6-county One Watershed, One Plan approaching its final planning stage

Published 5:13 am Tuesday, July 5, 2016

After nearly two years of work, the Root River One Watershed, One Plan pilot project, which includes eastern Mower County, is entering the final phase of its planning process.

State officials are conducting a 60-day review for the draft water management plan for the Root River One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P) that involves a planning area covering more than 1.3 million acres in parts of six counties — Dodge, Fillmore, Houston, Mower, Olmsted and Winona. This includes the entire Root River Watershed; the Minnesota portion of the Upper Iowa River Watershed; and the Mississippi-Reno Watershed in Houston County.

One of Minnesota’s five 1W1P pilot projects, Root River 1W1P has involved planning partners representing a broad range of stakeholders, including local governments, state agencies, community members and organizations.

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“We are excited to be finalizing Root River 1W1P and for the opportunities this plan will open up for projects, particularly for us in eastern Mower County,” said Tim Ruzek, water planner and outreach coordinator for Mower Soil & Water Conservation District in Austin.

Mower County’s eastern portion hosts the headwaters of the Root River and Upper Iowa River. About 13 percent of Root River 1W1P’s planning area is in Mower County, including the townships of Bennington, Clayton, Dexter, Frankford, Grand Meadow, LeRoy, Lodi, Pleasant Valley, Racine and Sargeant.

Root River 1W1P’s local government units include Dodge, Fillmore, Mower, Olmsted, Houston and Winona counties along with their respective Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs), with Root River SWCD representing Houston County. Crooked Creek Watershed District in Caledonia also is among them. Fillmore SWCD has led the Root River 1W1P process and hosted meetings in Preston.

Under 1W1P, the goal is to create a plan based on watershed boundaries rather than smaller, political boundaries.

This will ensure that the most significant threats to a watershed’s water resources are addressed with practices providing the greatest environmental benefits.

It intends to provide a framework for consistency and cooperation on a watershed basis, allowing local governments to work together to implement projects with the highest return on investment for improving issues related to water quality and water quantity. Root River 1W1P also has a draft agreement under review that details how the watershed’s partners will implement the plan and work cooperatively. The plan will not add a new layer of government.

The Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources (BWSR) has led the statewide 1W1P program that aims to reduce the more than 200 water plans statewide to less than 100. Watershed-based plans have the potential to allow for streamlined funding and administration to maximize efficiency, minimize redundancy and prevent duplication of efforts both on the local and state levels.

In early 2014, local-government partners in the Root River Watershed began working together to submit a nomination to BWSR to be selected as one of Minnesota’s One Watershed, One Plan pilot projects. Later that year, Root River was selected as one of five major watersheds for 1W1P.

A planning process then began involving many meetings by three Root River 1W1P committees: a planning work group; policy committee; and advisory committee. The Root River 1W1P policy committee includes a representative from each local government unit in the watershed to provide direction and review throughout the process.

Houston Engineering Inc., based in Maple Grove, Minn., was hired to lead the creation of the Root River 1W1P planning document now under review and available to the public.

Following the state’s 60-day review, two public hearings are expected to be offered in September in Caledonia and Stewartville on the draft plan. Public comment also will be accepted outside of those meetings.

After the hearings, the Root River 1W1P planning document will be submitted to BWSR for final approval within 90 days. Local government units then will need to vote within 120 days on adopting the plan locally.

Implementation of the Root River 1W1P planning document could happen as early as January 2017. The plan will be scheduled for a five-year evaluation and a 10-year revision.

The Root River 1W1P draft planning document — along with other related materials, such as meeting minutes — is available on the Fillmore SWCD website at: www.fillmoreswcd.org/rootRiverWatershed.html


Mower Soil & Water Conservation District

Since 1953, Mower SWCD has provided land and conservation services to Mower County landowners to help manage lands in a way that promotes a sound economy as well as sustains and enhances natural resources that are key to the state’s environmental health. Mower SWCD is one of Minnesota’s 91 SWCDs each are governed by an elected board.