Frequently Asked Questions
What does the SWCD do?
The Mille Lacs Soil & Water Conservation District is a local government organization, led by 5 elected Supervisors, that provides technical and financial assistance to landowners and municipalities for voluntary conservation practices, such as shoreland restoration, groundwater protection, and improved soil health.
Other activities include: The SWCD serves as the County Agricultural Inspector to administer noxious weed control, including non-chemical integrated roadside vegetation management. We sell bulk bare-root trees and shrubs for conservation purposes for pick-up in late April each year. Each year, staff organizes a Conservation Awareness Day for area 4th and 5th graders with professional conservationists teaching about a variety of topics. Annually staff conducts free nitrate testing for residential well water. Under the buffer law, the SWCD is responsible for working with landowners to ensure that permanent vegetative buffers are in place along all public waters and county ditches.
What do I need to know about natural resources in Mille Lacs County?
Stretching nearly 50 miles south-to-north, Mille Lacs County spans prairie, hardwood, and coniferous ecological regions. The northern end is dominated by Mille Lacs Lake, approximately half of which is within the County. The Rum River flows south out of the Lake, bisecting the County as it repeatedly crosses under US-169.
Much of the County has heavy, thick soil with a high water table. The Southern portion is sandier and typically better suited for large-scale farming. However, groundwater availability may be limited due to this type of soil. Gravel, sand, and aggregate resources are widespread in the County. If you plan on extracting, speak to us about a mitigation plan.
Forest resources are plentiful in the northern half of Mille Lacs County. We encourage landowners to prepare and implement a forest stewardship plan to ensure that these important resources remain healthy for decades to come.
Throughout the County are a great many wetland areas. These features—also known as swamps or sloughs—are critical for water quality, storage/flood prevention, and habitat. The state Wetland Conservation Act restricts draining, filling, or otherwise harming these ecologically important resources.
With approximately 40 miles of Mille Lacs Lake shoreline, 50 miles of the Rum River, and dozens more streams and lakes, Mille Lacs is endowed with ample water frontage. These shoreland areas often require enhanced protection to prevent erosion and protect water quality.
Mille Lacs Shoreland and wetland regulations are administered by the Mille Lacs County Land Services Office.
Are there any programs I could enroll in?
Cost-sharing is available for certain protection and restoration practices to protect water quality and prevent erosion, such as shoreland restoration or unused well-sealing. There are many important practices that we are not currently eligible for direct assistance, but can qualify for low-interest (3% fixed) loans through the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, such as septic repairs, no-till agricultural equipment, and much more. We work closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Services to assist with federal programs: EQIP, CRP, etc.
The SWCD is always seeking new funding opportunities. If you have concerns about water or soil issues on your land, please get in touch with us.
Does the SWCD do water testing?
Occasionally the SWCD holds “nitrate clinics” where we offer free testing for nitrates in drinking water. The district brings in special equipment that can run the test and give immediate results. These clinics are usually held in conjunction with the county’s Household Hazardous Waste drop off events. Nitrates in drinking water can interfere with the bloods ability to process oxygen, especially in babies and the elderly. Mille Lacs County Public Health sell water testing kits that test for nitrates and bacteria (e-coli). If further testing is needed, the district has a list of certified water testing labs in the Mille Lacs region.
What kind of plant/weed/tree is this?
It is very difficult to correctly identify a plant over the phone. Please bring in a sample of the plant that includes stem, leaves, flowers or fruit and roots. For trees bring in a branch that has leaves attached and flowers or fruit if present. The condition of the sample must be green and will need to be picked right before bringing it in to the SWCD office. If unable to drop off a sample, please e-mail good quality photographs of the stem, leaves, flowers/fruit and roots.
Does the SWCD seal wells?
