Podcast Episode 15

A Look at Watershed Districts – Balancing Water Quality & Water Quantity

With Guest:
  • Margaret Johnson of the Middle Fork Crow River Watershed District

Jamie is joined by Margaret Johnson, Administrator of the Middle Fork Crow River Watershed District (MFCRW). She shares insight into how watersheds work and their focus on water quantity and water quality.

Episode 15 | 51:05 min

Guest Bio

Margaret is the administrator for the Middle Fork Crow River watershed.

Jamie: 

This is the water table.

Kent: 

A chance to hear the agricultural side of these issues

Jamie: 

A place for people to go find information and education.

Matt Helmers: 

Water management is just going to become even more critical into the future.

Jamie: 

How misunderstood what we do is.

Kent: 

I would encourage people to open their minds and listen to this dialogue.

Jamie: 

Welcome to the water table podcasts. Today, I am here with Margaret Johnson. Margaret is the administrator for the Middle Fork Crow River watershed, which is a local watershed here in northern Kandiyohi county and a little bit of Meeker County I think is where and she’ll tell you more about that. But what I wanted to do today was just talk about watersheds. What is a watershed? You know, what’s happening in Minnesota and that whole world, and just to have a conversation to help our listeners understand. In my life, watersheds have become much more prevalent around, they’ve always been there, but as far as the managing of them. And so I’m sure listeners have a lot of the same questions I had over time. So welcome, Margaret.

Margaret Johnson: 

Thanks for having me.

Jamie: 

Yeah. So let’s just have a conversation today. Now maybe to start with real basic for those that are wondering what is a watershed?

Margaret Johnson: 

Really good question. So a watershed is a geographic boundary based on the hydrology of an area and where all that water goes from any river, stream, lake, precipitation event to one main pour point and everywhere in the world, wherever you are, you are in a watershed. In Minnesota, they’re 81 major watersheds, and they’re actually identified by a hydrologic unit code. So you would have the upper Mississippi everything that drains from the Mississippi actually outlets into the Gulf of Mexico, that is a watershed. And then we have it all the way down to something quite smaller, like the Middle Fork Crow River watershed, which is about 275 square miles, and covers about four counties in this area.

Jamie: 

So, you mentioned 81 major watersheds in the state of Minnesota, how many of those have a watershed district?

Margaret Johnson: 

Yep, so a watershed district is established through a statute 103 D, and that establishment comes through citizen petition. There’s 81 major watersheds in Minnesota, but only 45 of them have an established watershed district where there’s an established board. And they have statutory obligations that they need to fulfill through Minnesota statute. They also have the ability to do things like creating rules, and having taxing authority and eminent domain authority and it gives watershed districts and their boards very unique abilities to complete projects and programs that might not happen in other places of the state where there isn’t an established watershed district. Other places of the state where there isn’t an established watershed district, there’s still work being completed by your local Soil and Water Conservation District Office. And that happened, that statute I think, was around the 1930s, where watershed district statute was established around the 1950s.

Jamie: 

When you say you have a board, how does that work? How does the board formed?

Margaret Johnson: 

Really good question. So watershed districts are actually established using a citizen petition and the Board of water and soil resources, which is a state board.

Jamie: 

Better known as BWSR, right?

Margaret Johnson: 

Better known as BWSR, yep, kind of a funny name. So BWSR actually helps establish the hydrologic boundary. And they determine how many board managers either five, seven or nine has to be an odd number.

Jamie: 

Is that kind of due to the size?

Margaret Johnson: 

Due to the size, exactly. And then those managers are appointed by county commissioners. So unlike other local offices, like your township officials, your city officials, your county commissioners, watershed districts actually are not watershed District Board managers are actually not elected officials. They’re appointed officials. And the reason behind that in the intention back in 1950, was to take the politics out of it. They wanted to be able to appoint folks who could maybe make sometimes quite unpopular decisions regarding the resource, which is the watershed district, without having it be an elected thing. And so board managers are not elected, but they still have to go to their county commissioners and ask for appointment. Their three year terms some county commissioners set limits to the amount somebody can run. Other counties have had the same watershed district Manager for 40 years. So it just really depends on the area and it often depends on the watershed districts establishment goals. So everyone kind of has each individual watershed district has a unique charter, the local watershed district around here, the Middle Fork, was established for the protection and preservation of water quality. And some watershed districts are established to merely complete items with the authority of drainage, which is statute 103 II.

