Engineers and local officials are moving ahead with plans to reroute a ditch around a problematic wetland that is sending excess levels of phosphorus into Lake Ida, one of the area's biggest, deepest lakes.

"This lake is very close to being on the impaired waters list," Greg Wilson, a senior water resources engineer with Barr Engineering Company, told about 15 people gathered in Ida Township Hall on Tuesday, Nov. 19.

Barr Engineering was hired to study why water entering the wetland is cleaner than that going out during summer months, and recommend solutions. Typically, wetlands help clean impurities from water, but in this case the wetlands have been tested for high levels of phosphorus, which spurs algae growth.

Likely, the Lake Ida wetland has been overwhelmed by the demands placed on it from a large watershed, Wilson said following the meeting.

One source of phosphorus is Garfield's wastewater system, which discharges into Ditch 23 and has been absorbed into the wetlands for years, Wilson said. He is advising local officials to seek input from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, which is looking at ways to help small wastewater systems with new chemical treatments.

Another source is from farmlands, which use phosphorus as fertilizer. However, last year's testing found that water running off farms in that area was cleaner than similar areas elsewhere, he said.

The Douglas Soil and Water Conservation District has applied for two state grants that would help move the ditch, address erosion along the shoreline and promote best management practices for farmers. The grant would cover up to 75% of the cost; the rest would have to come from a different source.

"At this time, we don't know where that's coming from," said district coordinator Jerry Haggenmiller, although Steve Henry, president of the Douglas County Lakes Association, said that the 25% matching funds could possibly come from the Douglas County Water Quality Legacy Fund.

"That's what it was set up for," Henry said.

Grant money would come through the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, which will address grant funding at an upcoming meeting. The local conservation district does face competition: the state board received 104 applications for a total of $30.1 million; it will have up to $14.2 million to disburse.

If the conservation district does not receive funding this year, it will seek funding again next year, Haggenmiller said.