Bonnie Haugen, Roy Cerling, John Gaddo, Loni Kemp and Theresa Coleman brainstorm ideas concerning information needed to motivate people to protect water quality in the Root River watershed. The open discussion with 25 in attendance was held at the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center.  PHOTO BY ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Bonnie Haugen, Roy Cerling, John Gaddo, Loni Kemp and Theresa Coleman brainstorm ideas concerning information needed to motivate people to protect water quality in the Root River watershed. The open discussion with 25 in attendance was held at the Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center. PHOTO BY ANTON ADAMEK/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Concerned citizens from Lanesboro and Fillmore County at-large met at Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center on April 6 to discuss current issues and solutions for the Root River Watershed. The discussion was organized by the Root River Citizens' Advisory Group and was supported by the Fillmore Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). It was the third such discussion held in Fillmore County with two others held prior in Chatfield and Rushford.

"Past discussion has shown that people feel there is a need for education and better understanding of the issues in the watershed," shared Donna Rasmussen of the SWCD and Root River Clean Water Initiative. Lanesboro meeting facilitators Wes Harding and Nancy North led the 25 attendees in the answering of four open-ended questions about the watershed, water quality, education and challenges.

Each person was given a fact sheet about the Root River Watershed, which covers just over 1.06 million acres across six southeast Minnesota counties. About 97 percent of the watershed is owned privately.

The fact sheet addressed the economic value and biological diversity of the watershed. It also pointed out three primary pollutants in the watershed: bacteria from human and animal sewage, turbidity issues, and unsafe nitrate levels from fertilizers.

North explained the issues are important and the watershed is big. "How can you start to work on it?" she asked rhetorically.

Rasmussen explained the landscape the watershed covers is very diverse and the way in which the land is used is diverse as well. "There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this," she explained. "To be effective, we need to implement strategies to address these issues."

She pointed out that pollution has evolved from being localized at "point-sources," which could be immediately treated, to pollution that now affects a much larger area and cannot be pinpointed. She explained further that the state and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency expects civic engagement in coming up with solutions.

"They are trying to lessen regulation and let the change be voluntary," Rasmussen stated. There is no formal watershed organization for the Root River. Other meetings took place or will take place in Preston on April 8, Houston and Spring Valley.

The attendees of the Lanesboro meeting brainstormed answers to questions by interviewing each other, writing down their responses, and reporting back to the group at-large. Through the various discussions, it was determined that many citizens living in and owning property within the watershed do not make many connections between the quality of the water and their land use practices. It was suggested that there seemed to be a significant disconnect between the actual quality of the water and people's perception of the quality of the water.

Another question addressed the actions needed to improve the quality of the Root River Watershed. Public education and delineation of objective and factual information was stressed.

"Knowledge is power," shared one attendee. "Most people make the right choice when they have the information."

Providing information on land use practices such as utilizing buffer strips and perennial cropping was also suggested. The main problem with current information sharing, as determined by the group, was its ineffectiveness in reaching all people.

"There are people who feel they aren't aware of the issues they are causing and they are also unaware of solutions to those problems," shared Andy Heimdahl from Lanesboro. The question, he said, was what steps people could take to find the solutions.

It was suggested that real time pollution reporting strategies be implemented in area streams and rivers. The example of the Smokey the Bear fire alert signs in northern Minnesota was cited. Providing examples of what works and what doesn't work in regards to land-use was also suggested.

Increasing accountability for landowners through incentives was also discussed. Both positive and negative incentives were brought up.

"People have to feel that they have a reason to go through with new practices," shared Rita LeDuc, who spoke for her brainstorming team. The use of more positive than negative incentives was recommended to be more effective in motivating people to improve their land use practices that affect the watershed.

In answering a question concerning challenges to accountability, one group pointed out that people are motivated to pollute by outside economic reasons. "It's easy to keep doing the status quo because of the current incentives," Heimdahl shared adding. "Not as many people are interested in doing something different."

Consequences such as the increased cost of food were cited as one such influencing factor.

Cultural differences and laziness toward making efforts to change were discussed. Having a tough discussion with neighbors who are harming the watershed is tough, one group said when talking about social barriers to fixing problems.

The effect of the tourism industry was also mentioned. One comment suggested that some tourists do not think about the watershed's value to the area when they visit, which could be reversed through providing information.

The ideas and discussion topics were recorded in comments generated by the participants. All comments and ideas are being gathered from the various watershed meetings and received by the SWCD and the University of Minnesota Extension. The final results of the discussions will be posted on the Fillmore SWCD website. The ideas will go toward the formulation of a 10-year strategic plan for the watershed.

Support for these meetings comes from the Meadowlark Institute, in Commons, the Bush Foundation, and the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. For more information, contact Rasmussen at (507) 765-3878, ext.3