Jamie: 

In that answer, you kind of mentioned that counties can do things a little different by the county. I think it was more how you’re saying that was around the administrator, but did all counties are all watersheds in the state of Minnesota have a timeframe for the board members, or does that depend on does the watershed each watershed have some ability to make their own decisions on that?

Margaret Johnson: 

No, like the individual boards don’t decide the term limits. The statute sets the three year term limit, but counties can determine if it’s three, three year term limits. So Stearns County, which we have we have some of our area cover Stearns County. Stearns County only allows board managers to be appointed three have three consecutive terms. So anyone from Stearns County serving on the Middle Fork River Watershed district board would only be able to serve for nine years, sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes you have a really good person who’s serving as a board manager and then you lose that.

Jamie: 

And they would like to stay there hard to find all those things. So do you have to if you want to be a board member on a watershed, and let’s just use that as an example of Stearns County, not all of Stearns County is a big county of St. Cloud in it, but you also have Belgrade, for instance, way over in Belgrade is in the Middle Fork Crow River watershed. But St. Cloud is not. Can somebody that resides in St. Cloud serve on your board or do you have to reside in the watershed?

Margaret Johnson: 

Yep, similar to any type of elected official, you actually have to be a resident of the I think they call it a domiciles. So even people who own property outside of the watershed district but don’t add fact reside inside the watershed district. You’re not allowed to be on the board. So you have to reside within the watershed district and then within that county area, and that that’s just like any other elected official, you have to be a resident.

Jamie: 

Sure. So typically, and you know, I don’t know if you want to answer this from the standpoint of the Middle Fork, or if you want to answer this in just more general terms. But what are the goals of a watershed typically?

Margaret Johnson: 

That’s what makes watershed districts very unique. Each watershed district is established for a unique goal. Unlike soil and water conservation district offices, which all have the same goal of soil and water conservation, watershed districts can be petitioned, and when they are petitioned, they actually have their charter set up. Their mission statement and objectives are determined oftentimes, when they have an initial petition made. And the goals of most watershed districts, I would, I would say, probably all watershed districts are quantity and quality. Depending on where you are in the state. Oftentimes, Greater Minnesota outside of the Red River Valley is a quality so people are focused on water quality improvements. When you do have water bodies that are impaired, that’s your focus. Within the Red River Valley basin, it is more of a quantity issue. Because it’s so flat waters running north, it’s still frozen, you’re dealing a lot more with flood issues and flood mitigation. Those watershed districts up there established for water quantity, which means they’re dealing a lot more with flood mitigation projects that are dealing with flood mitigation, I’m not saying that they don’t care about water quality. In fact, there are often projects that you can complete that deal with both. But it’s more often than not in the valley, a water quantity issue. In the metro. It’s different. They have the surface water quality act, I think that was around the 80s and 90s, where it’s more of a quantity issue or I mean a quality issue. So the cities, the metro area, watershed districts around there are established for a quality issue because most of the metro uses the Mississippi for drinking water source. And so it tends to be a quality issue, not necessarily a quantity issue. We’re always kind of dealing with quantity issues with spring melt runoff, major rain events, warmer, wetter summers, and that’s all in the back of our mind. But in Greater Minnesota outside of the valley, it’s definitely a quality issue that they’re established for. So the two main reasons Why watershed districts are established are for water quality and water quantity.

Jamie: 

So board members at at a watershed have, that was a good answer and how you answered that, they have a lot of clarity coming in. And you know what they’re what they’re supposed to do around, you know, hey, this is a we’re looking at how we improve the quality of the water in the watershed or potentially quantity but quality in most of Minnesota. And so what other roles I mean that’s a role that a board member would play. What other roles does the does the board play or how do they interact with US as the director?

