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Natural resources project funding and assistance

Hennepin County offers a variety of programs that provide funding and expert assistance in implementing projects that protect natural resources.

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Natural resources grants are paused for evaluation and review in 2021. Check back in 2022.

Type of grants available

Good steward grants

These are primarily for smaller projects that improve water quality, enhance natural areas and promote environmental stewardship to the community. A typical grant amount is $5,000 to $15,000, with a maximum amount of $25,000.

Opportunity grants

These are ideal for larger projects seeking to leverage multiple funding sources. These grants are intended to help partners take advantage of opportunities to implement large projects that improve water quality or preserve, establish or restore natural areas. Applicants are encouraged to use these funds as match funding dollars for other funding sources. A typical grant amount is $25,000 to $50,000, with a maximum amount of $100,000. 

Eligible applicants

All landowners are eligible to apply, including:

  • Individuals
  • Nonprofit and non-governmental organizations
  • Local government agencies
  • Businesses

Applying for natural resources grants

Opportunity and Good Steward grants

The County is in the process of rewriting our Natural Resources Strategic Plan. As part of that process, we are suspending the Natural Resource grant program for evaluation and review. There will be no open RFP for Good Steward grants in 2021, and we will not be accepting new inquiries for Opportunity Grants. Through our strategic planning we intend to thoroughly review the program and determine how to better administer this work in the future.

If you have any questions on the grant program or other funding opportunities, contact Kris Guentzel, kristopher.guentzel@hennepin.us or 612-596-1171.

Funding guidelines and project examples

Funding may be used for environmental or engineering consulting fees, materials, supplies, labor and inspection fees.

Good Steward grants

  • Ideal for smaller, community-based or single applicant projects. Typical projects include constructing rain gardens, stabilizing stream banks, restoring native vegetation, installing vegetated filter strips or implementing other best management projects.
  • Typical funding amount of $5,000 to $15,000; maximum funding amount of $25,000
  • Grant funding can cover up to 75 percent of the total eligible project cost. Landowners must contribute the remaining 25 percent of project costs, which can be cash or in-kind.

Opportunity grants

  • Ideal for larger projects seeking to leverage multiple funding sources from more than one partner.
  • Ideal for projects identified as priorities in the applicant's management plans (such as a comprehensive plan or watershed management plan).
  • Typical funding amount of $25,000 to $50,000; maximum funding amount of $100,000.
  • No match required. Funds are often used for required match for other funding sources.

Good steward grants awarded in 2021

City of Minnetonka and the Friends of Cullen Nature Preserve, Minnetonka

$25,000 to implement the first phase of a habitat management plan to restore degraded mature oak woodland brushland and savannah and protect critical habitat in the 31-acre Cullen Nature Preserve in Minnetonka. For this grant, restoration and enhancement funding from the Department’s Outdoor Heritage Fund grant will be used.

Children’s Dental Services, Minneapolis

$25,000 to install permeable pavement in a parking lot at the company’s headquarters in NE Minneapolis. The project will capture runoff and pollutants, including 195,000 gallons of rainwater, 58 pounds of sediment, 0.32 pounds of phosphorus each year. Children’s Dental Services is also developing innovative materials to educate patients and other visitors about water including coloring pages and interpretive, multilingual signage.

Back Channel Brewing, Spring Park

$25,000; to install a 2,000 square-foot rain garden on the brewery’s property directly adjacent to Lake Minnetonka in Spring Park. Currently, runoff from 4.67-acre commercial property discharges directly into the lake untreated. This project will capture and treat 130,000 cubic feet of water per year and keep 1,645 pounds of sediment and 2.3 pounds of phosphorus out of the lake annually, while also providing pollinator habitat. For this grant, half of the grant funds will be provided by State Cost-Share funding from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

City of New Hope Meadow Lake Road property, New Hope

$18,355 to develop a public-private partnership with a private landowner to install a curb-cut rain garden on their Meadow Lake Road property. The anticipated 600 square-foot rain garden is estimated to keep 1.5 pounds of phosphorus per year out of Meadow Lake, which is impaired for excess nutrients. The city plans to use this as a demonstration project for other residents to adopt similar practices.

Heirloom Properties, LLC, Minneapolis

$17,000 to implement an innovative rainwater harvesting system in a new apartment complex to be constructed in south Minneapolis. This system will capture stormwater runoff from the roof and other impervious surfaces on the property and store it in a 3,500-gallon tank for reuse in toilets inside the building and irrigation outside of the building. Project partners estimate this project will capture 90,000 gallons of water annually and offset potable water use inside the building by 76,000 gallons and outdoor irrigation by 14,000 gallons. In addition, the stormwater management features, including a rain garden, will annually keep 34 pounds of sediment and 0.19 pounds of phosphorus from entering the Mississippi River.

