Background: Among the emphases of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District’s 2007 Comprehensive Water Resources Plan is improvement of water quality. Section 4.2.1 (on page 47) directly and succinctly addresses the issue, “What Is Water Quality?”, and relates that there are several perspectives that individuals may include in their assessment of water quality.
“For regulatory purposes, the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] and the MPCA [Minnesota Pollution Control Agency] define acceptable water quality as that which supports the designated use of the water resource. For lakes, those designated uses are recreation and aesthetics; for wetlands it is aquatic life. …
“This  Plan assumes that good water quality is achieved when the physical, chemical, biological and aesthetic characteristics of a waterbody support its full designated use (recreation, aesthetics and/or aquatic life,) and when the ecological integrity of the environment is supported.”
Watershed management plans historically have looked at water quality as a result of the impact of land use activities – they have focused halting degradation by siltation, chemical elements and compounds, and the runoff of water from the landscape. They have devised strategies to promote restoration of waterbodies and water quality to their “natural” state.
Another vital component of water quality to be addressed is the degradation of aquatic environments themselves – the effects of biological changes to the “natural” ecology of aquatic plants, animals, and microorganisms. These changes, too, affect the recreation, aesthetic, and environmental quality and uses of waterbodies.
Aquatic invasive species (AIS), whether they have been established for a long time or have been recently introduced, degrade the ecological integrity of water environments, and thus negatively affect water quality. The State of Minnesota District defines AIS as follows:
Invasive species. “Invasive species means a non-native species that:
- (1) causes or may cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health; or
- (2) threatens or may threaten natural resources or the use of natural resources in the state.
- (Minnesota Statutes Chapter 84D.01, Subd. 9a.)
It is therefore appropriate to have a Management Plan that specifically addresses AIS in the mission of the MCWD to manage potential and actual environmental harm to the quality of waters more comprehensively within the District.
This Plan supports at least one of the 17 general problems and goals listed in the District’s 2007 Comprehensive Plan. Specifically, the second matter listed is:
Problem: Human activity can degrade existing habitat and contribute to the loss of wildlife habitat quantity and quality affecting the overall ecological integrity of the resources within the MCWD.
Goal: Ecological Integrity. Promote activities which maintain, support, and enhance floral, faunal quantity and ecological integrity of upland and aquatic resources throughout the watershed.
(Comprehensive Plan, Section 1.7.1, General Problems and Goals; Table 3 [page 6])
The Plan further includes several policies and goals that are consistent with the development of an AIS Management Plan. Among them, it states that the District will:
- Increase the ecological integrity of environmental resources within the watershed;
- Conserve, maintain, and improve the aesthetic, physical, chemical, and biological properties of surface waters and groundwater within the District;
- Protect the ecological integrity of surface waters and the riparian environment;
- Achieve no net loss in the quantity, quality, and biological diversity of existing wetlands within the watershed;
- Cooperate with other agencies to minimize the spread of harmful exotic species.
(Comprehensive Plan, Sec. 5, Goals 3, 6.3, 11.1, 14.3)
In 2011 the Board of Managers of the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District decided that it would develop an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Program, and the AIS Management Plan would be the basis of that Program. The stated goal of the MCWD AIS Program will be “‘to prevent the introduction and spread of AIS and manage existing AIS within the watershed to a level that does not significantly harm or alter native ecosystems while still maintaining access to public waterbodies.’ While the eradication of existing AIS would be an ideal result, 100% eradication of AIS is highly unlikely once they are introduced to a waterbody.” (Communication by MCWD staff to Board of Managers, February 9, 2012)
AIS Plan Task Force: The Board established an AIS Plan Task Force with stakeholders comprised of residents, water-oriented businesses, outdoor recreationists, and policymaker-level representatives of key local governments. It directed that the Task Force work primarily to develop and recommend a policy-based AIS Management Plan, with an emphasis of what should be in the Plan, rather than how it should be accomplished or implemented. The Board provided a framework for the Task Force to develop the Plan:
Goal 1 – Prevention: Implement procedures and practices to prevent new introductions or dispersal of aquatic invasive species within the District.