Margaret Johnson: 

So board managers, their overall focus is really to set policy and staff creates the procedure to implement that policy locally. If watershed district boards feel inclined to set rules, which are similar to county and city ordinances, watershed districts have the ability to do that. Board managers also direct what is called a comprehensive Watershed Management Plan, which is a 10 year plan document that the board is a part of the planning efforts and really designing a 10 year comprehensive goal with assurance measures and the work that needs to be completed over the 10 years, it’s very similar to a municipality creating a tenure roadway plan or Economic Development Commission a 30 year economic plan. Board managers really do they meet monthly or sometimes two times a month to you know set those policies and really direct that comprehensive management plan. And as staff, we take that plan, and we set the procedures and facilitate the projects and programs. So overall, I think their overall objective is really creating the policy and that policy, because water can be so complicated, really requires to have a board manager be highly educated. And there is opportunities for board managers to be trained to be able to make the appropriate, sometimes somewhat unpopular policy decision that does affect a lot of local residents either through their property tax statements through their ad valorem taxes. And sometimes, depending on if you’re a developer or you live in the area, it’s it sometimes might affect you as well. So that’s what boards do. Staff are really there to help them but to implement that policy, and I would consider that to be more of a procedure thing. I mean, it’s really just the day to day procedures that the board has set, which is the policy at the

Jamie: 

Sure. And, you know, as you say that it’s it’s really, end of the day. there’s so many things in nowadays that get complicated. And in what you’re talking about right now is complicated also, because it’s complex. I mean, there’s there is there isn’t one solution to a water quality problem, or a water quantity problem from that standpoint. And as we, as time goes on, and there’s more urban sprawl, there’s more development, farmland development, more, you know, any type of change to the landscape, it creates more challenges or dynamics, whatever word you want to use, maybe both for a watershed. And you as an administrator, would like to have, for lack of a better word, you’d like to have smart people on your board. But smart people doesn’t necessarily mean and you know, booksmart it means people that understand what’s happening on the landscape, how water moves, how you keep water clean, or how you improve the quality of water. Do you find yourself or do you find challenges within your the world that you’re in on that you spend more time than ma be you would like educating yo r board? Or is there re ources where you send your bo rd to do they go to any tr ining? Do they have to comple e any training or anythi g like that in order to do the best they can do as a board ember in a watershed?

Margaret Johnson: 

I think even on your point, I’ll answer that. I just I kind of want to make a point about you had mentioned the changing landscape of today. I would also add that the things that were completed back in, you know, the channelization of a lot of rivers to accommodate for drainage, you know, happened in the late 1800s, early 1900s. And now, some of those systems haven’t really been touched in over a century. And we’re seeing some of that, you know, become an issue because to not maintain something for 100 years you’re eventually going to run into the need for maintenance and the need for that drainage. And obviously, Minnesota has such a huge and economic driver is, is Ag and needing to be able to maintain the drainage for Ag to continue to produce, but then also to be able to protect the water and water quality and quantity is definitely a dance. And so that tends to be really important. And board managers need to be pragmatic, and educated. They do have training opportunities, four times a year, that the State Association of watershed districts put on for them, that they can attend, that helps educate them about water quantity, water quality, some of these multi use systems. So like a public river system, which is also a public drainage system, and is used for agricultural drainage, and just how these systems need to be managed as both. And of course, it always tends to run into one side or the other. But I think a manager really needs to understand that there is a need for having nice resources, quality wise, but also needing to accommodate for the egg purposes and having that economy around here in Greater Minnesota for sure.

Jamie: 

As we move a little bit here. You know, we talked about all these things you’re doing and your board and and we’re gonna and I want to get some specifics on maybe some of the projects. But before we go there, the next question is going to be so I’ll ask first what’s, how does the funding work for a watershed? So you have, is there five employees? That like that are staff employees are in on a year round basis, or how many employees they have?

Margaret Johnson: 

