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news Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

With focus on local planning, Crow Wing County Board agrees to participate in watershed grant application

Will the future of water planning to protect resources be driven from a plan developed at the local level or a regional viewpoint?

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Crow Wing County commissioners Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of submitting a grant application to participate in a pilot program with neighboring counties.

The program is aimed at taking a holistic approach to protecting water quality by looking at watersheds.

A watershed is described as a land area where all the water, both under the earth and water draining from the surface goes to the same place.

Two years ago, the Local Government Water Roundtable, a collaboration of entities including Minnesota counties, determined the public interest was best served by a watershed and aquifer approach to protecting water resources in the state.

Watersheds come in all sizes and pay no heed to county and state and national jurisdictional boundaries.

There are 81 major watersheds in Minnesota. There are 2,267 watersheds in the nation and Puerto Rico.

The 2012 water roundtable included the Association of Minnesota Counties, the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts and the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

Following the roundtable’s work, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) — which oversees water planning in the state — developed a plan for a one-watershed, one-plan initiative. The plan came with an offer of about $500,000 for a handful of pilot programs across the state. The focus, at the major watershed level, means collaboration of multiple counties.

Crow Wing County was asked to participate with Aitkin, Morrison and Todd counties for the Mississippi River for the Brainerd major watershed and with Wadena, Hubbard and Cass counties for the Crow Wing River watershed.

Each grant project is anticipated to have a budget of $75,000 to $100,000.

“Although these pilot projects would require a plan for the entire major watershed, Crow Wing County would work to direction planning efforts at the minor-watershed level within these watersheds,” a staff report to the board stated of the primary reasons to participate. “This ‘bottom-up’ approach has received favor from BWSR and would continue to help keep water planning at a local (versus regional) level by relying on the strengths of existing inter-county partnerships rather than creating another form of governance (i.e. a watershed district).”

Participation comes at no cost to the county, said Mitch Brinks, county water protection specialist, noting the grant would cover staff work hours for the project.

Commissioner Paul Thiede said he sees this as a way to tap into available dollars to look at a broader scope. Thiede said he thinks this is the right way to do it. Chris Pence, land services supervisor, said the county can be part of the plan or be dictated to from the state level.

Thiede said by being involved, the county can make subwatersheds the focus, where the rubber meets the road.

“If we make subwatersheds the real driving factor I think we’re ahead of the game,” Thiede said.

Brinks said the county is really just strengthening what is it already doing in collaborating with neighboring counties.

Commissioner Paul Koering said he had a lot of confidence in Land Services Director Mark Liedl.

Koering asked Liedl if this whole watershed focus was going overboard.

“Do you think we are being level-headed about this?” Koering asked.

Liedl said he did.

“I think if we don’t play a role, the chances that they will run amok are greater,” Liedl said. “Is there too much government? Yeah, I think so, but with county level government we can be far more efficient and effective for less money than governments traditionally have spent.”

Liedl said a new group could come in and try to undo it all.

“That’s part of the democratic process,” Liedl said.

Liedl said the county has worked to restore property rights in the zoning ordinance, made the language easier to understand and he thinks that change will outlast them.

“Water is our lifeblood here,” Liedl said, adding that doesn’t mean government should be out of control in protecting it “but certainly it’s something we should value it and we should do whatever we can to protect it for future generations.”

Koering said as long as he’s on the board he’s going to try to be the gatekeeper of bringing reality. Koering said sometimes government goes overboard in riding herd over every aspect of someone’s life whether it’s health care or what they can do on their property.

Board Chairwoman Rosemary Franzen noted watershed districts have taxing power. Franzen said the key to this approach is the language stating it would continue to keep water planning on the local level with partnerships rather than creating a watershed district.

The grant is expected to be awarded in the fall of 2014.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at 855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.

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