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Watershed management reform

Published (2/22/2008)
By Nick Busse
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A bill that proposes a sweeping reorganization of the way Minnesota’s waters are managed was approved by a House committee.

HF2536, sponsored by Rep. Morrie Lanning (R-Moorhead), would organize the state into nine watershed basins districts, each governed by a “basin board,” and further require water management entities within those districts to coordinate with each other before receiving any state funding. The House Environment and Natural Resources Committee approved the bill Feb. 19 and referred it to the House Local Government and Metropolitan Affairs Committee. It has no Senate companion.

A watershed is an area of land in which all water flows into a lake, river or stream; basins typically comprise numerous watersheds. Currently, the state’s watersheds are managed by an uneven and often overlapping patchwork of watershed districts, water management organizations and a slew of other local entities as well as several state-level agencies. With his bill, Lanning seeks to organize water management on a basin-wide level.

Opponents worry that the state would merely be adding another level of bureaucracy to an already complicated system. Rep. Frank Moe (DFL-Bemidji) asked Lanning why the Board of Water and Soil Resources couldn’t perform the same functions as the proposed basin boards.

Lanning responded that state agencies like BWSR are often frustrated by the “countless organizations and political entities” that they have to work with to do their job. He argued that the basin boards would make it easier for the state to deal with individual government entities by organizing them.

The bill originally would have allowed the basin boards to levy property taxes up to $1 million per basin. Committee Chairman Rep. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley) successfully amended the bill to remove the basins’ taxing authority, arguing that property taxes are already too burdensome and that it would slow the bill’s progress.

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