So every rural watershed district, so I’m taking the metro because they have a different statute out the statute that is run in the metro is 103 B, and they are limited in their taxing capacity to the taxable market value. Greater Minnesota has a different statute, statute 103 D, which limits the ability for any watershed district to raise their levy their general levy to $250,000 a year up to and it is limited by your taxable market value. The taxable market value in the Middle Fork, I believe is around 1.4 $1.6 billion. And even though we would be able to raise more because our market value, our taxable market value is extremely high. It’s a very, it’s a very, very prosperous area. We are still capped at that $250,000. So if you live in a watershed district, you would see a assessment of an ad valorem to that watershed district and it is just it shows up on your regular property taxes. In addition to that watershed districts can be petitioned either by citizens or municipalities, so cities, counties, townships to complete other projects. They can also be petitioned by other groups were interested in doing quality, quality and quantity projects and they are assessed similar to you would assess a benefited drainage area. So the landowners who are benefiting from that particular water quality or quantity project would actually be placed on a tax roll to pay for that project. So that has happened in the area a few times. We’ve worked with municipalities we’ve worked with like associations to do those additional projects above and beyond the 250, which is our cap to build or or help run a water quality or quantity program using the using the benefited property owners on the tax roll to help pay for that. So the other funding sources that we do have available to us that we’re always constantly going after is state and federal grants and loans. And the state of Minnesota has a very rigorous grant program back in 2008. The Clean Water land and Legacy Amendment was actually approved by 56% of the voters in Minnesota. And that was really to create a three eights of 1% sales tax. So anytime you buy things that are taxed in the same state of Minnesota through a sales tax, so not food, clothing, but anything else is three eights of 1% goes into a big fund and that fund is called clean water land and legacy. Over the course of 20 years, it’ll be I think they’re estimating it to raise about $2 billion. That money goes into a big bucket and is basically cut up by the state agencies. So Board of water and soil resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Natural Resources. From there, it’s cut further down and locals are able to access grants through those types of programs. You also hear about the Lazard Sam’s outdoor heritage Council, which gets a slice of that pie. So anytime you’re out purchasing things, you’re eating dinner at a restaurant with your family, the three eights of 1% goes into that bucket and, and is used for clean water, habitat and parks and trails. And it’s a really great thing. So that comes do I think in 2034, and the voters would have been have another opportunity to vote yes, or vote no.

Jamie: 

So it’s interesting that, that you mentioned that three eighths of 1%, as I was preparing for this podcast, I kind of forgot about that. And, you know, that is something that it’s, I think that was 2008, when the voters voted that so we’re almost halfway through that, you know, that and then you just said in 3030, or 2034, we will, we’ll have to have a vote again at the state level, or whenever that as it was a 20 or 25 year tax, and then it needed it will end and it’ll have to be voted on again. And, that is a source of, I just want to mention it because I think our listeners will be interested, but a source of a lot of funding in the state of Minnesota, it’s only state of Minnesota but and Prinsco has worked on some of those projects with with agencies like BWSR and watersheds. One was that I can remember off the top of my head was the Olson Wetland which was north of Prinsburg, south of Willmar here, and the what they did there as they used to Prinsco pipe to literally, which is not what you would think they drained the wetland down and allowed to get all the rough fish out of the wetland and emptied the wetland and allowed it to grow back to more of what its native purpose was back in the earlier years. And now they use that product to drain it down periodically when they need to do that. But so it’s reestablishing wetlands at their intended purpose is one of the uses for that money. And we’ve been involved in some of that both with selling some product and donating. So it’s been exciting to do that and it’s fun that you mentioned that because I had forgotten about that.

Margaret Johnson: 

Did you guys sell pipe to the Hover Shelf feeding project?

Jamie: 

I am not sure. Where’s that one?

Margaret Johnson: 

Um, just east of diamond like

Jamie: 

We did. We did, yep.

Margaret Johnson: 

Okay. Because we also that was a clean water land and Legacy Amendment project that we were involved in, and it was for shallow lake basins that are drawn down. And that’s really, like you said, you’re resetting the ecological clock, to carrying the taking care of the invasive rough fish population, allowing those to refill with, you know, cleaner water, and there’s 200 year old seed beds, they’re just waiting for an opportunity to grow. And so it’s really just kind of like wildfire, you know, allows for that ecological reset of a prairie. That’s what a draw down to a wetland basin would would

Jamie: 

And that in that right there, what you’re saying is do. what I mentioned, is part of the challenge with, you know, we only have so many people that live in these watersheds, and then you have to have people that are interested and then you have to have people that understand. And so each time you eliminate a whole bunch of people because it’s a complicated issue, even the one I wouldn’t have thought we would be talking about today about rough fish, but they’re an issue within watersheds and creating these shallow lake basins and making them as good as they can be if they have rough fish in them. It’s a challenge.

