WORTHINGTON — A three-year collaborative effort to develop a shared water management plan for the Missouri River Watershed in southwest Minnesota has been green-lighted by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR).

The One Watershed, One Plan project encompasses all of Rock County, as well as portions of Nobles, Pipestone, Murray, Jackson and Lincoln counties. The plan identifies priority projects to be targeted and is funded with $1.32 million. The money is in addition to the state and federal dollars Soil and Water Conservation Districts within the six counties already receive.

The $1.32 million will be spread over three years, 2020-2022, with the expectation that additional dollars will be awarded in future years.

Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl said BWSR’s acceptance of the comprehensive water plan now sets in motion the next step — for each of the member counties, SWCDs and watershed districts to adopt both the plan and a joint powers agreement to be able to accept and distribute the funds.

During a meeting of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District earlier this week, Livdahl told his board of managers that the funds will target the two greatest priorities — drinking water and surface water quality.

“Our highest priority areas Missouri River Watershed-wide are our wellhead protection areas — the Drinking Water Supply Management Areas,” Livdahl explained. “We’d be looking at projects that reduce the amount of nitrogen that gets into groundwater in those areas and improves groundwater infiltration (well recharge).”

Surface water quality is the second highest priority.

"We have a number of nearly or barely impaired streams in the Rock River Watershed," Livdahl said. "Conservation practices in these subwatersheds are high priority. The lakes, however, are impaired to the point that they don't fit into the state's emphasis on addressing nearly or barely impaired waters.

"The planning committee is now working on a prioritization system so that good conservation practices protecting the lakes get funded too," he added.

Addressing the highest priority categories will require landowners implementing conservation practices on private agricultural lands. Among the targeted practices are installation of waterways and terraces, altering tillage practices and implementing cover crops.

While landowners willing to implement these practices already have access to state and federal program dollars through their SWCD office, there isn’t enough money to go around. The $1.32 million will help complete more high priority practices in high priority areas, as well as leverage state and federal dollars already available.

“The (comprehensive water) plan allows us to use money from the state and also to better prioritize funding from EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Program) and other federal programs,” Livdahl said.

For instance, the state dollars may be used to target structural practices such as water and sediment control basins or waterways, while federal dollars could help fund land management practices like cover crops, alternative tillage or nutrient management, he added.

With the state’s acceptance of the One Watershed, One Plan for the Missouri River Watershed, the collaborating agencies now have 120 days to adopt the plan. Meanwhile, the local leaders who helped develop the plan will continue to iron out details such as when and how landowners can apply for funding, how applications for funding will be prioritized and what percentages of cost-share will be available for specific types of projects.

With plenty of landowners interested in implementing projects, Livdahl said the primary concerns are having enough technical staff available to design projects, contractors available to do construction and weather conducive for construction.

“Rock and Nobles counties have a large number of practices that are funded, but weren’t able to get done because the weather didn’t cooperate,” Livdahl said of 2019.

To view the comprehensive water management plan online, visit http://bit.ly/2WRnr1A.

In other business of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Tuesday, the board:

  • Learned that LandPride Construction now anticipates construction will begin in mid-November on the Lake Ocheda dam modifications.

  • Was notified that Federal Emergency Management Agency representatives plan to authorize disaster funds to pay for repairs on the second failure of the Prairie View spillway. The watershed district paid $146,000 for the repairs. Livdahl told the board it’s possible the $10,500 spent to redesign the system may also be reimbursed.

Livdahl also noted that $21,000 was leftover from FEMA’s reimbursement for flood damage to the spillway in 2018. A portion of those funds were used to repair rip rap at the Lake Bella spillway, which was damaged by flooding earlier this year.

With the anticipated reimbursements from FEMA, the board decided not to pursue litigation against the engineering firm or manufacturer of the Flexamat material for damages.

  • Approved a modification to the professional services agreement with Ducks Unlimited regarding engineering for the Lake Ocheda dam project. The modification includes increasing the previously budgeted not-to-exceed $80,000 for engineering costs to a not-to-exceed amount of $90,000.

  • Approved a permit application for erosion and sediment control during construction of a new home on Woodland Court.