Located in northern Crow Wing County and southern Cass County, the Pine River Watershed contains more than 500 lakes, including some of the state’s most popular recreational lakes, such as the Whitefish Chain of Lakes and Pelican Lake.

Almost half of the Pine River Watershed is forested and another third is covered by lakes and wetlands. These resources are at risk for increased shoreline development, urban expansion and conversion of forestland to agricultural uses. The U.S. Forest Service ranks the Pine River Watershed No. 1 out of Minnesota’s 81 watersheds for at-risk source water. The watershed is a major source of drinking water for St. Cloud, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

To ensure water quality, 75% of the land in a watershed must be sustainably managed. The reason is, what happens on the land determines what ends up in the water.

The One Watershed One Plan (1W1P) is an effort to identify steps to take to move toward the 75% goal of sustainable land within a given watershed. Cass County, Crow Wing County and the Cass County and Crow Wing County Soil and Water Conservation Districts developed the 1W1P for the Pine River Watershed.

The content of the plan was developed by a Pine River 1W1P Advisory Committee, whose role was to decide on the content of the plan and to serve as a liaison to the respective boards (i.e. county boards and Soil and Water Conservation District boards).

The 1W1P effort for the Pine River Watershed is a broad and comprehensive plan identifying all elements of land management that is believed to impact water quality. The Pine River 1W1P, along with (hopefully) large and long-term funding has the potential of success in mitigating the present decline in the quality of water in the Pine River Watershed.

The plan has been completed and has been submitted to the Bureau of Soil and Water Resources. BWSR works with the Clean Water Council to use clean water sales tax monies, voted for by the citizens of Minnesota, to protect water quality.

According to the Crow Wing County website, “BWSR’s vision for One Watershed One Plan is to align local water planning on major watershed boundaries with state strategies towards prioritized, targeted, and measurable implementation plans–the next logical step in the evolution of water planning in Minnesota.”

Comprehensive watershed management plans, including critically important forest management plans, aim to enhance lakes with declining water quality trends. The plan’s protection goals extend to sensitive lakes, forests, habitat, groundwater, wetlands and downstream communities’ source water; and address groundwater, shoreland habitat, impaired streams and problematic culverts.

On Oct. 3, more than 50 people from lake associations, townships, local governments and other organizations, along with interested individuals within the Pine River Watershed met to learn how they can participate in putting together and implementing the specific actions identified in the Pine River Watershed 1W1P. The meeting was co-hosted by the Pine River Watershed Alliance and Whitefish Area Property Owners Association.

Melissa Barrick, manager of the Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District, and Moriya Rupert, of RMB Environmental Laboratories Inc. Houston Engineering, Inc., provided the attendees with the history of the development of the Pine River 1W1P. Barrick said the Pine River 1W1P provides $10.7 million over the next 10 years to enhance and protect water quality in this watershed.

Action plans and goals have been developed to address water quality issues using these funds. These include actions to “Keep It” (i.e. maintain good water quality), “Manage It” (i.e. through ordinances and regulations) and “Fix It” (i.e. septic upgrades, improved stormwater control, shoreland restoration and stabilization, rain gardens).

Meeting attendees met in small break-out groups to review and discuss the goals and focus areas of the plan, including: protection and enhancement of surface water, ground water and systems; chlorides; nitrates; well sealing; habitat protection; and habitat restoration.

The attendees were asked to discuss, among other things, how they specifically thought these issues could be addressed; what kinds of collaboration with local and county government units could be recommended; how to better educate the public regarding these issues; and how to motivate them to support the actions to be taken.

Small group discussions regarding protection of habitat, wetlands and another on septic systems/well sealing resulted in suggestions that included ideas such as encouraging/incentivizing landowners to establish forest management plans or conservancies and provide landowners with a list of agencies that can help them; identifying and promoting awareness of programs to protect lands adjacent to sensitive shorelands and tullibee lakes; working with landowners and landscaping contractors to educate them on good shoreland management practices; imposing and enforcing septic management ordinances to require periodic inspections and ensuring that lakeshore properties not being used in a manner that exceeds initial permitting conditions (i.e. some VRBOs); encouraging/providing incentives for lakeshore owners to seal unused wells; providing funding assistance to cities to improve design/location of culverts and storm drains to reduce chlorides and phosphorus in lakes; assisting cities by providing modern equipment that can better control application of salts and other road treatment chemicals; and many other ideas.

Two other groups discussed phosphorus/pasture management/shoreline; and culverts/chlorides. All groups had spirited discussions and many ideas were proposed in just 20 minutes. This is a great example of why it is believed that a collaborative, coordinated, comprehensive approach of all affected parties within a watershed has the best chance of resulting in significant improvements.

An incredible amount of work, expertise and dedication has been put forth to create the Pine River Watershed 1W1P. The plans are in place, the monies have been made available, now the work of implementing the plans begins. It was recommended that the Pine River 1W1P receive $482,000 to begin in 2020.

An example of a project to be implemented will address issues on Big Trout Lake on the Whitefish Chain. Big Trout is an “at risk” tullibee lake. Upcoming Big Trout projects will focus on reducing phosphorus levels, restoring and protecting shoreline, and providing permanent protection of forested and undeveloped land in the minor watershed around the lake.

Many, many actions will be taken over the next 10 years to protect the Pine River Watershed. Additionally, people must do their part to protect the lakes and lands within the watershed.

Ron Meyer, a member of the Pine River 1W1P Advisory Committee and president of the Pine River Watershed Alliance, said: “All this being said, the best solution to the slow decline is everyone understanding how they impact their water quality, and taking personal actions to reduce their impact”.

To review the Pine River 1W1P in its entirety, go to https://crowwing.us/1476/Pine-River-1W1P.