Farm Horizons, October 2012

A look at the life of a water resource specialist

By Starrla Cray

Joe Jacobs has always liked serving people and the environment, and as a water resource specialist, he gets to do both.

“The best part of my job is working with lake associations, helping them achieve their goals,” Jacobs said.

As an employee of Wright Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Jacobs aids in the management of natural resources throughout the county. Of Wright County’s 457,084 acres, 16 percent is surface water.

“My task is to develop and maintain the county water management plan,” Jacobs said.

The local water management plan has been in effect since it was formally adopted in 1990. It’s been revised a few times since then, and the current plan will be in place until the end of 2015.

Priority concerns are listed as groundwater quality, surface water quality, development pressure, and agricultural issues.

To address these issues, the plan outlines several steps, such as working to prevent failure of septic treatment systems, expediting the total maximum daily load (TMDL) process, ensuring that all feedlots are in compliance with regulations, analyzing water quality, and more.

“In the summer, we do a lot of physical water monitoring,” Jacobs said.

Bodies of water are sampled in various locations, and checked for nutrient levels and clarity.

Samples are also collected in the winter by drilling holes in the ice.

By analyzing water quality – and looking at surrounding land use, soil types, and landscaping – Wright County’s SWCD team is able to identify focus areas.

To get improvement projects underway, Jacobs often acts as a liaison between area lake associations and government agencies like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

He also works with landowners to help reduce erosion and other issues that have been shown to impact water quality.

“That’s where my position overlaps with [Wright SWCD technician] Luke Johnson,” Jacobs said.

He and Johnson both work to obtain grants for local projects, including the construction of windbreaks, erosion control structures, conservation cover, and strip cropping, to name a few.

“Our district tries to be a resource for the private sector as well as units of government,” Jacobs said.

In Wright County, working as a water resource specialist requires both scientific and communication skills.

“A technical background is certainly important, but you also have to be able to get up and talk in front of 50 people,” Jacobs said.

It’s also beneficial to enjoy working outdoors and have a passion for water quality, he added.

To learn more about Wright SWCD, go to

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