Out Standing in their Field

Each year, the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts recognizes people from around the state that go the extra mile to protect our natural resources. This year, the Washington Conservation District (WCD) chose Scandia residents Jay and Ella Warmington for the award, in recognition of all the hard work that they have done to protect the St. Croix River and improve wildlife habitat on their land. Jay and Ella Warmington are truly Outstanding Conservationists, and it’s all because they’ve spent a bit of time out standing in their field.

A few years ago, Jay and Ella noticed a large gully on the edge of their land that was carrying loads of soil from a neighbor’s field into the St. Croix River through a small tributary called Clapp Stream. The St. Croix has suffered from murky water and excess algae in recent years, in part due to gullies like this throughout the watershed that send a potent mix of phosphorus and sediment into the river. Plus, as any farmer knows, soil is pretty essential to successfully growing crops. What starts as a small furrow in a field can turn into a major catastrophe as rain and melting snow make the channel wider and wash valuable farmland away in the process. Gullies are an especially big problem in areas with steep slopes, which is pretty much everywhere along the eastern edge of Washington and Chisago Counties.

Since purchasing their 80-acre parcel of woods and farm field 15 years ago, Jay and Ella had often turned to the Conservation District for advice and assistance in caring for the land. They planted hundreds of trees from the WCD for field windbreaks and wildlife habitat, and worked diligently to remove invasive species like buckthorn. Standing in their field that day, the Warmingtons knew that the folks at the WCD would be able to help them with this gully as well.

When he got the call, WCD engineer Pete Young headed up to Scandia along with Michael Vasquez from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a federal agency that frequently partners with the WCD. During the site visit, Pete and Michael noticed that there were actually multiple places along the edge of the Warmingtons’ field where soil was actively eroding. After discussing the options, the two conducted a survey of the site and developed a plan to help Jay correct the eroding gullies and keep soil in the field and out of the St. Croix.

With help from the WCD and NRCS and additional funding from the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District, the Warmingtons installed two grassed waterways and two large sediment basins on their land this year. The grassed waterways are planted with sturdy perennial plants and carry rain and melting snow smoothly down slopes within the farm field without washing away soil in the process. From there, runoff flows into the two sediment basins at the base of the slope, where any soil that is washed away has time to settle out before the water eventually flows out through two small pipes at a controlled rate. Altogether, the project will keep 43 tons of sediment and 37 pounds of phosphorus from reaching Clapp Stream and the St. Croix River each year. Simply put, the project keeps soil where it belongs – on the farm field and out of the St. Croix River.

“People like the Warmingtons who do voluntary conservation projects on their land are really heroes for our local lakes and the St. Croix River,” said WCD District Manager Jay Riggs. Local residents who also aspire to be heroes themselves in 2011 can take a cue from Jay and Ella and spend some time out standing in their fields.