Margaret Johnson: 

Yeah, yeah, rough fish. You know, the biggest problem with rough fish, especially carp is their bottom feeders. They’ll just ingest everything on the bottom, even the mock and they’ll take into their bodies, the nutrients that they choose, and then they excrete any of the mud and sediment that they don’t. And so that’s really what stirring up that sediment on the bottom creating these extremely eutrophic ecosystems and nothing else is allowed to grow because it’s so muddy, it’s so dirty, and the water column is just full of that sediment that’s being stirred up by that rough fish population. So carp in the United States are invasive and they are not a good thing to have around because they’re really using the nutrients that are needed for the macro and micro invertebrates that are, you know, that kind of feed the rest of the food chain up to the walleyes and northerns that we would prefer to have around.

Jamie: 

Sure. And then you get years like we’ve had many of the years over the last 30, where we’ve had significant rainfalls, and then we have, we have wetlands that have more water in them than they traditionally do. And those rough fish can, they don’t have any freeze outs because there’s more water in the wetland. So they have less results than what we’ve had traditionally, over the years where nature kind of takes care of itself isn’t happening as much. So it’s, it’s a challenge. And I just bring it up, because there are a lot of things for somebody that wants to serve on a watershed that they’ll either have to learn or that they may already know, but so we’re thankful for those that are that are willing to serve. And because it is something that we all benefit from that live in those watersheds. You mentioned earlier BSWR and and DNR, I think you’re talking about DNR, in regards to the three eighths of 1%. And I’m just kind of curious, those two for sure. You mentioned ready but what other agencies would you as a watershed administrator interact with and partner with on

Margaret Johnson: 

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, I different levels? would consider to be our biggest partner when it comes to monitoring. And it’s hard to prove whether things are getting better or worse unless you have data. That data we collect in partnership with them in a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to help identify which areas need the most assistance either through a restoration project, or which areas are the most pristine and through a protection project. So there’s kind of two types of of lakes in Minnesota and of all of the lakes in Minnesota that have been monitored, 40% are impaired for something. When I say impaired, I mean the Minnesota Legislature, along with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has set water quality standards by Eco region. So when I say eco region, I mean, the state has been split up between I think three areas, you have the wilderness of the arrowhead area, you have the hardwood, kind of corn belt plains where we are and then you have Southwest Minnesota, which is a little bit more Ag dominated. And the standards that are set depending on which area you are in, that’s where the water quality is determined to be drinkable, fishable, swimmable, and those standards are set. And then through the monitoring programs that we do at the Middle Fork Crow River Watershed district, we are able to determine, like I said earlier, which areas need more protection, in which areas need to be restored. Protection tends to be a little easier, because if you have a really, really great water body, or really, really great resource, it meets the standards, it’s so much easier to protect them than it is to restore a lake that has been maybe ill or sick for decades, if not centuries. So the standards are really important when it comes to funding too, so when we work with the MPCA. And in their name, they deal a lot with pollution and of that pollution, it’s nonpoint source. So they deal with the total phosphorus of basins they deal with the chlorophyll A of basins. That’s something that we do as a staff as we collect that data and we provide that and prepare that to the MPCA the board of water and soil resources. Their main goal really is to help provide funding to private landowners to do conservation practices on their private land. They’ve been moving a little bit more towards a prioritize and target method. You know, they really, they really focus on getting funding to local soil and water conservation district offices to help private landowners do things like terraces on their fields or wetland, wetland storage or sediment control basins to help with major erosion or grass waterways. That’s the kind of funding that BWSR can provide. The DNR they have less they have several branches. The branches that we work with the most would be the Eco waters and eco waters, with the DNR is, you know, they are the authority of their public dams, and their Public basins and, you know, they there are really a partner when it comes to some of the projects that we want to do that deal with, you know, helping to understand the manipulation of manmade structures and dams that were placed in the area. And I think there’s over 4,000 manmade structures, our dams on public waters in the state, and I think 2,000 are owned by the DNR. We deal a lot with with the DNR when it comes to doing projects in and around public public waters. So whether that project is on a public basin, river stream wetland, that’s where we would be involved with them.

Jamie: 

Sure. So in some of that, and a little bit of what I know, you know, I know you mentioned, and I mentioned some of these large projects that have received funds from the three eighths of 1%. You guys are involved in that working on that. And then you mentioned, you know, through some funding with BSWR, you work with individual landowners. What’s kind of the mix of that and in a day in the life of a watershed employee? How much are you working on, like state funded projects or large projects compared to a land owner a homeowner calling saying, Hey, I live in the watershed, I want to improve my water quality on my farm or on my beach, if I live on a lake, that kind of thing. what’s what’s the mix of that?