University Baptist Church, Minneapolis

$6,900 to install rain gardens and other stormwater management practices on its property in the Dinkytown neighborhood of Minneapolis. Grant dollars will go specifically toward stormwater conveyance improvements outside the church, which will be paired with other partner investments to install four rain gardens. Collectively, rain gardens and other conservation practices on the church’s property will treat 133,000 gallons of water per year and will annually keep 179 pounds of sediment and 0.64 pounds of phosphorus out of the Mississippi River. Educational signage and activities specifically for children, as well as for the public, is also planned.

Opportunity Grants awarded in 2021

Shingle Creek Watershed Management Commission

$75,000 to install an iron-enhanced sand filter along a channel north of nutrient-impaired Upper Twin Lake in the City of Crystal. Currently, a wetland just east of Crystal Airport is exporting large amounts of water-soluble phosphorus that is difficult to treat with conventional strategies. This project will build off successes of a small pilot, to construct a filter along approximately 400 feet of the channel banks. The project is estimated to capture 50 pounds of phosphorus per year.

Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission 

$74,743 to dredge man-made lagoons along Bassett Creek in Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. The lagoons, built in the 1930’s for aesthetic and recreational purposes, are acting as de facto stormwater ponds and have filled up with sediment over the last 90 years. This project will excavate and properly dispose of these pollutant-laden sediments, increasing both the water quality and flood capacity of these water features as well as downstream waters. Because of the large, 40 square-mile drainage area to the site, this project could have annual benefits approaching 156,000 pounds of sediment and 600 pounds of phosphorus captured annually. 

Three Rivers Park District

$50,000 to conduct a second alum treatment dosing in Hyland Lake in Bloomington. Alum, or aluminum sulfate, binds to and immobilizes phosphorus in lake bottom sediments and effectively inactivates the phosphorus, greatly reducing the likelihood this phosphorus can contribute to poor water quality algae blooms that occur due to excess phosphorus. Three Rivers Park District partnered with the Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District to conduct the first treatment in 2019 and sought additional dollars to complete the recommended second treatment. This alum treatment will control 50% of phosphorus originating from the lake-bottom sediments, equivalent to approximately 218 pounds. Completion of this project will make substantive progress to removing this lake from the State of Minnesota list of impaired waters. 

Boisclair Corporation

$40,257 to complete Phase 2 of stormwater management and green space accessibility improvements in Brook Gardens, an affordable housing community in Brooklyn Park. The project will install nine rain gardens across the community, annually keeping 1,670 pounds of sediment and 4.5 pounds of phosphorus out of Shingle Creek, which is directly adjacent to Brook Gardens. Hennepin County funded Phase 1 through an Opportunity Grant in 2020. 

Conservation easements are one of the most effective tools for permanently preserving natural resource corridors, ecologically significant natural areas and other open spaces located on private lands. They restrict development and certain activities in order to protect natural features on a property in perpetuity without exempting the land from property taxes.

Hennepin County, in partnership with the Minnesota Land Trust, received a $1.5 million grant from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Fund to acquire conservation easements on the best remaining natural areas in Hennepin County. Funding is also available for habitat restoration projects on protected properties.

Learn more about land protection and restoration funding and support available.

The well sealing cost share grant program offers grants to Hennepin County property owners to recover a portion of the cost they paid to seal wells on their property that are no longer in use. Hennepin County will contract directly with eligible property owners that have applied for a grant and have received grant approval. The property owner must receive grant approval before any well sealing work is completed.

Note: well sealing activities that were completed prior to the property owner receiving grant approval will not be eligible for reimbursement.

To receive reimbursement, grantees must submit the documentation specified in the grant contract after the well sealing work has been completed.

Grant selection

The highest priority wells will be selected for grant approval, based on the merit of applications received. The selection process factors in characteristics such as well depth, well diameter, proximity to municipal wellhead protection areas and other environmental factors that may increase the potential for contamination of municipal ground water resources. The program will pay up to 75 percent of the well sealing cost, not to exceed $2,000 per well. The amount of funding available through this program is limited.

After receiving a completed application, the county will notify the applicant regarding their eligibility for a grant. If your well sealing project is eligible for grant funding, you must contract with a state-licensed well sealing contractor to perform all required work. Work must be done in accordance with the Minnesota Well Code, including the filing of a sealed well record with the Minnesota Department of Health.

For more information

See the Well Sealing Grants flyer (PDF) to learn more about the cost-sharing program.

To learn more about eligibility requirements or to receive a grant application form, contact Dan Boeding at 612-596-6627 or by email at daniel.boeding@hennepin.us.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment

The state cost-share program provides financial and technical assistance to landowners who implement conservation practices that reduce soil erosion and/or sedimentation in order to improve water quality. The state program was established in 1977 and is administered locally by Hennepin County.

