By Tom Hintgen
Otter Tail County Correspondent
Otter Tail County and area counties have in place the philosophy of “One Watershed, One Plan.”
This plan is intended to utilize the existing structures of county government, soil and water conservation districts and watershed districts while increasing collaboration across county lines.
The challenge comes from the fact that four major watersheds and four minor watersheds are situated in Otter Tail County, a county that’s larger than the state of Rhode Island.
A watershed is an area of land that drains all the streams and rainfall to a common outlet such as the outflow of a reservoir or any point along a stream channel. The word watershed is sometimes used interchangeably with drainage basin or catchment.
“We’re fortunate that we have expertise from Brad Mergens and Darren Newville,” said County Commissioner Wayne Johnson of Pelican Rapids.
Mergens is manager for the West Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) office based in Fergus Falls. Newville is manager for the East Otter Tail SWCD office based in Perham.
Mergens and Newville were previously named Outstanding SWCD District Employees of the Year by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR).
Common goals addressed
The goal of the county board, Mergens, Newville, BWSR and area counties is to prevent erosion, ensure continued soil productivity, protect water quality, reduce damages caused by floods, preserve wildlife and protect public lands.
County Commissioner and 2021 Board Chairman Lee Rogness spearheaded development of an action plan while dealing with the eight watersheds in Otter Tail County.
“It’s one thing to be educated about watersheds, but it’s another thing to know what we should be looking for,” said Rogness of Fergus Falls.
The Pomme de Terre watershed in southern Otter Tail County is among the four major watersheds. The Pomme de Terre River begins in Otter Tail County, bordered by wooded hills and grassy meadows.
But as the river heads southward into other counties as part of the Pomme de Terre watershed, the river is bordered by eroding banks before discharging into the Minnesota River.
This is an example of challenges that face area counties when it comes to watersheds.
Two guiding principles of “One Watershed, One Plan” include 1) a broad range of stakeholders to ensure an integrated approach to watershed management and 2) formal agreements among participating local governments on how to manage and operate watersheds.
Stakeholders, in addition to county government, can include lake associations, farm organizations, citizen-based environmental groups, and other entities.