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County's water plan slated to be re-worked

Having a prescribed water management plan in place since 1991 drew millions of dollars in water quality work to Beltrami County, says the director of the agency which coordinates such work.

Having a prescribed water management plan in place since 1991 drew millions of dollars in water quality work to Beltrami County, says the director of the agency which coordinates such work.

"The plan has brought $2.18 million into Beltrami County for high priority projects since 1991," Chris Parthun, Beltrami Soil and Water Conservation District director, told Beltrami County commissioners last week.

The county's Comprehensive Water Management Plan needs updating every five years and, since it was last updated in 2002, is due again this year to be reworked.

"This is the fourth five-year plan that will be developed over the next 14 months," Parthun said.

Commissioners, at their April 3 meeting, approved a resolution to revise and update its current local water management plan, and delegating much of the work to a Beltrami SWCD Local Water Management Advisory Committee.

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The advisory committee, as of December, consisted of 20 voting members and 19 non-voting members, with County Administrator Tony Murphy recommending that commissioners review the panel and make new appointments, if necessary.

'This is one of the finest plans in the state of Minnesota," Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks said of the current county plan. Fairbanks sits on the state Board of Soil and Water Resources, which must give final approval to all local plans.

With 350 lakes in Beltrami County, Parthun said the plan helps "the county manage surface waters, the groundwater and related resources. ... The SWCD serves as coordinator for all actions in the five-year plan."

The county's plan was first adopted in 1991, which then allowed the county to access state funds for various water management projects, according to the plan.

"They included such things as watershed studies, private forest management for water quality, agricultural best management practices education, groundwater flooding assessment reports, the county's wetlands ordinance, and lakes and streams monitoring," he said.

SWCD awards totaling $2.18 million since 1991 included such things as $275,000 in 1992 for the second phase of the Lake Bemidji Watershed Management Project, $200,000 in 1998 in revolving funds for low-interest loans to upgrade septic systems, to $150,000 in 2004 in a state Department of Natural Resources Firewise grant.

The new plan will help create baseline data for lakes, so future changes in water quality can be detected, he said. "Is water quality decreasing? We need new data to find out."

Parthun said the committee will decide on a plan, with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission providing technical assistance and a process for public participation in the planning process.

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"Some grant applications are only available to counties with adopted local water plans," Parthun said of the need to renew Beltrami County's plan.

According to the timeline, the committee will ask for comments from a host of natural resources agencies and then being developing the local water plan in late summer. A public hearing would be held in October and then submitted to BWSR for approval.

BWSR would be expected to approve the plan by February, and then the Beltrami County Board would be asked in March to approve a resolution adopting the plan and a commitment to implement it.

Commissioners also voted last week to give the Beltrami SWCD $10,000 from set-aside funds for SWCD contracted projects as a county cash match to a grant from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency for a water monitoring project.

The project, under the state's new Clean Water Legacy Act as administered by the MPCA, will allow volunteers to monitor water quality in 36 Beltrami County lakes as targeted by the state agency as needing assessment, Parthun said.

"The Beltrami SWCD is proposing to implement an aggressive surface water quality sampling program that will accelerate this high priority issue identified in the Beltrami County Comprehensive Local Water Management Plan," says the grant application to MPCA. "This is cited as a county-wide top priority issue."

The SWCD gained an $80,000 grant for the $145,000 project, for which the SWCD will provide $65,000 in in-kind services.

"The project is intended to bring citizen volunteers forward, and empower them to make better decisions about Beltrami County resources," Parthun said.

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While the county's cash match technically isn't needed as the grant is already assured, Parthun said the funds "will allow a more complete job with volunteers, much a more comprehensive job."

In a related matter, the MPCA is also asking for volunteers to join its Citizen Lake Monitoring Program, which includes 10 Beltrami County lakes of which nine are among the 36 lakes already on the Beltrami County SWCD list.

Volunteers are needed to monitor water quality on the lakes weekly during the summer months, the MPCA said. Monitoring data gathered by volunteers provides valuable information about the current health of Minnesota's waters. The MPCA would like to have volunteers on the lakes as they have all been monitored in the past, but don't currently have a CLMP volunteer. By getting current data, the MPCA can determine if water quality in these lakes is changing over time.

Monitoring is a simple and relatively quick process, the agency said. Volunteers visit a designated spot on one or more lakes weekly, where they drop anchor, make notes of the water's physical condition and recreational suitability, and measure the clarity of the water with a Secchi disk.

A Secchi disk is an 8-inch white metal disk that is lowered into the water until it can no longer be seen, MPCA said. The depth, measured by markings on the cord, is a useful indicator of the lake's relative water quality.

The Beltrami County lakes include Andrusia, 4 miles northwest of Cass Lake; Buck, 4 miles southeast of Turtle River; Carr, 1 mile south of Bemidji; Gilstad, 4 miles south of Blackduck; Long, 4 miles southwest of Puposky; Medicine, 5 miles northwest of Tenstrike; Moose, 5 miles southwest of Solway; Movil, 5 miles west of Turtle River; Rabideau, 7 miles south of Blackduck; and, Whitefish at Pinewood.

Only Carr Lake isn't on the SWCD Clean Water Legacy Act monitoring list.

The program is also seeking volunteers for a number of lakes in Cass, Clearwater and Hubbard counties

For information on becoming an MPCA CLMP volunteer, people can call the MPCA at (651) 296-6300 or toll-free at 1-800-657-3864, or check the Web at www.pca.state.mn.us/water/clmp.html .

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