The city’s wetland project along Firesteel Creek is heading to the design phase.

Following the Mitchell City Council’s approval on Monday night, the city will enter into an agreement with Ducks Unlimited to begin designing the wetland on the former Kelley property that sits roughly 2 miles west of Lake Mitchell.

“This is the start of an exciting project for this wetland opportunity, and we have been working with a number of partners to get this in motion,” Public Works Director Kyle Croce said.

The main goal of the wetland is to reduce the phosphorus and sediment flowing into the lake through Firesteel Creek, which studies have shown contributes to the algae blooms and bacteria in Lake Mitchell. The design of the wetland comes roughly two years after the city purchased the 371 acres of land to make the project become a reality.

Since the council backed the $4.1 million land purchase for the wetland, the city has gained more partnerships with outside groups that have jumped on board with the project. James River Water Development District, Ducks Unlimited, South Dakota State University and U.S. Geological Survey are among the notable groups and agencies that have partnered with the city on the wetland thus far. According to Croce, James River Water Development District is funding the design work of the wetlands that will be completed by Ducks Unlimited by summer 2021.

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The design work is anticipated to hover around $29,000, which Croce said will begin in roughly a month. While the city intends to plant cattails along the wetlands to serve as a natural filtration for the phosphorus and sediment in Firesteel Creek, Croce said he anticipates the design will incorporate dams to help control water flow of the wetlands.

“They are going to look at areas further upstream for locations that will be ideal for other ertherdams or structures to control the waterflow to create those wetlands,” Croce said.

Previous studies of the lake have indicated that 53 percent of the phosphorus entering into the lake is coming in from Firesteel Creek, while 47 percent of it is in the lake itself.

Firesteel Creek has a watershed that encompasses 350,000 acres, which collected nearly 900 parts per billion of phosphorus in 2017, contributing to the algae growth in the lake where the the creek flows into. The Environmental Protection Agency listed Lake Mitchell as an impaired body of water, meaning the lake doesn’t support domestic water supplies, immersion recreation, limited contact recreation or warm water permanent fish life.

Improving Lake Mitchell has been on the forefront of Mayor Bob Everson’s mind throughout his first term, and he said the work being done upstream from the lake is a crucial step to addressing the issues.

“We know the lake itself needs to be addressed, but this gives us an area that starts to clean the water flowing into the lake. It is tough to find someone who is willing to give up that much land to allow us to address what is coming into the lake,” Everson said. “Getting our lake cleaned starts upstream, and we’re starting to see some great movement with the wetland project."

Since the city’s wetland project began taking shape two years ago, Everson said it's recently led to a growing number of agriculture producers with land along the Firesteel Creek watershed making efforts to minimize grazing, along with practicing other sustainable farming methods.

The city recently listed the former Kelley home back on the market, which was included in the purchase of the 371 acres of land to create the wetland. Everson said the $3.5 million home that was listed in December will also help fund some of the wetland work. In addition, the city received a $1 million grant from the federal Migratory Bird Conservation Commission through North American Wetlands Conservation Act, which will also contribute to the wetland project.