SPRING GROVE, Minn. - State conservationists have begun work on two federally funded watershed dams designed to reduce runoff and flooding.

Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture received more than $700,000 in federal stimulus funds to build dams in the Bear Creek watershed region, which includes parts of Fillmore and Houston counties in Minnesota and Winneshiek and Allamakee counties in Iowa. 

Local landowners and conservationists met Friday to discuss progress. The work is part of a 21-year effort to slow erosion in the area.

"This is all voluntary conservation effort," said Todd Duncan, an Iowa-based district conservationist for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. "The land owners have really stepped up and embraced the project."

Area farmers approached the federal government in 1989 looking for a way to save the creek and avoid crop-ruining floods.

The dams are built in dry-run crevices where storm water flows from farms to the stream. Pipes reroute soil-filled discharge to a pool, said Gary Larson, an NRCS district conservationist for Minnesota.

Thirteen of these runoff blockers already dot the landscape, paid for with federal watershed-protection funds.

Planting crops in Houston County and other parts of southeast Minnesota is tough, Larson said. The area's sloping hills complicate the whole process.

"They're also easily erodible," he said. "So attention has to be paid to managing these resources."

The extra stimulus money also will pay for contour strips and terraced plots designed to reduce runoff.

Allen Patterson was one of the first landowners to ask the government for help. One of the new dams is going up on his land.

The 71-year-old dairy farmer said runoff often floods his front lawn and calf shed.

The water brings silt and sediment with it and usually takes about a week to dry up, he said. Two years ago the damage was so bad he hired a contractor to clean up his land.

"We've been waiting for this for years," he said. "We're just glad the agency is getting around to getting this stuff done."

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