Eligible projects

Projects eligible for financial assistance must be designed for an effective life of at least 10 years and meet one of the following objectives:

  • Control nutrient runoff
  • Stabilize critical eroding areas
  • Divert runoff to protect and improve water quality
  • Reduce wind erosion
  • Control gully, rill, or sheet erosion
  • Protect shoreline from erosion
  • Control stormwater runoff
  • Protect surface water and groundwater quality

Practices eligible for state cost-share may receive funding of up to 75 percent of the total eligible costs of a conservation practice.

Technical assistance

Technical assistance provided to landowners who participate in the state cost-share program include:

  • Conducting a site investigation with the landowner
  • Working with the landowner to determine the best management practice (BMP) for the given situation
  • Surveying and designing the project
  • Producing a rough cost estimate
  • Providing the landowner with a designed plan for submission of bids
  • Performing a pre-construction conference with the contractor and landowner
  • Supervising construction
  • Certifying completion of the project

All practices must be approved prior to construction. Landowners are reimbursed upon completion.

For more information

See the State Cost-Share Program from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

Farmers, rural landowners and agricultural supply businesses can apply for low-interest loans through Hennepin County to make improvements or implement practices that will reduce or prevent nonpoint source pollution. The county works with local banks to provide these loans.

Eligible projects

  • Animal waste control systems, such as runoff control structures and agricultural waste systems or pits
  • Practices that reduce erosion from runoff, such as grass waterways, erosion and sediment control basins, and terraces
  • Purchase of conservation tillage equipment, such as chisel plows, no-till drills, and no-till planters
  • Upgrades and improvements to existing individual sewage treatment systems in rural areas

Ineligible projects

  • Conservation practices that are not agriculturally related
  • Refinancing of existing facilities, structures, equipment, etc.
  • Individual projects started or equipment purchased prior to loan approval

Loans are awarded as funding is available. Applications are accepted year round. Individuals will be required to complete the Agricultural BMP (Best Management Practice) Loan Program application as well as complete a loan application with a bank of their choice.

For more information or to apply

For more information about the loan program or to apply for funding, contact Kirsten Barta at kirsten.barta@hennepin.us or 612-543-3373.

About the buffer law

A new water quality initiative aimed at protecting Minnesota's waters was signed into law in 2015 and further modified in 2016. The buffer installation will reduce erosion and pollution from runoff by establishing about 110,000 acres of buffers along Minnesota waterways.

A buffer is vegetated land adjacent to a stream, river, lake or wetland. Buffers help slow the flow of water and filter out phosphorous, nitrogen, and sediment, which are all pollutants that degrade water quality.

Buffer law requirements

The law includes the following requirements:

  • Buffers an average of 50 feet and minimum of 30 feet must be installed along public waters by November 1, 2017
  • Buffers a minimum of 16.5 feet must be installed on public drainage systems by November 1, 2018
  • Buffers must be permanently vegetated and not contain noxious or prohibited weeds

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources is overseeing implementation of the buffer law, and they are working on program development. Learn more about the buffer program.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources created buffer maps that will determine which waters are subject to the new requirements. Learn more about the buffer mapping project.

Implementation

Staff are available to assist landowners with staking of buffers, enrolling in conservation programs, and determining what to plant in the required buffer area.

If you would like to request a validation of compliance for any reason, email or mail the validation of completion form (DOCX) to Paul Stewart at paul.stewart@hennepin.us or

Hennepin County Environment and Energy
Attn: Paul Stewart
701 4th Ave S, Suite 700
Minneapolis, MN 55415

Maintaining and improving buffers

There are many things you can do to maintain and improve buffers once they are in place. Use the following factsheets from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources to extend the lifespan and improve the environmental impacts of buffers.

Inspections

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) requires that all parcels requiring buffers be reviewed at least once every three years. Parcels are reviewed by aerial photo, and spot checks must be conducted on 15 percent of parcels.

Map of Hennepin County showing parcels that require buffers and how the county will be divided for inspections

To fulfill this mandate, Hennepin County staff will review aerial photos of parcels requiring buffers in one-third of the county each year. Additionally, spot checks will be conducted in the field on 5 to 10 percent of the reviewed parcels each year. Residents whose parcels will be spot check will be notified via letter.

The map shows the parcels that require buffers and how the county will be divided into thirds for inspections. The colors on the maps indicate:

  • Blue lined waters are public waters requiring 50-foot buffers
  • Green lines are public ditches requiring 16.5-foot buffers
  • Red lines are the sections of the county that will be reviewed on a three year cycle

For more information

Contact Paul Stewart at paul.stewart@hennepin.us or 612-543-3373 with questions or for more information.

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