Feedback sought on St. Croix watershed plan: Public can see plans and offer input at Feb. 20 meeting at North Branch Library

The Lower St. Croix “One Watershed” planning area includes portions of six Minnesota counties: Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Pine, Ramsey and Washington.  

Feedback is being sought from local communities to help shape the Lower St. Croix 10-Year Watershed Plan.   

The draft plan identifies public education and support for farmers as priority needs and aims to promote collaboration across levels of government and with the public. 

Learn more at an upcoming workshop on Thursday, Feb. 20, from 4-6 p.m. at the North Branch Area Library, 6355 379th Street, North Branch. 

A second session is planned for Monday, March 2, from 4-6 p.m. at Stillwater Public Library, 224 3rd Street N, Stillwater.

Over the past two years, 15 local government partners in Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Pine and Washington Counties have been working together to create a shared watershed plan to protect and restore groundwater, lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands and upland habitat in the Lower St. Croix watershed. Once adopted, the plan will guide collaborative work in the region for the next 10 years.

Known as “One Watershed, One Plan,” the project is part of a statewide initiative, funded by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, to create plans with prioritized, targeted and measurable strategies to protect and restore our waterways. 

During the Feb. 20 and March 2 workshops, Lower St. Croix partners will review key components of the draft plan and gather feedback prior to beginning the official review process. The final plan is expected to be approved by the end of the year. 

Learn more about Lower St. Croix “One Watershed, One Plan” and RSVP for an upcoming workshop at www.lsc1w1p.org. 

Key themes emerge in planning process

Lower St. Croix partners envision a watershed that sustains healthy ecosystems, recreation, public health, tourism, agriculture, the economy and quality of life in our communities.  

Key themes emerged the during planning process – public education, support for local farmers and collaboration across levels of government. 

During the Lower St. Croix “One Watershed” planning process, partners collected input from more than 700 stakeholders, including 440 farmers and 160 community leaders at cities, townships and community organizations. The group also utilized a 32-member advisory committee, comprised of expert staff from local and state agencies, including Board of Water and Soil Resources, Department of Health, Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency, Metropolitan Council, Department of Agriculture, and the participating counties, watershed management organizations, and soil and water conservation districts. 

During workshops, interviews, and surveys, several key themes emerged. 

1. Stakeholders want to see locally led watershed management and collaboration across levels of government and with the public. 

2. Most people view the St. Croix River as our highest priority regional water resource, but think that lakes are very important as well. 

3. Stakeholders expressed a strong desire to protect existing high quality natural resources, in addition to restoring impaired rivers and lakes. 

4. Key concerns include runoff pollution (especially from agricultural areas), groundwater pollution, and aquatic invasive species. 

5. There is a desire for more public education, as well as outreach and support to help farmers and local communities implement conservation practices. 

Funding priorities for the next 10 years

Currently, the Board of Water and Soil Resources is proposing to allocate $600,000 per year in state funding to the Lower St. Croix region to assist in implementing the One Watershed plan. These funds are expected to comprise about one-third of the project budget, with additional money coming from local partners, state and federal grants, and private land owners. The plan would use 70% of the available funding to implement water quality projects and 25% for research and analysis to identify the best opportunities for cost-effective and impactful clean water projects. Priority will be placed on projects and programs that benefit the entire region, provide multiple benefits, and make best use of limited funds. 

Proposed activities include:

• Hiring staff or contractors to provide direct assistance to local agricultural producers to identify economical farming practices with water quality benefits, develop whole-farm conservation plans and nutrient management plans, and secure financial support for conservation projects. 

Additional funding will be used to provide cost-share support for projects that improve soil health, reduce runoff to the St. Croix and Sunrise Rivers, and protect groundwater in sensitive regions. 

• Expanding an existing water education program in Washington County to serve Chisago, Isanti, Anoka and Pine Counties as well. The program will engage residents, lake associations, businesses and local officials in clean water projects. 

Additional funds will be used to provide cost-share funding for landowners to restore shoreline areas and install practices that reduce stormwater runoff in developed areas. Program partners will also provide outreach support for local cities and townships that wish to update policies and ordinances to better protect water resources during development and redevelopment projects. 

• Create or restore 1,000 acres of wetlands in high priority locations in order to increase resiliency against flooding and provide natural treatment of water flowing downstream to the St. Croix River and other water resources. 

• Protect 1,000 acres of critical habitat in high priority areas.

• Use diagnostic monitoring, computer modeling, field investigations and cost benefit analyses to identify the best value projects to pursue in future years. 

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