George Sparks, Bob Coe, Tim Gossman, the Rev. Debra Collum and Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District coordinator Donna Rasmussen survey maps of the Root River watershed during a workshop held last Tuesday evening at the Chatfield Public Library.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
George Sparks, Bob Coe, Tim Gossman, the Rev. Debra Collum and Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District coordinator Donna Rasmussen survey maps of the Root River watershed during a workshop held last Tuesday evening at the Chatfield Public Library. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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"There are 3,670 miles of streams in Minnesota, including the Root River," said Shaina Keseley of the Rochester office of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

Keseley spoke to a small gathering of people participating in the first of the Fillmore County Soil and Water Conservation District's (SWCD) watershed workshops, held last Tuesday evening at the Chatfield Public Library. The workshops are being held throughout southeastern Minnesota to gather information on the approach the SWCD and the MPCA are taking to protect Minnesota's waterway and watersheds.

Keseley also said, "We're in the process of studying each and every one of Minnesota's major watersheds - there are 81 in the state, and they average 450,000 acres each. We started in 2007, and by 2017, we hope to have every single watershed studied. Before, it was piecemeal and wasn't in context of the watershed and the waters around that watershed, and it's more efficient to do an entire watershed to create a common framework across the state."

She related that during the five-year study of the Root River watershed, over 100 sites were examined and supplied information useful to agencies such as the MPCA, soil and water conservation districts and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture in determining whether the waters are fishable and healthy. The study also helped determine what the pollutants hindering stream health were - including nutrients, sediment and bacteria.

The result of the study is the Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy (WRAPS), the model the workshop participants studied in order to give feedback.

The first question posed to the workshop attendees by Keseley and Fillmore SWCD coordinator Donna Rasmussen was "How do you think this approach benefits the future of the watershed?"

Groups of three to five participants offered answers, including that the approach has a "measurable goal easily understood by lay people" and that it "gets information to the general public and shows that they can work with agencies."

Participants also felt the model used available funds and allowed everyday residents of a specific watershed's area to consider how they might change their own and others' behavior to positively influence the future of the watershed.

The second question involved what citizens can do as a "watershed community" to "protect and restore water quality."

One participant pointed out that since Chatfield is on the edge of the Root River's route through southeastern Minnesota, many people might not consider it as having an economic impact on the town, or "it's as if it doesn't exist." Therefore, educating everyone - from preschoolers to retirees - could be important, according to the participants.

Some suggested that levying watershed taxes might offer a way to provide funding to the SWCD for projects such as repairing leaking septic systems.

Others proposed updating community websites to inform residents and visitors of the condition of local waterways and whether they're clear and fishable.

The third question was "What can I do to protect the watershed?"

One attendee noted that area residents might take for granted that they live in a unique region, so reminding them of the fragility of the region's watershed might be helpful.

Another suggestion was to continue to hold field days to educate farmers on the benefits of cover crops and no-till farming. Another suggested building a network of vigilant people who are committed to keeping waterways clean and to broadcast the importance of doing so. Volunteering one's own time to "help others appreciate the outdoors" was also mentioned.

The fourth question was "Who can you invite into this discussion?"

The participants identified that farmers and landowners, eco-tourists, people renting land out to farmers should all have the power to decide how their land is farmed. The individuals also encouraged area businesses that have a stake in water protection, fishermen, hunters, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts and especially parents of young children to take on a more active role in the conservation efforts.

Rasmussen explained to the gathered contributors that the information they submitted will assist the SWCD and the MPCA in continuing watershed preservation and conservation efforts as well as lending a hand to the county in "guiding funding requests."

Workshop moderator Tim Gossman encouraged "anyone who's interested in continuing their involvement" to become a local contact for watershed studies or to monitor precipitation and streams.