Penny for your thoughts?

There were lots of people at the Otter Tail River One Watershed One Plan open house Monday, Sept. 20, and on the way in, they all got three pennies to vote on four general priorities for water projects. They could drop all three in one jar or spread them out over three jars.

By eyeballing the pennies dropped into jars at the community room of the Detroit Lakes Police Department, planners could get a look at what people at the meeting consider the most pressing Otter Tail River basin water issues: They could choose among habitat continuity; groundwater quality and quantity; agricultural land management; or lake and stream water quality.

A lot of people showed up early for a two-hour open house Monday in Detroit Lakes on the new 1W1P Otter Tail River Watershed District. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)
A lot of people showed up early for a two-hour open house Monday in Detroit Lakes on the new 1W1P Otter Tail River Watershed District. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

“Through this whole process we’re hoping people come and tell us what they want in the watershed,” said Ben Underhill, water planner with the East Otter Tail Soil & Water Conservation District. “We can use it to hone in on things that people in the watershed really care about.”

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Another station at the open house explained what the One Watershed One Plan concept is all about. Pete Waller, a conservationist with the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources in Detroit Lakes, was manning that station.

One Watershed, One Plan is designed to plan and pay for water projects -- things like erosion control, wetland restoration, aquifer replenishing, wildlife habitat, flood mitigation, keeping phosphorus out of lakes, and many other projects -- based on the geographic boundaries of river watersheds.

Deciding which projects get priority will be a committee made up of one representative from each of the local units of government -- counties, watershed districts and soil and water conservation districts -- within that river watershed. Most of the watershed is in Becker and Otter Tail counties.

Four men at the open house for the new Otter Tail River watershed district: From left are Pete Waller, Henry Von Offelen, Dick Hecock and Chris Leclair. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)
Four men at the open house for the new Otter Tail River watershed district: From left are Pete Waller, Henry Von Offelen, Dick Hecock and Chris Leclair. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

At the open house, there was a water taste test at another station, giving people the chance to sample city water from Detroit Lakes and Fergus Falls, along with private well water, and water from other sources. It gives people a chance to “learn about where your drinking water comes from,” Underhill said.

Another station featured a pair of oversized maps of the Otter Tail River basin, and people at the open house could put colored stickers on the maps to show where they live. They could also note particular issues of local concern on post-it notes.

And the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency manned a station to explain the agency’s watershed restoration and protection strategy report for the Otter Tail River basin.

That report incorporates water quality assessment, watershed analysis, public participation, planning, implementation, and measurement of results into a plan that addresses both restoration and protection, according to the MPCA.

Overall, the Otter Tail River basin is in pretty good shape, but there are localized areas that need improvement, and the WRAPS report has two parts: Strategies to restore impaired waters, and strategies to protect clean waters.

Moriya Rufer, a consultant with Houston Engineering of Fargo, is helping write the water plan for the new Otter Tail River One Watershed One Plan unit. She expects the plan to be finished by late next year, a process that will include at least four public meetings, she said.

Another Otter Tail River 1W1P open house will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at the AmericInn in Fergus Falls.