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New conservation employee could assist in Lake Mitchell restoration

The Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee hopes a new conservation post could make programs more accessible to landowners along the Firesteel Creek.

An employee funded through four agencies could be soon increase conservation efforts in Davison County, efforts which would then help improve water quality at algae-ridden Lake Mitchell.

But the funding for the new post, which would be hired by the South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts and supported by three other agencies, hinges on final authorization before it can move forward.

"I'm hoping by the end of October we'll have this person on board and going," said Jeff Vander Wilt, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), at Tuesday's committee meeting.

The NRCS is one of three agencies which may support the post, the others being Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever.

At its monthly meeting at the Mitchell Recreation Center, the Lake Mitchell Advisory Committee discussed the benefits of a brief list of conservation projects that could be available to landowners up the creek. And if the new position is funded with the support of four agencies, committee President Joe Kippes sees the list of available programs as an invaluable resource in helping landowners understand the conservation programs available to them.

But to achieve lake restoration, the committee still hopes for someone to deliver the list of conservation programs to landowners.

"We know that this is going to require some other boots on the ground to make this happen," Kippes said.

And Heidi Rients, also with NRCS, said explaining the conservation programs available to landowners and the benefits they provide can be challenging.

"It is difficult to explain it to people without losing them, that's half the battle," Rients said about the complexity of conservation programs.

Lake Mitchell's algae woes date back decades, but Kippes hoped to target some of the "low-hanging fruit" that could help improve the quality of the lake.

While the committee awaits the possible hiring of a new conservation employee who could help spread the word about certain projects, it also is waiting on a $73,725 lake study from Omaha-based water quality specialists Fyra Engineering that will determine the sources of the algae issues within the lake.

After Fyra delivers its final report in October or November, Kippes suggested the city will have to determine if it got its money's worth from the lake study.

At the end of the meeting, Mitchell Mayor Jerry Toomey said former state Sen. Mike Vehle will soon join the committee, and Parks and Recreation Director Nathan Powell said the city is interviewing candidates for a vacant park specialist position. The person hired to fill the position will specifically deal with lake-related issues.