Margaret Johnson: 

You know, the conservation practices that are completed on the smaller scale that are a lot more private landowner based, oftentimes would fit more with the Soil and Water Conservation District Office. In the past the Middle Fork River Watershed district has been involved. But we’ve really just kind of grown and evolved into because we have the capacity and the unique ability to create some of these bigger capital improvement projects. We’ve been doing a lot more of that. And oftentimes, when you have a local Soil and Water Conservation District Office, and those offices are being provided state cost share dollars to help the private landowner. Oftentimes, that’s where we would direct a private landowner, the average day of a staff person at the Middle Fork is it could be dealing with processing alone, we do 0% interest loans for septics all the way to a capital improvement project with Meeker County, and we’re talking about an $800,000 Capital Improvement Project that’ll take five years to plan and implement. So it really runs the gamut depending on really the needs of the community, and what that going back to what that 10 year comprehensive plan, you know, dictates as what our priorities are. So that really is just kind of provides you the overall scope, but the day to day can be very different depending on. And it depends on the season, too. You know, summers are really busy with getting our monitoring programs up and running and there’s always big projects to work on. The smaller projects, if you have an individual landowner, looking for conservation tillage, that’s stuff that we can do. And, you know, we work very closely with the city offices to make sure that people are those private landowners are getting the resources that they need to complete their conservation. I think the really cool thing lately as there’s been a ton of incentive money, for things like no till, or for things like a second crop of cover crops, and if people are interested in trying those out, you know, that’s something that you can definitely come to the Middle Fork office, or certainly go to your local Soil and Water Conservation District Office, because that’s been a big push and a big driver of the funding locally.

Jamie: 

Yeah, and I think it will continue to be. We’ve talked quite a bit on the Water Table already about cover crops and about knotel and some of the carbon benefits of that. And, you know, we’ll definitely continue to bring our listeners that type of content and from some, so me real experts that have done a lot of studies on that. So that’s exciting. And then not only is it working, and we have studies proven but there’s funding for that for land owners. You know, everyone, I think it’s part of why we started the water to what everyone’s talking about water quality these days. And you know, you’ve been the administrator of of middle fork watershed now for eight years. Tell us about it. You know, I haven’t asked you that or talk to you about this. So I don’t know what your thoughts are, but I’m guessing that people’s attitudes even in eight years have changed about water quality. And I don’t know if that they’ve changed in a positive way or negative way. But how have you seen just the general public change over an eight year career in regards to what you do at the watershed, what the watershed does, and water quality in general?

Margaret Johnson: 

Conservation has definitely been a ongoing and will continue to be an ongoing paradigm shift and just people’s attitudes. I mean, when I was a kid, my parents didn’t recycle. And now everybody recycles. And you have so much more opportunity. And that took, you know, 25 years, I think water quality, and its value, is very intrinsic, you can’t really put $1 amount on it. Unlike when you’re driving down a really bumpy road, you know that that road fix is going to cost $100,000. And they just caught me to come and do a mill and overlay. And then you have a nice road, again. With a lake or a stream or a wetland, depending on who you are, if you look at it, could some people might not be able to tell whether it’s impaired or not, or what the data is showing us. And to some people, some lakes look really awesome. And to others, they don’t or to our office, we’re gauging that chemistry data and we’re able to tell you exactly the health of that basin, depending on what the chemistry is telling us. But I think, yeah, overall, you know, the district was established in 2005, I’ve been there for almost 10 years, it’s been, I think people have grown into appreciating more of our work, because it’s so much more out there. And I think every time you see that clean water land and legacy sign, I know you all see the logos, it’s very common. I think people are just kind of coming around, really, if they didn’t know about it before to having a little bit, you know, more of a taste of it. And the big thing really tends to be about education, and just how easy it is to the little things, I guess that we could all do, like shutting the water off while we brush our teeth, you know, so things like that, where it’s simple Conservation Act, versus somebody reestablishing a wetland and it costs $100,000. You know, there’s definitely been, I think growing demand for water quality and quantity issues. And I can feel that, you know, even with the pressure that we’re getting from the state, the expectations of commitment level that locals need to have are growing. And our limit, our limiting factor always kind of comes down to funding, I think, over the course of a year, we have to tell people, no, we can’t help them. Because we don’t have the funding available. We’re always able to help with technical assistance, you know, give us your idea. And we can work with you on what we think might be helpful to water quality and quantity issues. But oftentimes, we’re really just running into that issue of not having enough of funding available for people to meet the demand of people’s needs. Where 10 years ago, we just really weren’t running into that issue. And so I think it’s grown into the positive. You do have every once in a while, people who don’t care to see projects. But I think it’s overall because they just don’t understand the value of them. And oftentimes, I tell those people, you know, we spent a century abusing these systems and really not providing them, you know, the care and maintenance that they need and now we have to come in and spend a lot of time, energy and resources. And that can be unfortunate, but a lot of these basins really do need it. But we shouldn’t have been allowed to abuse them for so long, anyways. Some of the resources that are pristine and remain pristine, we really need to be focusing on protection, because the second something flips from very pristine to very, very icky and impaired, it takes away more money, energy and resources to try to fix them once they’re in that bad of a shape versus just spending the money to protect them. And so making that commitment as an administrator and the Board of managers to the citizens and the taxpaying residents of the district is definitely the goal, just making sure that those resources remain protected. And the ones that need help prioritize the help based on the amount of funding we have available to to do the fixes.

