City, county launch watershed planning effort

Superior and Douglas County are joining forces to develop a watershed plan that could lead to federal funding for environmental projects. The plan, expected to take about a year to develop, will focus on the Environmental Protection Agency's nine...

A man walks near the Nemadji River in Superior during a tour. (Courtesy of Superior Environmental Services Department)

Superior and Douglas County are joining forces to develop a watershed plan that could lead to federal funding for environmental projects.

The plan, expected to take about a year to develop, will focus on the Environmental Protection Agency’s nine elements for the Nemadji, Black, Pokegama and St. Louis River watersheds in Wisconsin. It will develop an analytic framework for managing efforts to improve water quality and protect overall watershed health.

“Overall, what we’re trying to do is move toward a more quantitative end of things,” said Sue O’Halleran, a consultant working with the Douglas County Land Conservation Office. “We’ve been doing outreach and education, and big picture, but in order to be eligible for federal grants as well as others, we have to be a little more quantitative.”

The city’s Environmental Services Division and county’s Land Conservation Office are working together to develop the plan.

“A reason that both the city and county are partnering in this is to become more eligible for federal grant money,” Douglas County Conservation Officer Christine Ostern said.


She said while the county has done a lot of watershed planning in the past, none of those plans have the nine elements required by the Environmental Protection Agency for funding eligibility.

Ostern said because her department is funded in part by the state, Douglas County is required to have a  10-year Land and Water Resource Management Plan. She said this planning process will help develop the nine key elements that will be required when that plan is updated next year.

The EPA’s nine elements for plans includes:

  • Identifying causes and sources of pollution;
  • Estimating pollution reduction goals and expectations;
  • Describing management measures and targeting critical areas;
  • Estimating technical and financial assistance needs;
  • Developing an education component;
  • Developing a program schedule;
  • Describing interim, measurable milestones;
  • Identifying indicators to measure progress;
  • Developing a monitoring component.

“We know what the issues are,” O’Halloran said. “We usually know where pollution is coming from, but we want to get over to analysis - the potential to really fix … and get the most bang for the buck.”
Andrea Crouse, water resources specialist for Superior’s Environmental Services Division, said the planning process is also an opportunity for people to come together to express their hopes, concerns and desires for the area and to get a broad stakeholder group together.

The first step in Superior and Douglas County’s planning process was an open house Wednesday, July 11, at the Lake Superior Estuarium. Several entities, including water resource management agencies in Minnesota, were on hand to talk to people about the issues affecting the watersheds. Displays highlighted restoration efforts in Carlton and St. Louis counties in Minnesota and Douglas County in Wisconsin.  

O’Halloran said one of the advantages of being eligible for federal funding is that limitations based on state boundaries won’t hamper efforts to improve watersheds.

“I think we’ll slowly start following the science,” said Melanie Bomier, water resources technician with Carlton County Soil & Water Conservation District. “We can’t spend money in Wisconsin, so monitoring sites end at the border.” She said data collected in Minnesota is available online through the EPA and Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and many of the issues seen in Minnesota are also issues in Wisconsin.  

Crouse said the Minnesota agencies are great partners in the effort because they have been working in the watersheds across the state border. However, she said she hopes to expand participation among other stakeholder groups such as industry and residents passionate about the area.


“We want tribal representation, citizen representation - people to buy into what we say we want to do because they had a say in it,” Crouse said. “A big part of this is going to get those folks together and going through assessment of what those goals are for the community.”

Crouse said the plan will draw from information and research already available about the watersheds, and develop tools to analyze results of efforts to improve the quality of the watersheds. She said over the next year, plans include bringing in key stakeholders together every couple of months.

To be a part of the planning process or to stay updated with what’s happening, go to 

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