Belle Plaine resident Ray Soller has lived in Scott County his entire life, and has been maintaining his family’s land farming corn and soybeans for decades along the picturesque bluffs near highway 59. Anyone driving past the land this summer, however, were greeted with a different sight: Land restored by water and wildflowers. Soller, with the help of the Scott SWCD and the Scott Watershed Management Organization (SWMO), has completed a 24-acre wetland and native prairie restoration, the results of which will bring enhanced biodiversity and improve water quality for years to come.
Wetland restoration begins
Soller’s restoration process for started in 2018 when he reached out to Collin Schoenecker, Resource Conservationist at the Scott SWCD. The square area between his homestead and the nearby County Road was heavily tiled back in 1977; Over time, it has experienced seasonal flooding as the foundation of its wetland ecosystem remained. “I grew up on this land," Soller commented, "and you could tell with every spring melt that the area was meant to be wet."
Together, Soller and Schoenecker made plans to restore eight acres into wetland (and 16 acres surrounding it) into a native prairie habitat. In addition to that, the plans laid out would also benefit the surrounding 87 acres as that land could be directed to drain into the wetland area. Drainage tile systems were dismantled within the structure, adding drainage capabilities, and the Scott SWCD seeded the land with specialized mixtures for the wetland and the native prairie to ensure the land was set up for success based on its pre-settlement conditions.
Thanks to neighborly cooperation, this project has a unique benefit that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Soller’s neighbor implemented his own conservation project with the Scott SWCD in 2019. They installed a series of grassed waterways at the edge of his property that help direct runoff and reduce erosion. The instillation of these grassed waterways factored into the benefits of Soller’s wetland, further increasing the water quality benefits -- and showcasing the power neighbors have to improve their land when working together.
The importance of wetlands
Wetlands are often referred to as “Mother Nature’s kidneys.” They are areas where water levels persist at or above the ground long enough to support water-dependent vegetation. Wetlands provide essential habitat for all types of wildlife, many of which are specially adapted to these permanently—or seasonally—flooded areas. In the process, they filter out pollutants like sediment, fertilizers, and pesticides. Soller’s restoration will prevent over 22 tons of sediment from running into nearby waterbodies.
In Scott County, more than 70 percent of historic wetlands have been lost through improvements for agriculture and development. So, when Soller opened his land for conversion back to wetland, the Scott SWCD was happy to be a part of the restoration.
Soller’s project was designed to provide multiple environmental benefits. Restoring the land to native grasses and wetland plants provides food, shelter, and nesting for a wide variety of upland and wetland wildlife species. Soller particularly enjoys the variety of geese, ducks, and cranes that frequent his new wetland: “I see folks out here all the time with their binoculars and cameras. For me, I get to see it all right from my kitchen window!”
Wetlands also play a significant role in reducing the frequency and intensity of flooding. They act as natural buffers, soaking up and storing a significant amount of floodwater. In addition, wetlands improve water quality and replenish groundwater. Soller’s restoration will provide these benefits to the nearby Raven Stream.
The future of the wetland
Ray Soller’s wetland will stand as a beacon of conservation and natural habitat. He has an immense dedication and appreciation for the land, and thanks to his efforts and coordination with organizations and neighbors, the land is better for it.
He’s an advocate: “Plan ahead. Talk with your neighbors. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Once it’s done, the land will look amazing!”
Funds for this restoration were provided through the SWMO and through Minnesota’s Clean Water Fund, which works to protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams. To learn more, visit legacy.mn.gov.
The Scott SWCD offers technical assistance and information to anyone looking to implement conservation projects on their property. They also may offer financial assistance for residents starting a restoration project with the office. Call the Scott SWCD at (952)-492-5425 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org