Yes. The SWCD offers financial and technical assistance to seal unused wells. Cost share funds are limited, but when available can pay for 50% of the cost to seal an unused well. No work can begin to seal the well until a cost-share application has been approved by the SWCD Board of Supervisors. An SWCD technician will visit the well site, collect information about the well and take photographs. The landowner will be asked to get two bids from licensed well contractors to seal the well. The cost-share amount will be based on an amount not to exceed 50% of the lowest bid.
Can the SWCD help dig a new well?
Under certain circumstances the SWCD can assist with a low interest (3%) loan program through the MN Dept. of Ag. These loans are called AgBMP (Best Management Practices) loans and they can be used to replace existing wells that are not compliant with state and federal standards. Talk to an SWCD technician to determine if your situation is eligible for the program. Examples include cracked casings, inadequate set-backs and wells that do not met state or federal drinking water standards. Applicants will be required to qualify for AgBMP loans through Ag Star Bank. All projects must be approved by the SWCD Board of Supervisors before loan applications will be sent on to the bank.
What’s killing my trees?
Declining health in trees is usually caused by a combination of environmental factors and cannot be diagnosed over the phone. E-mail good quality photos of the symptoms and talk to an SWCD technician about your concerns. If the cause is not obvious from photos, a site visit can be arranged. The SWCD can put you in touch with resource professionals who can diagnose diseases.
What can be done if a chunk of my property has just eroded away?
Erosion can be caused by a lack of the right kind of vegetation on the shoreline, the power of ice and water during extreme weather events, the removal of protective rock or sea walls and many other factors. The SWCD can offer technical and financial assistance to restore an eroded shoreline. An SWCD technician can visit your site and assess the damage and suggest possible restoration solutions using natural materials that will work best for your shoreline. Some projects may qualify for financial assistance.
What are good things I can do for my shoreline?
Good things for your shoreline are called BMPs, or Best Management Practices. The number one thing you can do to protect your shoreline is to allow long rooted vegetation to grow at the shore. A “buffer” of this vegetation should be at least 25 feet wide in order to slow down and filter polluted stormwater. Long rooted native vegetation like Lake sedge and False indigo will hold in the soil of your shoreline and protect it from erosion. Native shrubs planted on your shoreline will shade the shallow water and create good habitat for fish and wildlife. An SWCD technician can visit your shoreline to make further suggestions based on your unique situation.
Does the SWCD assist with septics?
The SWCD works with the MN Dept. Of Agriculture and Ag Star Bank to offer a low interest loan program that can be used to upgrade non-conforming septic systems. These loans have a 3% interest rate for qualifying borrowers. All projects must first be approved by the SWCD Board of Supervisors before a loan application can be sent on to Ag Star. Call or stop into the SWCD office to receive a loan application packet. The SWCD suggests getting at least two bids for your project from licensed septic installers.
What kind of tree should I plant?
The first thing you should consider when choosing which species to plant is your conservation goal. Are you looking for trees to create a windbreak, trees for wildlife, trees to block a view, trees to protect a shoreline, trees for future harvest, trees for edible fruit. The second thing to consider is your environment. Every tree and shrub has a preferred environment and must be planted in the correct place to thrive. For example, some trees like moist clay, some prefer dry sand. Some prefer moist low lands and some prefer dryer uplands. Some do best in shade and some need full sun. Contact an SWCD technician for assistance when choosing which trees to plant.
I just found out the land I purchased has a RIM Easement.
All Reinvest in Minnesota (RIM) easements in Mille Lacs County at this time are perpetual easements which means the Easement stays on the land forever, no matter who owns the property. The new property owner is responsible for following all easement rules and keeping up maintenance of all the listed features of the Easement. All access to the land is controlled by the landowner. The current landowner is responsible for paying all taxes and any other levies and assessments that may on the enrolled land.
RIM is a state program that protects water and soil resources by permanently restoring wetlands, adjacent native grassland wild life habitat complexes and permanent riparian buffers. Contact the SWCD technician to learn all the details of the RIM Easement on your recently acquired land.