After two years of planning, a Lower St. Croix 10-year Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan was approved by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources on Oct. 28. Local partners will receive $1.2 million in state funding over the next two years to begin implementing priority projects and programs outlined in the plan.
The Lower St. Croix Watershed contains 915 square miles of land with 127 lakes, over 1,000 miles of rivers and streams, and approximately 152,000 acres of wetlands. The St. Croix is a National Wild and Scenic River and a major tributary to the Mississippi River.
The planning process brought together 15 local government partners in Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Pine and Washington Counties to develop a collaborative and comprehensive plan that will guide watershed work in our region over the next ten years. Local partners hope to protect and improve the St. Croix River, groundwater, lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands, and upland habitat in order to sustain healthy ecosystems, recreation, public health, tourism, agriculture, the economy, and quality of life.
During the Lower St. Croix “One Watershed” planning process, partners collected input from more than 700 stakeholders, including 440 farmers and 160 community leaders at cities, townships and community organizations. The group also utilized a 32-member advisory committee, comprised of expert staff from local and state agencies, including Board of Water and Soil Resources, Department of Health, Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency, Metropolitan Council, Department of Agriculture, and the participating counties, watershed management organizations, and soil and water conservation districts.
During workshops, interviews, and surveys, several key themes emerged. Stakeholders expressed support for locally-led watershed management and emphasized the importance of collaboration across levels of government and with the public. People consider the St. Croix River to be the highest priority regional water resource, but also value lakes for recreation and habitat. They expressed a strong desire to protect existing high quality natural resources, and worried about the impacts of runoff pollution (especially from agricultural areas), groundwater pollution, and aquatic invasive species.
Key actions outlined in the Lower St. Croix watershed plan include:
- Hiring staff and/or contractors to work with agricultural producers;
- Providing funding for conservation farming projects and practices;
- Expanding the East Metro Water Resource Education Program to serve Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, and Pine Counties;
- Providing funding for water protection projects in urban areas;
- Creating and restoring 1000 acres of wetlands in priority locations;
- Protecting 1000 acres of critical habitat; and
- Using diagnostic monitoring, computer modeling, field investigations, and cost benefit analyses to identify the best value projects for implementation.
“One Watershed, One Plan” is a statewide initiative led by Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources to align local and state efforts in order to create regional watershed management plans that contain prioritized, targeted, and measurable strategies to protect and restore Minnesota’s waterways. To date, comprehensive watershed management plans have been approved for 19 major watersheds and an additional 20 watershed plans are in development.