Jamie: 

You know, it’s always such a challenge, I think in Minnesota, more probably than other places when I go around the country around the natural resources in the water is a real right of people in Minnesota. We love our lakes, and we all want to protect them. But at the same time, we want to allow for access to them. Because the lakes are seen as something that everybody has the same right to if you’re a Minnesotan, if you come to Minnesota. And so, I’m probably I don’t even know if I have a question here. But what I want to say is that I have seen and I served on the property owners Association at Green Lake which I worked with you Margaret there on some things, but some of the frustrations that I had and we had at the time was invasive species and the fact that early on in you just said it, it’s really much easier to protect, then once a whole bunch of bodies of water are impaired with invasive species. Now, how do you stop it from there? And so that challenge in that balancing act around protecting which also might be limiting, in some will depending on how you look at it, but limiting access or limiting use, but protects the long from the long haul on those resources from you know, and water and lakes, we’re seeing zebra mussels and milfoil and the stony store and stary stonewarts there. I’m glad you said it for me, but so just there all those challenges that you guys face and and just really appreciate you guys as a watershed and as watershed administrator, understanding learning and really working with the community, I can say, from a personal standpoint, you in the Middle Fork have been really good stewards, and also a good neighbors to work with and not adversaries, but try to find ways to work together. So thank you for that.

Margaret Johnson: 

Yeah, awesome, that tends to be an issue, right? Because if you don’t live on the resource, you know, you are allowed to access it. But there are still standards that you have to meet. You can’t be dumping your gasoline from your boat into the lake, you know, so there are still standards, but I think the AIS issue is one that has been one of the bigger challenges for the state of Minnesota. And we all know that invasives tend to pave something of they tend to have a legacy and they’re extremely difficult to eradicate, whether they’re terrestrial or aquatic.

Jamie: 

well, you said it earlier to around you know it, what’s one of the challenges is, you look at an impaired water and I might think something different than you do, I might not be able to see it, you might be able to see it or you might not understand why it’s impaired. And the same thing is true and invasive this you know, there there are bass fishermen that that enjoy having more milfoil in a lake because it’s good for their for what they like to do or you know, a couple of weeks ago when we had our our fishing opener to me, I’m not a huge fisherman, but I always enjoyed years ago, the buzz that was around our area when the fishing opener happened and the people that would go out on the lake at midnight in and then all the people you’d see on Saturday morning or the fishing opener on the lake and there, there just isn’t that many on Green Lake right now. And that isn’t necessarily a direct correlation or won’t necessarily be a long term issue. But the lake has changed due to zebra mussels, it’s changed the, the dynamics of the ecological system of the lake is definitely cleaner. It’s might not be cleaner, it’s clearer. And some people like that, you know, they like to be able to if they’re just boating and recreating and walleye fishermen don’t like that. So it’s all a little bit in the eye of the beholder on that which makes your job or challenge

Margaret Johnson: 

it is and it isn’t because I think that if you were to really. get into the ecology of AIS the aquatic invasive species that have you know, moved into Minnesota waterways is not a good thing, because, you know, zebra mussels sorry stonewart, the common carp, not in not in one ecosystem have they been in overall positive. Have they made an overall positive impact to that ecosystem? But I’m not the AIS expert but I think if you were to find somebody they could tell you all day long. No AIS is good AIS.

