County gets water management performance review
By Emily Bialkowski
The State of Minnesota targeted Houston County this spring for a water and soil resources management plan review.
The purpose of the program, established in 2007, is to send a professional to meet with all 245 local government entities that have some kind of watershed management or soil and water conservation responsibility in the state.
Don Buckhout, program coordinator, presented his findings to the Houston County Board June 26.
“It was a pleasure to be here and spend time in Houston County,” he began. “It’s basically good news I’m delivering.”
Houston County has three entities that focus on water and soil management, including Houston County Planning and Zoning, Root River Soil and Water Conservation District and Crooked Creek Watershed District.
By participating in such reviews and maintaining plans, these entities are eligible for significant state funding.
Below are Buckhout’s findings.
Planning & Zoning
The state continues to see good coordination and good communication between county staff and the soil and water conservation staff in the routine work dictated by the county local water management plan.
For the 11 action items in the plan that the county staff are responsible for, they have completed or made progress on all of them.
Houston County has delegated most of the plan writing and on-going plan implementation to the Root River District, which provides leadership for the local water plan advisory committee.
The committee meets regularly, has ownership of local issues and takes an active role in the development and implementation of the water plan.
“This is one of the most active committees I’ve seen in the state,” Buckhout said.
The Root River Soil and Water Conservation District has applied extensive technical skill to make good progress in implementing the 23 action items in the local water management plan for which they have lead responsibility.
The district’s focus on providing technical assistance to landowners during the extensive flood recovery work of recent years has meant that other operational areas, such as organizational infrastructure and capacity, have not been emphasized.
“They really went over and above working on flood recovery over the last several years,” Buckhout said.
With the recent retirement of the district manager the board of supervisors has hired an experienced consultant to help them reassess their operational needs. The state supports that activity and has provided funding to help with that process.
The Crooked Creek Watershed District managers, who are appointees of the county board, have persevered in the original district purpose of first constructing and now maintaining water retention structures in the Crooked Creek Watershed.
Buckhout described the entity as an active board that is trying to maintain the 70 square miles in their district.
The managers are operating under the original district plan adopted back in the late 1960s. Watershed district plans are required to be updated every 10 years.
A key to the future of this watershed district is the completion of a new watershed management plan revision.
In recent months the state has invested considerable resources to encourage the district to complete a management plan rewrite.
“That is our strong recommendation for them: Hire an outside consultant to do plan update. The advantages of doing so will be opening up doors for additional funding,” Buckhout said.
In conclusion, Buckhout said the citizens of Houston County are well served by strong collaboration between local officials. “I’ve seen excellent effort and outcomes due to the good strong working relationship,” he said.