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Residents can have a say in Vermillion watershed's future

The Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization is developing a new 10-year plan to guide the future of the watershed, and is seeking public input to help refine the plan.

The plan is a state requirement, explained Mark Zabel of the VRWJPO. The first Vermillion River Watershed plan was established in 2005, and since it expires next year, the board is tasked with replacing it with a new one that will carry the watershed to 2025.

The VRWJPO started the process in October 2013 by gathering information from a long list of stakeholders as well as holding a public meeting. At that point, it was looking to find out what was most important to people.

“With that as a starting point, we went around this spring with a set of three community conversations,” Zabel said.

That first round of community meetings was designed to find out from the public if the ideas and direction the organization was starting in was the right direction.

Now they’re doing it again, reaching out to the public to get feedback on the work that’s already been done before the board progresses.

So far, 10 goals have been established. They are:

1. Protect or restore water quality in lakes, streams and wetlands.

2. Protect or restore sensitive biological resources, such as plants, fish, insects and wildlife.

3. Protect or restore groundwater quality.

4. Maintain a sustainable water supply.

5. Address more intense fluctuations (both up and down) in river flow rate and volume.

6. Improve watershed resilience to changing precipitation and temperature patterns.

7. Improve public awareness and stewardship of water resources.

8. Improve coordination and streamline processes among the many agencies involved in water resource management.

9. Improve watershed programs and operations to address public needs and new opportunities.

10. Address economic viability in watershed management programs.

All the goals are a result of stakeholder and community conversations, Zabel said.

The watershed is the entire area of land and tributaries that drain into the Vermillion River. It covers 335 square miles, much of it in Dakota County. It is the largest watershed in the metro area.

Watersheds are keenly affected by human activity.

“The watershed responds to what is going on in the watershed,” Zabel said. “So as the landscape changes with human use and impact, the watershed responds accordingly.”

The first big change for the Vermillion River Watershed was settlement and the transition of making the land more useful for food production. Within the past 50 years, the leading factor has been advancing settlement, with land uses becoming more urban and industrial. Each land use change impacts the watershed, Zabel said.

The VRWJPO has been trying to identify the means to mitigate those impacts and get good watershed practices established.

The public can help by contributing to the plan development efforts.

“What we are looking for is for people to express what they see in these goals and objectives and how it may affect them, and then their advice on what we should do to assist them directly or how we as a watershed can address the issues that are identified.”

The first public community conversations was held Nov. 19 in Hastings and Dec. 3 in Elko New Market. The final one is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Dakota County Extension and Conservation Center in Farmington. The center is located at 4100 220th St.

Those who can’t make that can still contribute online at www.vermillionriverwatershed.org, or by phone at 952-891-7000. More details about the 2015 plan are available on the website.

“We really do want their participation,” Zabel said, “so if they can make one of the community conversations, we welcome them, and if they can’t, we also welcome that input.”

Comments should be submitted by the end of January.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

(651) 460-6606
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