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Sep 03, 2020

The Fight for Limbo Creek


This profile is part of MCEA's 2020 State of the Environment: Voices Driving Change celebration. 

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Photo of Tom Kalahar walking along a path towards a red farm building

The Fight for Limbo Creek

By Tom Kalahar

Renville County Minnesota has been my home for the past 42 years. I moved here to accept a job offer in the conservation field.

I was startled on my arrival on how completely the landscape had been changed to accommodate the agricultural industry. Renville County has more miles of drainage ditches than we have roads. And, we have millions of miles of sub-surface drainage tile that feed the ditches on a continuous basis.

The actual miles of drainage tile is unknown -- it is unregulated and no one is keeping records. More than 90% of all wetlands and watercourses have been drained for a few decades. In recent years, pattern tiling (entire fields tiled at 50 foot spacings) has more or less completed the draining of our entire landscape.

These intense changes have completely altered the function of our watersheds, delivering water to our ditches, creeks, streams, and ultimately the Minnesota River at incredible and very damaging qualities and volumes. We store little to no water in present day Renville County. We send it downstream, impacting our waterways and downstream neighbors and ecosystems. We are eroding our watercourses at an alarming rate and sending historic levels of sediment into the Minnesota River.

People that live and or own property in the floodplains or eroded banks are damaged, with regrettably little regard from the drainage authority or upstream landowners. Renville County’s landscape is no longer in any recognizable natural state due to this extensive drainage system, and the impacts flow not only to the Minnesota River but to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Limbo Creek is the only free flowing waterway in all of Renville County. Without the work of concerned citizens and MCEA, Limbo Creek would be well on its way to also being drained by the local landowners. It is past time that we rethink our water management systems and start to correct some of the wrongs that the past and present system has caused.

Renville and its citizens should be proud of their agricultural achievements. But we simply cannot sacrifice our water resources for the sake of agriculture. There is a better balance and we as a community are better than this. Thank you for your support of MCEA in this work. Together, we won our fight to protect Limbo Creek. I am excited to talk more about this effort and Minnesota’s watersheds in the first episode of MCEA’s podcast, please join us.

TOM KALAHAR is a retired conservationist from Olivia, MN. He worked in Renville County for 35 years for the Soil and Water Conservation District. He is most likely to be found hanging out in and around the Minnesota River Valley hunting and fishing.


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