Mower County board backs proposal to align different water plans

Published 3:40 pm Saturday, May 7, 2016

By Jason Schoonover, Austin Daily Herald

AUSTIN — The Mower County board is supporting a plan to bring together several county and watershed district plans to improve the Cedar River.

The county board unanimously voted Tuesday to support Mower County Soil & Watershed District leaders’ plan to seek state funding for One Watershed, One Plan for the Cedar River. The Minnesota Board of Water & Soil Resources One Watershed, One Plan project aims to align local water planning on major water boundaries instead of county lines.

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“I think there’s a lot of benefits to it,” SWCD Manager Justin Hanson said.

Mower County support is just step one, along with the Mower SWCD, which approved a resolution in April. Turtle Creek and Cedar River watershed districts also have approved applying for the One Watershed, One Plan grant. Leaders will next seek support from Dodge, Steele and Freeborn counties, and the SWCDs in each county. Shell Rock Watershed District, however, would not be involved because it just completed its own plan.

State funding is expected to be available to enact One Watershed, One Plan, as Hanson said they’ve been told no other districts in the region are slated to apply right now.

“In large part, the state is paying for you to bring in a consultant to essentially write the plan, kind of guide the ship, provide all your input,” Hanson said. “We’d have all the say that we would in the normal part of the process, but we’d also have the funding available to streamline the process and in the end give us a better product than we’ve ever had before.”

Hanson and Waterplan and Outreach Coordinator Tim Ruzek need the backing of all parties to move ahead in seeking state grants, and they’re aiming to get approvals by early June.

Hanson told the board Mower has had a lot of success seeking state funds in recent years, and he added it makes economic sense to seek One Watershed, One Plan funds, though he admits it’s a different way of forming water plans. In the past, they county had a plan, but this initiative aims for the counties and watershed districts to have a joint plan.

“Let’s go through one process, grind through all these different plants, meld them together,” he said. “Then going forward, we just have one plan.”

Mower County’s current water plan was set to expire in 2015, but SWCD staff has been working on an extension through 2018. The One Watershed, One Plan process would take over the county’s plan.

One Watershed, One Plan aims to use funds on watershed boundaries instead of county boundaries, which in large part aims to ensure there’s one vision for a district and waterway versus individual counties having individual plans.

Hanson has worked with the Root River Watershed District, which includes parts of eastern Mower, as its one of the pilot projects for One Waterway, One Plan.

“We learned a lot from the Root River, and I think we know how to make things more efficient here,” Ruzek said.

Ruzek said they hope it will be a smooth process moving forward, and he all the counties and groups would work together on the plan.

“Hopefully if it’s approved, we can start this fall,” he said.