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Organizing basin boards for better water management

ST. PAUL -- Some Minnesota lawmakers think the state could better deal with flooding and other water quality issues by organizing basin boards that would allow multiple communities to work together on management plans.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, wants to give basins the same authority watersheds groups have had for several decades to deal with water-related problems.

"If we're going to ever solve the flooding problems, the water quality problems, the water supply problems, we have to address all of those problems from a watershed and a basin perspective," Lanning said.

Minnesota has eight major basins and more than 80 watersheds statewide. The watershed districts are allowed to organize, though only about one-third have.

Basin districts cannot organize. There is a statewide basin organization with one commissioner from each Minnesota county but "they have no means to deal with any problems other than talk about them," Lanning said.

Lanning helped start the Red River Basin Commission in the late 1970s, but that group doesn't have the authority he envisions.

His bill wouldn't mandate organizing but would create incentives for doing so. One, Lanning said, would be eligibility to apply for clean water legacy funds. Basin boards would also be allowed to levy a tax on property within the basin as long as a majority of its members are elected officials.

Proceeds would be used for water management projects within basin districts, said Lanning.

John Jaschke, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, said there is merit to the idea of organizing multiple local governments to work together on water issues.

The challenge, he said, is getting local communities to understand and buy in to working together to manage water issues. Those communities are working hard now individually to solve such problems. They need to understand the benefits of working with communities upstream and downstream from them to make the plan work, Jaschke said.

"I think that is one of the things we're going to have to spend some more time on," Jaschke said. "The concept is pretty well developed, it's a matter of a few of the details."

Sen. John Doll, DFL-Burnsville, has introduced a companion bill in the Senate.