WORTHINGTON - After more than two years of collaborative work between six counties, their soil and water conservation districts and two watershed districts, a draft of the Missouri River One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P) is now open for a 60-day review and comment period.

The plan encompasses all of Rock County and portions of Nobles, Jackson, Murray, Pipestone and Lincoln counties in southwest Minnesota, and will serve as the guide for targeted water quality improvements within the 1.1 million-acre planning area for 10 years. The goal is to have the plan approved by early summer, with the 1W1P work group to seek grant funding generated by the state’s Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment by late summer. Implementation of the plan is anticipated to begin in 2020.

“We’re trying to correct water quality and even water quantity problems,” said Doug Bos, assistant director of the Rock County Land Management office in Luverne. “Water doesn’t stop at the county line. This gives us an opportunity to work together as a watershed group - allows us greater access to prioritization and also additional funding for improving water quality.”

The Missouri River 1W1P is part of the second round of consolidations, following in the footsteps of five watersheds that were part of a pilot project. Eventually, all single-county water plans will be consolidated into larger, regional work plans in the state.

Bos said the shift to watershed focus areas is to essentially get the most bang for the buck.

“(State and federal agencies) want to see that the tax dollars we use for water quality provide the best results they can,” he said. “By working together as a group, we have the ability to prioritize and eventually make water quality improvements sooner rather than later with targeted conservation practices.”

The list of priorities within the plan is extensive and began at the grassroots level, with public informational sessions hosted both in Worthington and Pipestone in the summer of 2016. Through those sessions, the work group - comprised of one commissioner and one SWCD supervisor from each of the six counties, as well as one manager from each the Kanaranzi-Little Rock and Okabena-Ocheda watershed districts - prioritized the issues. An advisory committee, comprised of local agronomists, hunters, crop and livestock producers, wildlife enthusiasts and city and township officials assisted with the prioritization process and reviewed all aspects of the plan.

Those ranked highest, as identified within the draft plan, target drinking water (addressing nitrates in wells and sustainable groundwater supplies as well as land use changes where water enters aquifers), sediment and phosphorus levels in streams and rivers, wind and overland runoff and stream and riverbank erosion, surface runoff, habitat loss from bank erosion in creeks, streams and rivers, and soil health.

Houston Engineering wrote the the plan, did the modeling and facilitated the work group meetings, which was all grant-funded.

“We set a bunch of goals for water quality, largely based on what people in the communities think are really important,” said Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator and 1W1P policy committee member Dan Livdahl. He said many of the goals came from the WRAPS (Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy) completed by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“WRAPS set goals for reduction in phosphorus, nitrates, bacteria and aquatic life,” Livdahl said. “The plan in the first 10 years doesn’t get us to those goals in most cases, but we’re working toward those goals.”

Because of the diversity of the landscape within the Missouri River Watershed, the work group split the area into four planning regions - the subwatersheds including the Upper Big Sioux, Big Sioux River, Rock River and Little Sioux River.

“We’ve created subplans with strategies we want to accomplish,” Livdahl said.

The plan identifies the goals and also includes maps showing high priority areas where projects could be implemented.

“We’re looking at areas where we could do water storage - basins like at Prairie View - and then ponds and wetland restorations,” Livdahl said. Areas for potential filter strips, water and sediment control basins and waterways are also identified.

Still, it will take landowners willing to incorporate practices for the watershed plan to be successful.

“We would need to have willing landowners and programs that meet their needs and are cost-effective practices,” Livdahl said. “Watershed-wide, we’ve always had more money for conservation practices than we had people willing to do them, but that’s not true in this larger area. There are willing landowners who feel this could fit into their farming operation.”

Bos agreed, noting that a mini-study was done in the Rock River Watershed several years ago, during which landowners were contacted about installing practices on their land. The outcome was favorable, but then when floods caused extensive damage along the Rock River in 2014, plans were put on hold as the emphasis turned to repairs.

With the 1W1P, it’s anticipated more state and federal dollars will flow in - on top of the money already going to SWCDs to implement conservation practices.

Bos said the additional funding will translate to higher percentages of cost-share, and in turn, hopefully higher participation.

“The plan has done a really good job of looking at priority needs and targeting the things we need to do to achieve the goals of the plan,” Livdahl added. “The challenge at this point is when we do receive additional funding, we’re still going to have a lot more needs and goals than what we have to cover. We’ll still need to target. The challenge is going to be the implementation of the plan with limited resources.”

The public may view the 1W1P draft plan online at https://bit.ly/2M2hyJr and view the appendices at https://bit.ly/2TFX7os. History and background information on the project can be found at https://bit.ly/2FiHwYB.

Written comments on the plan will be accepted through Feb. 25 and must be submitted to both Dan Livdahl at the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, P.O. Box 114, Worthington (email: dan.livdahl@okabenaochedawd.org) and to Doug Goodrich, BWSR Board Conservationist, 1400 E. Lyon St., Marshall 56258 (email: douglas.goodrich@state.mn.us).