Jamie: 

Yeah.

Margaret Johnson: 

At all.

Jamie: 

And and you know, when you say that I think back to my days on the property owners board and when we had literally had seven lakes that were infested with zebra mussels, and now I lost count when it was in the mid hundreds, you know? Yeah. And so it’s just frustrating. But there is opportunities for us to work with watersheds to help with quality and quantity issues. And so we should, we should celebrate that. We should be wrapping up here pretty quick. But a couple of questions I have, as you know, in your timeframe and your eight years what’s like, give our listeners something around, like, what’s the most satisfying or project or type of issue that you’ve worked on that you just feel was really exciting for you and why.

Margaret Johnson: 

I think the most satisfying project that I was able to be a part of, and the district was a huge partner on was the cell like drawdown project of Hubbard Charles Wheeler. There’s four major basins, they were providing 55% of the overall inflow to diamond Lake, but 45% of the total phosphorus, and Diamond lake tends to be an impaired, well it is an impaired water body, but tends to be a lot more green. And so we did an engineer study and started talking to the landowners and worked really closely with Ducks Unlimited, and the Department of Natural Resources wildlife division, and it’s been a really, really awesome project to be a part of. So overall, that’s been the most satisfying.

Jamie: 

Have you seen, I know, that hasn’t been that long. But is there any results from that?

Margaret Johnson: 

You know, it hasn’t been, I think, because of COVID, and I didn’t want to bring that up, but people were just having a hard time doing the monitoring that they needed to last year, which was really the first full year that we could actually go out there and see what type of vegetation was out there, see the type of fish population really gather the chemistry data just to prove that it’s going well. But stay tuned, hopefully, we have some data in the near future. But that project can and has a lifetime of 50 to 100 years and so, we’re able to, you know, help that do a little manmade manipulation to help kind of reset the ecological clock, when that system needs to be reset. That’s been really satisfying project to be a part of. Another one is, the city of New London has petitioned the Middle Fork to complete capital improvement projects. within the city boundaries, every time they do a street reconstruction project, which is just a no brainer, you have a hole in the ground, we add some funding and some ideas for engineering and projects and build those projects. So that’s been really satisfying too.

Jamie: 

Last question. And then I’m going to give you the last word after that. But, you know, I’ve been involved in some other watersheds and watersheds obviously, or like any even like a business where the leadership and whether it’s the board or the staff creates its own dynamic, its own culture. So there, there’s different levels of success in watersheds. And what what do you think, from your perspective, what makes a watershed district successful?

Margaret Johnson: 

I think the most important aspect of a watershed district is to have an educated and engaged board, who is able to make somewhat and sometimes unpopular policy decisions for the resource. And the resource being the water bodies within that watershed who can’t speak for themselves need a voice and the voice is the board. So I do find that the success of any watershed district is, is a strong board, willing to put the time and effort in to make sure that the policy decisions that are made are protecting and preserving those resources, whether they are popular or not, but they’re based on sound science. That is the you’re gonna have, you’re gonna have a very successful watershed district if that’s the case.

Jamie: 

Sure. So at the water table here, Margaret, first of all, thank you for for joining us today. It’s been a fun discussion, a little bit of a shift in some of the things we’ve been talking about lately, but I think very informative. So thanks for joining us. And what we do here is we have kind of the last piece is what we call the water table takeaway. And what would you like to leave our listeners with as our guest today here as the administrator of the Middle Fork Crow River watershed.

Margaret Johnson: 

It’s really important if people do live in a watershed district and even if you don’t just to truly and wholeheartedly educate yourself on the water resources around you and be a steward and a citizen who can be there, protecting and preserving that water resource in combination with the other local governmental units that do in the area.

Jamie: 

Great. Well, thank you so much for your time today and for serving in the capacity of administrator at the Middle Fork Crow River watershed. And for all you’ve done for for our area here in central Minnesota. Thank you.

Margaret Johnson: 

Thanks for having me.

Jamie: 

If you enjoy what you’re listening to, you can find us on your favorite podcast platform. You can find us on Twitter or Facebook. You can also find us at watertablepodcast.com. Thanks for listening!