It's been two years since "One Watershed, One Plan" was implemented in Lake and Cook counties. Proponents presented about the plan's accomplishments so far during a public meeting Thursday, Oct. 24.
What is the plan?
Before 2014, each county in Minnesota had its own water plan, but none of the plans interacted with neighboring counties.
"The plans were managed just off of political borders, so Lake County did what they wanted, Cook County did what they wanted and who cares if that river goes between the two," said Ilena Hansel, water planner for the Cook County Soil and Water Conservation District. "But now we've changed the water plans to focus on water and where it flows rather than on one geopolitical boundary. It allows for better resource management attuned to the watershed needs."
Lake and Cook counties started the pilot process for "One Watershed, One Plan" in 2014 and received approval in 2017. The plan was created with input from landowners, the general public, a committee of local and state agencies and elected officials. The 10-year plan will be due for a five-year update in 2022.
What does the plan look like?
The plan uses a process of zonation, a value based process which takes into account targeting, prioritizing and measuring.
"It uses the values of both the agency folks and the landowners and combines them to get a map that shows where the work is most needed," said Sonja Smerud, water planner for Lake County Soil and Water Conservation District. "The diverse watershed characteristics help define the priorities we have in the plan as well. It develops a tiered breakdown of priority and secondary implementation actions."
For example, the Knife and Beaver rivers are considered priority implementation due to biological significance and being susceptible to groundwater contamination.
What accomplishments has the plan seen so far?
Hansel and Smerud broke down the accomplishments into three categories: stormwater management, forestry and coastal erosion.
"If you’ve ever been to Grand Marais after it rains an inch or two, you've seen the rivers of brown mud. That’s sediment going straight into the lake," Hansel said. "And this is something that's been going on since before my time and I've been there for nine years."
Through funding from the state, through "One Watershed, One Plan" fund allocation, and grants the city of Grand Marais developed a stormwater management plan and began identifying and implementing projects. One of the projects is a large basin placed within 30 feet of Lake Superior to help trap sediment.
One of the specific goals of the plan is to plant at least 20 acres of conifers and other species in decline per year in the areas of declining birch to create a diverse mix of age, species and densities.
"Thanks to partners who have worked with us, like the Castle Danger White Pine Project, we've planted around 74 acres of conifers so far," Smerud said.
Smerud also listed project that have helped eliminate spruce budworm infestation and more tree planting projects across the region.
As water levels in Lake Superior continue to rise, landowners along the shore see increased coastal erosion of their land. Some funds from "One Watershed, One Plan" have been dedicated to mapping coastal erosion to help mitigate the encroachment and provide information to the public.
To battle coastal erosion on a smaller scale, Hansel said they've also promoted the planting of native vegetation to help reduce the continuing erosion.