The St. Croix/Red Cedar River Basin Farmer-Led Watershed Council Project:

Utilizing Performance-Based Farmer-Led Watershed Councils to Reduce Phosphorus Runoff, Improve Water Quality and Enhance Agricultural Productivity

Project objectives: To improve water quality in the Red Cedar and St. Croix River basins through reduced phosphorus and sediment loading; to increase farmer knowledge on, and engagement with, water quality issues, including the adoption of conservation practices; to develop leadership around water quality among farmers in the selected sub-watersheds; and to develop a unique collaborative model of water quality improvement through farmer engagement that can be replicated in watersheds throughout the Upper Mississippi River Basin and nationwide.

Project approach: Phosphorus (P) pollution reductions and the expansion of farm conservation activities will occur by way of an innovative, farmer-directed conservation incentives program.  Four farmer-led watershed councils are up and running in Pierce, Polk, St. Croix, and Dunn Counties. Each council receives an annual pool of funding ($12,500 in 2018, provided by the Minneapolis-based McKnight Foundation and additional funding from the Producer Led Watershed Protection grants made available by the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection), with which they can design a conservation incentives program that achieves water-quality goals. The farmers themselves determine the best paths to conservation success within their watershed, and recruit and encourage other farmers to participate. County Land Conservation Department staff, University of Wisconsin-Extension and Wisconsin Farmers Union staff work closely with the farmer councils to provide technical assistance, facilitation, resource information, and education, as well as monitor the project’s outcomes.

Project partners:

  • Dunn County Land Conservation Division
  • Pierce County Land and Water Conservation Department
  • Polk County Land and Water Resources Department
  • St. Croix County Land and Water Conservation Department
  • UW-Extension
  • Wisconsin DNR
  • Wisconsin Farmers Union

For more details and to download a project white paper: Farmer-Led Watershed Project Document