A relatively new board is combining the powers of multiple counties to steer the future of the Cannon River Watershed.
At its quarterly meeting Wednesday, representatives from multiple area counties took action to set up the Cannon River Watershed Joint Powers Board’s structure, bylaws, operating rules and elections of Executive Committee members among other organizational items.
The joint board includes Soil and Water Conservation districts in Rice, Steele, Waseca, Le Sueur, Goodhue and Dakota counties, as well as the Belle Creek Watershed District.
“This is the general method or mode of operation that most of the state is going to, is watershed-based planning so that the changes that we make in the Cannon will reflect the goals that we need for pollution reduction and so forth,” said Steve Pahs, Rice County Soil and Water Conservation District district manager.
The board aims to implement the Cannon River Watershed Comprehensive Management Plan, which was created in June 2020, as well as improving local water quality. The nearly 250-page plan documents potential input from stakeholders throughout the watershed. It outlines implementation steps for conservation practices to meet water quality goals for the river and its various tributaries.
The management plan was created through the Cannon River One Watershed, One Plan planning process with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources’s Clean Water Funds. The money will fund projects and practices that support the plan’s mission.
“Primarily, the first and largest chunk (of funding) right now is through the Board of Water and Soil Resources, where we’ve received an initial funding round for two years of a little over a million dollars. The focus of that work is on our most high priority areas in the watershed,” Pahs said.
The joint board has three tiers of work, with tier one being the areas of highest priority. In these areas, they hope to focus on actions such as planting cover crops, finding incentives for reducing tillage and potentially looking into structural supports to help meet the area’s ecological health goals.
According to Jennifer Mocol-Johnson, board conservationist at BWSR, there are about 22 approved One Watershed, One Plan programs across the state, with many more in the works.
“The concept behind it is that water doesn’t just stop at jurisdictional boundaries, so watershed planning is probably appropriate and working together as appropriate to get those targeted measurable results,” Mocol-Johnson said.
Mocol-Johnson added that the board aims to address projects in tier one within a 10-year scope of the plan. The plan will be something the conservation districts will use and refer to when making decisions about what projects are appropriate to fund, as taxpayer money will be used to fund the efforts, Mocol-Johnson noted.
The next Cannon River Watershed Joint Powers Board is July 7. Members anticipate meeting virtually once again.