of the city, but will not resolve all of the city's flooding problems. It will also help the city address water quality issues. Because of the federal Clean Water Act, cities must meet tougher regulations for storm water quality. "The rules are getting ramped up," said Brian Bollig, assistant city engineer.


Falk said the quality of downstream waters has been "neglected" for too long.

Marilee Druskin, who lives on Lake Wakanda, attended the city committee meeting. She said she is pleased with the new plan and cooperation of the city and county. "This should improve the water quality down stream," said Druskin in comments after the meeting. "Now is the time to do it."

It's hoped that most of the cost of the construction project, which could be several million dollars, will come from state bonding money, with the city and county sharing the remainder of the bill. BWSR has submitted a $2.2 million request for Grass Lake for the bonding bill.

In comments after the meeting, Schmit said if the bonding bill doesn't include funding for Grass Lake, the project would not happen.

In a separate interview after the meeting, Falk said that if the project isn't done now, it's likely the state will force the city of Willmar to do the project in 10 years because of stricter clean water rules.

The modeling study of the project could also provide answers for Duininck Bros. Inc., which is seeking a permit for dealing with storm water from a proposed 10-acre holding pond that's planned for their 115-acre commercial development. Water from that pond will go into Ditch 23-A.

Schmit said, however, the two projects are not connected. Harris Duininck told the committee it would be economical to do the modeling study now, because it will "piggy-back" on previous studies conducted by engineers.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at or 320-894-9750
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