Water plan seeks input
WORTHINGTON — A collaboration between the local Soil and Water Conservation District, Nobles County Environmental Services and two watershed districts seeks public input as it prepares to amend the county’s 10-year comprehensive water plan.
The plan, now up for its five-year review, encompasses everything associated with water quality, from feedlot runoff and septic systems to stormwater and ag drainage. It serves as a guideline as agencies determine how to best manage waters in the county in the coming years.
“(The plan) helps us to be more efficient in what we can do, and it makes sure we’re all on the same page,” Nobles County Environmental Services (NCES) Director Wayne Smith said. “There are a lot of things we could do, but what should we do — what should we focus on?”
In the five years since the county’s original comprehensive water plan was written, the number of impaired waters in the county has doubled, from 10 to 20 impairments. That doesn’t include impairments expected to be announced later this year.
“Our current plan addresses surface water quality, public water supply and drainage management,” Nobles County SWCD Manager Ed Lenz said.
Drainage management issues include stormwater pollution prevention, flood plain ordinances, ditch systems and conservation drainage.
“Surface water quality is one of the main goals and priority concerns,” Lenz said, adding that the county’s water plan targets waters entering Lake Okabena, Lake Ocheda and Lake Bella, as well as water quality of the Heron Lake, Okabena-Ocheda and the Kanaranzi-Little Rock watershed districts.
The O-O and K-LR watersheds collaborate with the SWCD and NCES on the water plan. Their ability to pool resources was recognized by the Association of Minnesota Counties in 2008, when they received the Conservation County of the Year award.
“Everything our offices are tied to has to be linked back to this water plan in some way, shape or form,” Lenz said.
Minnesota’s Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) oversees water plans, and Lenz said other agencies provide input, such as the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources and Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
“They all make suggestions to our water plan … that we can incorporate into our plan,” Lenz said.
In the last five years, a lengthy list of achievements has come from the water plan. More than $1.1 million in Minnesota Clean Water Legacy funds has also been accessed to target local improvement projects.
The list of accomplishments spans two pages and includes more than three dozen bullet points, among them the completion of 232 terraces and water/sediment control basins, the installation of 600 feet of field windbreaks, the enrollment/re-enrollment of more than 1,200 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program and protection of 2,400 feet of stream bank and shore land areas.
Smith said he viewed the county’s Ag Best Management Practices (BMP) program as one of the greatest successes since the comprehensive water plan was written. Since the county became a lender for the program in 2012, residents can get a loan assessed to their property to address agricultural runoff or non-compliant septic systems.
While he expects the program to grow in use, Smith also predicts more emphasis will be placed on feedlot clean-up in the amended water plan.
“We don’t have as many open feedlots as other counties do; and many have been fixed, but there are still some smaller producers that need help and need fixes in Nobles County,” Smith said. “We’ve been working with those people continually, but there never seems to be enough money.”
By identifying feedlots as a priority area, Smith is hopeful the county can access grants to fix problems. At the same time, Lenz is hopeful more funds can be obtained for shoreline stabilization projects.
“We’re starting to get streams cutting very close to road rights of way and bridges,” Lenz said. “The idea is to get them stabilized before they cause any more damage.”
Lenz has already begun writing more than $700,000 in grant requests for “on-the-ground projects” in Nobles County.
Efforts to amend the county’s water plan are ongoing, with local agricultural groups as well as state agencies asked to weigh in on the effort. Public comment will be collected through Oct. 11 and can be done by contacting either the Nobles SWCD office or Smith at NCES. The draft plan can be viewed online at www.noblesswcd.org.
The collaborating agencies will meet following the comment deadline to discuss suggestions presented and determine whether they can be implemented into the county’s plan.
“(We will take) any comments on possible projects in the community — areas that may need assistance,” Lenz said, adding that he anticipates some comments to be submitted regarding fertilizer, chemical and manure application.
Once the plan is completed, it will go to the Nobles County Board of Commissioners for review and approval. That is anticipated to be done Oct. 22, and if approved, would be forwarded on to BWSR.