Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District administrator Donna Rasmussen was awarded the 2018 Outstanding Soil and Water Conservation District Employee award on December 10 at the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts’ annual convention. She was nominated for the award by her co-workers at the Fillmore SWCD, who were thrilled to hear that she had been selected as the recipient. “She’s a good administrator, and she deserved the award,” SWCD employee Jeanette Serfling commented.
Rasmussen didn’t know she was going to receive the award until her name was called at the awards ceremony so she thought it was a bit strange that three of her co-workers decided at the last minute to attend the ceremony at the convention, not realizing that they had already been notified of her award. However, when her name was called to come up and receive the plaque, it became clear why they were there. “It was a surprise,” she laughed.
In 1991, Rasmussen began her job as Fillmore County’s first Water Plan Coordinator. In 2001, she moved to the same position within the Fillmore SWCD, and then became the SWCD administrator in 2008. Her current responsibilities include coordinating and implementing Fillmore County’s water plan, managing a staff of eight and various SWCD programs, administering grants, and overseeing the general operations of the Fillmore SWCD.
Rasmussen stays very busy at the SWCD with a variety of projects. One of the bigger projects that she oversees and coordinates is the Root River One Watershed One Plan in partnership with five other Soil and Water Conservation Districts. She serves as a chair of the regional Basin Alliance for the Lower Mississippi in Minnesota or BALMM, working with a variety of partners to ensure the quality of the water in the basin.
Rasmussen also helped to form the Friends of the Root River in 2014, a non-profit group made up of citizens who work together to take care of the Root River.
A project that Rasmussen is especially proud of is the Root River Field to Stream partnership which is led by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and was started in 2010. For the first six to seven years, the project consisted of baseline monitoring for three small Root River watersheds in Southeast Minnesota, and in 2016, $1.3 million dollars in state funds were received to implement best management practices in those watersheds.
“It’s a really unique project because edge of field monitoring is very labor and time intensive,” Rasmussen said. “There are very few projects that have that level of monitoring going on. Data from that really helps us see what practices are going to be most effective for soil erosion, run-off of soil nutrients, and more.” Rasmussen pointed out that the information from the project is applicable in watersheds throughout Minnesota, making it very valuable.
Rasmussen works hard to ensure that the primary goal of educating and encouraging landowners to use the best water practices is met, but she couldn’t do it without the rest of the staff at the Fillmore SWCD. “They are very dedicated to what we do,” Rasmussen commented. “I just try to make sure there’s money and resources for them to do their jobs.” She also appreciates the support the Fillmore SWCD receives from the SWCD board and the Fillmore County board.
Over the years, Rasmussen has seen a change in the focus and scope of the SWCD. They now conduct more partnerships with neighboring SWCDs and counties. “We’re in the very early stages of that, but it’s promising to see the progress,” she said. “It all takes relationships and willingness to work together. We try to pull those entities together and network and work together as much as we can to maximize those resources that we have so that we don’t have any gaps in what we’re doing and so that we can build upon what we all are doing.”
Rasmussen is planning to retire from the SWCD in March 2019. As much as she’s looking forward to the freedom of retirement, she knows she’ll miss her work. “I’ve always enjoyed my job and the most rewarding part is the people you work with,” she said. “It’s been a very rewarding time.”