Client: Various Watershed Districts in Minnesota
We all rely on water for life, making it our most precious resource. Protecting and restoring water quality still presents major challenges and often comes with a whopping price tag, especially in rural landscapes.
Conservation practices have traditionally been (and still largely are) implemented on a voluntary basis, led by interested landowners. Local soil and water conservation district and watershed district staff would work with landowners to decide where and how to build conservation practices and try to predict how each practice would improve water quality and affect farm operations.
This approach produced results, but they ranged wildly in their effectiveness. Landowners and district staff lacked access to information they could use to identify the most effective locations for conservation practices. In a world with unlimited funding, we could implement every conservation practice we conceived—big or small—regardless of effectiveness, and appreciate the small gain in water quality that came with each one.
But funding is scarce, and our efforts need to focus on the practices that will produce the greatest results. The State of Minnesota made this clear when the Legislature passed the Clean Water and Legacy Amendment, which asks for a better demonstration of how projects seeking funding will produce real results.
As we’ve seen in the headlines, this water quality issue extends beyond a local focus, as exemplified by the efforts to clean up Chesapeake Bay and low-oxygen waters threatening aquatic life in the Gulf of Mexico. To help soil and water conservation district and watershed district staff and landowners, the International Water Institute (IWI)—in association with the Red River Watershed Management Board—wanted to provide better information at the local level. The goal was to provide data that would allow users to demonstrate the benefits and return on investment from conservation efforts.
HEI was selected as the consultant to create the new application, based on our knowledge of water quality and history of meeting the local needs of water quality practitioners.
The IWI and HEI faced a significant challenge: no one had yet found a practical way of putting the necessary information in the hands of local water quality practitioners. To resolve this dilemma, the team conceptualized and developed the Prioritize, Target, and Measure Application (PTMApp).
One Watershed, One Plan
PTMApp began producing results almost immediately after its launch, most notably in meeting the needs of One Watershed, One Plan (1W1P), a new statewide planning process in Minnesota.
The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) describes its vision of 1W1P as an effort to “align local water planning on major watershed boundaries with state strategies towards prioritized, targeted, and measurable implementation plans.” It’s not a simple directive, but it is one that PTMApp was specifically designed to accomplish.
Before beginning the consolidation process, local stakeholders must agree on the challenges they face and the severity of each. PTMApp provides the concrete data that helps stakeholders come to a consensus. It also provides evidence to prove that local governments’ plans and resulting projects are targeted and will result in measurable benefits, which BWSR needs when providing funding.
The Root River One Watershed, One Plan Partnership (RR1W1PP) was one of the first pilot plans in Minnesota to begin adopting the 1W1P initiative. In the past, planning efforts struggled to estimate the water quality benefits that would result from targeted conservation practices, and 1W1P required targeted and measurable plans.
But now, thanks to PTMApp, the RR1W1PP can truly assess the fiscal investment necessary to achieve individual water quality goals and devise a plan to do so.
Together, the RR1W1PP and HEI have developed a living plan that targets cost-effective solutions for reaching local water management goals.
Without a tool like PTMApp, it’s difficult to imagine 1W1P becoming a reality. But thanks to this tool, the RR1W1PP and other local governments can reduce this monumental undertaking into a simple and painless task.
Future Success Stories
With the assistance of the PTMApp, those seeking to protect the water we all depend on finally have the tools they need to ensure the success of their projects. PTMApp has already assisted in large-scale watershed planning efforts in Minnesota, North Dakota, and, soon, Iowa. Because of its initial success it will surely find a way to help those beyond the region.