Goal 2 – Containment: Develop management strategies to limit the spread of established populations of aquatic invasive species to and from the District.
Goal 3 – Control: Abate, and where possible, eliminate harmful ecological, economic, social and public health impacts resulting from the infestation of aquatic invasive species in the District.
The Board suggested that the Task Force include in the Plan – and its outcomes – the following objectives associated with:
- Management plan implementation, and updates to the plan
- Coordination and collaboration
- Prevention and containment
- Early detection, rapid response, and monitoring
- Long-term control and management
- Research and information transfer
- Laws and regulation
The Task Force members’ focus was to develop the Plan as a policy document, to identify what the District should do, and indicate the relative levels of resources that should be committed. The Task Force held sixteen meetings from May 2012 to February 2013. In addition, at its meeting on August 9, 2012, the MCWD Board of Managers had over 150 people in attendance as it was presented with a proposal on an AIS inspection program by the Coalition of Minnehaha Creek Waters. The public comments at this meeting, and at early meetings of the Task Force, reflected intense debate about the proper balance of water resource protection and public access to those water resources. Through hard work and important leadership from Task Force members, a consensus emerged on AIS management that has the support of all stakeholders on the Task Force. The recommendations in this Plan are the product of that consensus. Examples of these policy-level matters include:
- Principles and values when addressing, controlling, and managing AIS
- Preferred methods of management of AIS
- Framework for confronting the presence of new AIS
- Analysis of vectors of AIS (existing and potential)
- Financial planning /strategies for management of AIS
- Institutional (inter-governmental) arrangements to effectuate management of AIS
- Community involvement
- Public information, education, and awareness
The Task Force was supported by a Technical Advisory Committee, whose members largely came from the professional staffs of a variety of governmental agencies and academia. They were resources called on individually and collectively to provide information and guidance, and to evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of various management techniques identified by the Task Force.
A New Type of Plan, at Least in Minnesota: To the best of the District’s knowledge, no watershed district or water management organization in Minnesota has developed a Management Plan specific to AIS. A few regional and inter-state AIS plans in the United States have been published in recent years, and Minnesota adopted an invasive species plan (aquatic and terrestrial) in 2009. These plans have substantial research bibliographies. Additional research and data are available from other governmental agencies and academic institutions. All have provided reliable guidance in the development of the District’s Plan.
The MCWD AIS Management Plan reflects the specific circumstances existing in this watershed and the MCWD’s unique role as a special-purpose local government charged with protecting water resources.
A Plan that Relies on Partnerships: In Minnesota law, a watershed district is a special-purpose unit of local government, with defined, limited purposes and specific authority. Its scope is limited by enabling statutes, superior authority granted to other agencies of the State, and the supremacy of federal agencies. Preparation of comprehensive plans and the ability to establish rules to implement them must comply with the State’s watershed laws.
The District has examined its statutory purposes and authority, and determined that AIS control and management implicates so many interests and spheres of authority that implementation of this Plan will be most effectively undertaken through collaboration with other public and private partners. There is merit to consider ways for watershed districts to be granted such authority, at least in the area of controlling the spread of AIS. As a starting point for this AIS Management Plan, the District, with its technical and financial resources, will need to work with other units of government and organizations who are willing to achieve the goals, objectives, and implementation activities of this Plan. Where there are opportunities to test new approaches, the District will be a ready partner for pilot projects that may serve as models for regional or state-wide application.
A Dynamic Approach: Although AIS have been in this region since the introduction of common carp in the late 1800s, the introduction of most AIS is a recent phenomenon. Information about the spread of AIS and effective responses to them are evolving relatively quickly. Many AIS now present are spreading and new ones may enter the region. As knowledge and management of AIS is a dynamic field, the framework for management responses in the Management Plan will need to be flexible and adaptive.
The overriding purpose of this AIS Management Plan is to guide the MCWD in the management of aquatic invasive species and, through education and awareness, prevention measures, and applied research, work with state and local partners to protect the District’s water resources from this environmental threat.