WILLMAR — Well into its third decade, the Grass Lake Restoration project, on the southeast side of Willmar, is finally going to be completed.

"The first time in 26 years I can say we have money in the bank to finish the project," said Loren Engelby, Kandiyohi County drainage manager.

The Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioner approved awarding the bid for the outlet structure portion of the project to Land Pride Construction for $330,782, approximately 2.98 percent over the engineer's estimate of $321,215.

The outlet will be constructed just north of Kandiyohi County Road 19, on the southeast edge of Grass Lake.

"This is the main water control structure for the Grass Lake wetland restoration project," Engelby said.

Grass Lake, which was about 1,200 acres in size and 4- to 5-feet deep, was originally drained in the early 1900s, as part of the construction of the public ditch system.

The drained area was used as agricultural land for decades, but in recent years has dealt with frequent flooding, caused by increased precipitation and upstream watershed runoff, according to the project summary from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. There have also been flooding and water quality issues downstream.

The complete restoration plan included restoring approximately 1,040 acres of the original lake bed, the addition of a concrete outlet structure which will manage the restored lake's water levels, the construction of more armored and vegetated auxiliary spillways, and diverting the flow of Peach Creek and its watershed. Branch 3 of County Ditch 23A has also been re-routed along the west edge of the lake and the construction of several shallow earthen embankments on the west and south sides of the lake will help control and manage the water elevations of the lake, the summary said.

The construction of the outlet structure is the last main project job. There will be some clean up work and embankments to be built before the project is completely done. Once all the work is completed, the restored wetland will be able to hold water back, decreasing the chance of flooding around and downstream of Grass Lake.

"This is the last big piece of the puzzle," Engelby said.

Funding for the project has come from state, federal and local governments, as well as help from conservation organizations. In 2019 the county was awarded a $400,000 Conservation Partners Legacy Grant to help fund the project.

The board was relieved the Grass Lake project is finally being completed.

"I know the delay has been frustrating," said Commissioner Harlan Madsen. "A long, arduous task, clearly."