If pragmatic cooperation among varied, and sometimes conflicting, interests could be measured and rewarded, top honors could go to those involved in the West Fork Des Moines River-Heron Lake Total Maximum Daily Load project.
The watershed covers 1,333 square miles in southwestern Minnesota, where agriculture predominates in the counties of Murray, Cottonwood, Nobles and Jackson, and includes the Heron Lake Watershed District. Small portions of the watershed also lie in Pipestone, Martin, and Lyon counties.
A small advisory committee composed of city, agriculture, industry, conservation, and local, state and federal agency personnel, helped develop the TMDL for bacteria, turbidity, and nutrients, which was approved in December 2008. Water planners and Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) managers from the seven counties nominated members from the seven sectors (listed above), and names were randomly drawn to create the eight-member advisory committee. In early 2009 a much larger technical group of city, county, and agency staff from all sectors converged to develop a highly-detailed list of projects that promise to transform the TMDL goals into improved water quality.
"Everybody got really involved with the implementation plan," says Jan Voit, Heron Lake Watershed District administrator. "It's sometimes difficult to keep stakeholders engaged during the report process." Once up to speed on the report, the implementation plan group met about every three weeks from February through May 2009, focusing on specific ideas addressing the impairments. During the meetings, different and sometimes conflicting interests were expressed, which contributed to greater mutual understanding.
"It was a cross-section of people who didn't normally work with each other every day," says Kelli Daberkow, hydrologist and project manager in the MPCA Marshall office. "It was a really good mix."
After presentations on specific topics, the larger group was divided into small groups, and asked to list specific implementation actions that would address the impairments. Follow-up communication continued with summaries and e-mail messages. Then the larger group voted on their top choices. The choices are embodied in ten objectives with specific actions that comprise the heart of the implementation plan.
We wanted really specific actions," Jan says. "The new funding process wants specifics. We have to identify actual projects first, and then apply for the funding."
For example, to meet the objective of protecting stream banks from erosion and runoff, the plan offers incentives for buffers ranging from $500 per acre for a 15-year buffer, to $1,000 per acre for perpetual buffers, or an incentive for harvested buffers. The target of covering of 4,500 acres would reduce sediment by more than 60 tons and phosphorus by 100,000 pounds.
After the implementation plan was approved in September 2009, the project began to seek funding for a coordinator to put the plan in action. "We need more creative ways of finding landowners willing to do projects in targeted areas, someone to sell it," Jan says. "This will be a learning year, talking to landowners and doing things in a new way."
The cooperative effort is embodied in an agreement among the seven counties, their Soil and Water Conservation District offices, and the Heron Lake Watershed District, to provide detailed, local information about projects, and coordinate the work. "We just want everyone to work together," Jan says.