By Tom Hintgen
Otter Tail County Correspondent
Beaver dams cause a lot of problems along ditches in many counties in Minnesota. Otter Tail County is no exception.
County Ditch Inspector Kevin Fellbaum addressed this issue during the regular meeting of the county board of commissioners on Tuesday, April 13.
Beavers oftentimes build their dams across the entire width of a ditch. Water can back up and adversely affect outlet pipes.
Beaver dams, in county ditches all across the state of Minnesota, are mostly a combination of cornstalks and mud from the ditch banks.
Fellbaum, in his address to county board members, pointed out three trouble areas related to beaver dams. They included Ditch 21 in Sverdrup Township that includes the town of Underwood, and Ditches 41 and 65 in Otto Township, just west of New York Mills.
“All costs incurred by the ditch system for repairs, maintenance and inspections are assessed back to the benefited property owners,” Fellbaum said.
County ditches are regulated by the County Ditch Authority which is comprised of the five-person Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners.
All county drainage ditches were built from 1900 to 1923. Otter Tail County had 70 systems that were petitioned in the early 1900s to be built by the local property owners. Of those 70, a total of 60 ditches were constructed.
“Initially the purpose of county ditches was to drain lowlands so that more property could be made usable for farming practices,” said Fellbaum, “and to also reduce the area that retained water where mosquitoes could breed and cause health concerns.”
Fellbaum says those reasons are still viable today.
“An added benefit from the drainage systems is the fact that some of them are tied to lakes,” he said. “These systems function as the only outlet for these lakes, helping with flood protection for some of the lake homes.”
The five county commissioners (Wayne Johnson of Pelican Rapids, Dan Bucholz of Perham, Betty Murphy of Maine Township, Kurt Mortenson of rural Underwood and Lee Rogness of Fergus Falls) manage the systems according to Minnesota State Statute 103E.
“The Ditch Authority is responsible for maintaining and repairing a drainage system as nearly comparable to the original design as possible,” Fellbaum said.
Repairs are determined to take place by requests from the benefitted property owners of that ditch or by the annual inspections performed by County Ditch Inspector Fellbaum and his assistants.
Current ditch work in Otter Tail County includes, but is not limited to, removal of bog material, culvert replacement, general cleaning and building rock weir for flood prevention.