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Minnesota watershed group shares expertise with new Iowa group

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 04/28/2012 9:46 PM

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CHARLES CITY, Iowa —While laws governing the formation of watershed bodies are different in Minnesota and Iowa, groups along the Cedar River, have a common goal —holding water in place and not dumping it down river.

Bev Nordby, administrator of Minnesota's Cedar River Watershed District, discussed the steps her group is taking to protect the uppermost part of the Cedar River Watershed during a meeting with people hoping to form a watershed authority in northern Iowa.

The Iowa group, which includes representatives from 30 entities, met at the Charles City Library to continue drafting a 28E agreement to form the Upper Cedar River Watershed Management Improvement Authority.

"Our Cedar River Watershed District Board has said, 'We will not dump our water into Iowa,' " Nordby said. "We want to solve our own problems and not make Iowa worse."

The Cedar River Watershed District formed in May 2007 by Minnesota inresponse to a petition by Mower County, Nordby said.

"There was a record flood in 2004 in Austin where we almost lost our treatment plant and two lives were lost because emergency vehicles couldn't get to the people, "Nordby said. "We've had six record floods in the last 10 years."

The Cedar River Watershed District is governed by a seven-person board of managers appointed by county boards. The board directs the districts' goals and policies.

The watershed district covers 435 square miles in Mower, Steele, Dodge and Freeborn counties. The largest land area is in Mower County, so that county has four board members. The other three counties each appoint one.

"Our purpose is to reduce stream flows and protect and improve water quality in the watershed," Nordby said.

Unlike Iowa law, which allows government entities to work together to form watershed authorities but has no taxing authority, Minnesota's 47 watershed districts have the authority to levy taxes.

The Cedar River Watershed District levies $225,000 per year. It contracts with Mower Soil and Water Conservation District for administrative and technical assistance for $85,000, and the rest of its funding goes into projects, education and water monitoring.

The district's rules took effect Dec. 1, 201. The rules cover areas related to stormwater, flood plains, water body alterations, erosion control and enforcement.

Watershed goals are to reduce flooding by 20 percent, reduce sediment and nutrient loading and protect road infrastructure, Nordby said.

Dobbins Creek in the northern part of the watershed is targeted because it is most prone to flash flooding.

"We work with NRCS/SWCD offices and cities and townships on water quality issues," Nordby said. "We are involved with Total Maximum Daily Loads, or TMDLs, for fecal coliform bacteria and turbidity."

The watershed district builds water storage with wetland restorations and is working on streambank restoration in Dobbins Creek. A hydrology study of the entire watershed is underway, and a comprehensive water monitoring program is in place.

"Your first steps are great," Nordby said. "When you're all working together there is so much power there. One thing we have learned is that you have to step back and look at the whole watershed."