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County moves forward on watershed plan

Kyle Farris

Lake County continues to move forward with a water plan that would shift focus away from geographical borders and toward utilizing the natural lay of the land.

The county recently received approval from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources to go ahead with collaborative water planning with Cook County as part of One Watershed, One Plan, a program intended to streamline water planning and management around the state.

Dan Schutte, district manager for the Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District and the county's liaison for the project, released new details of the planning and implementation process at a meeting of the board of commissioners last Tuesday.

Schutte said plans are in motion to establish a policy committee and an advisory committee that would oversee the project for the counties. The policy committee would consist of Schutte, Commissioner Rich Sve and other elected officials. The advisory committee would likely include state officials and other planning experts.

"The policy committee will be kind of shaping the framework of how the process goes," Schutte said. "The advisory committee will provide input along the way."

The project will wean counties from their individual water plans and provide them with new regional plans according to the location of nearby watersheds.

For Lake County, the switch involves a partnership with Cook County to utilize the Lake Superior North Watershed, which stretches south to Knife River and north to Grand Portage.

"There's already a lot of overlap on paper between the two counties on this," Schutte said. "We feel there's a good chance that it might be a really smooth process of combining those two water plans."

The impact of the new plan won't begin to take hold for several years, Schutte said, adding that the state as a whole seems to be abandoning individual plans in favor of watershed plans.

Lake County also will tap watersheds in Cloquet and St. Louis County, as well as the Rainy River headwaters. Unlike the Lake Superior North Watershed, which covers a large swath of Lake County, less than 5 percent of these watersheds actually sit on county land.

Under the program, a county can opt out of a watershed arrangement if less than 5 percent of a watershed rests in that county.