MONTEVIDEO - The eight counties that are part of the Chippewa River Watershed Project will ante up $84,186.60 to be returned to the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources for previously awarded grants.

The joint powers board for the watershed project and BWSR have signed an agreement to settle the issue. It allows the counties until September to reimburse the state agency, according to Edward Lenz, the agency's southern regional manager.

The September deadline allows the watershed project time to inform the member counties of the amount owed and how much each must contribute toward it.

The watershed project is operated under a joint powers agreement including Chippewa, Douglas, Grant, Kandiyohi, Otter Tail, Stevens, Swift and Pope counties. The counties have been sharing costs based on the percentage of their land base in the watershed. The Swift County Board of Commissioners estimates the county’s share of the total to be just over $24,000. The county represents 29 percent of the watershed district.

The funds are due for Clean Water Fund grants previously awarded the Chippewa River Watershed Project. Lenz said there were some errors in how grant funds were used. The errors are attributed to confusion that occurred with staff turnover and a limited staff. He also noted that the watershed project has been managing a number of grants from both BWSR and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, making it a complex task for a limited staff.

Lenz said it is not unusual for errors of this sort to occur, and local governmental units typically acknowledge them and make adjustments, as occurred here.

The Chippewa River Watershed Project has been without its own staff since the end of March. Its board of directors has been looking at how to fund its operations. It’s believed the individual counties will need to increase their funding for the project to provide staffing as in the past.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is performing the water quality monitoring previously conducted by watershed project staff at locations in the 1.3 million-acre watershed.

Created more than 20 years ago, the Chippewa River Watershed Project has used grant funds to help landowners implement best management practices that reduce pollution in the lakes and streams in the watershed.

The watershed project has been awarded more than $7.5 million in grants over the years, and leveraged $6.2 million in matching investments for projects, according to West Central Tribune archival records. The watershed project had gained statewide attention for its goal of seeing perennial cover on 10 percent of the lands in its sub-watersheds.