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The mission of the HLWD is to protect and improve the water resources within its boundaries by supporting watershed residents through the use of education and financial programs.


The commissioners in Nobles, Jackson, Murray, and Cottonwood Counties submitted a nominating petition requesting the establishment of the Middle Des Moines Watershed District in April 2, 1969. The district was established on February 25, 1970. The name was changed to the Heron Lake Watershed District (HLWD) in October of 1995.

The following were identified as actions to be addressed in the establishment petition.
     * Conserve and make provident use of the waters and natural resources
     * Flood control
     * Stabilize the banks of streams
     * Inform people in the watershed of the overall problems
     * Protect the health and welfare of the watershed

Why watersheds?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promotes a watershed approach on a national basis because manager water resource programs on a watershed basis makes good sense - environmentally, financially, and socially. EPA states that the best approaches for addressing nonpoint sources of pollution are education, incentives, and voluntary action. The best method of inspiring people to act and solve pollution problems is through the watershed approach.

Environmentally
     * Watersheds are defined by natural hydrology; they represent the most logical basis for managing water resources. The resource becomes the focal point and managers are able to gain a more complete understanding of overall conditions in an area and the stressors which affect those conditions.
     * Watershed-based management integrates the needs and values of water quality, water quantity, flood plain management, ecosystems, and land use.
     * To best address natural resource issues, watershed boundaries must be used rather than political boundaries.
     * By using a watershed approach, greater attention is placed on the resource and the achievement of real ecological results rather than administrative requirements.
     * A more thorough understanding of threats and conditions in watersheds provides a stronger basis for targeting priority concerns.

Financially
     * Watershed approaches can have the benefit of saving time and money. Whether monitoring, modeling, issuing permits, or reporting, a watershed framework offers many opportunities to simplify and streamline the workload.
     * Efficiency is also increased when all agencies with natural resource responsibilities begin to work together to improve conditions within the watershed.
     * Watershed management generates efficiencies in monitoring, permitting, and reporting, saving time and money.
     * The comprehensive, long-term nature of watershed plans helps provide the regulated community with a better understanding of what the environmental policies are and how they are to be achieved.

Socially
     * Watershed protection can lead to greater awareness and support from the public.
     * Watershed approaches build a sense of community, help reduce conflicts, increase commitment to the actions necessary to meet environmental goals, and improve the likelihood of success for environmental programs.
     * Partners gain a sense of common purpose in working out solutions.

     * Stakeholder involvement helps ensure lasting solutions 

Why the Heron Lake Watershed District?               
A primary value of watershed districts is their ability to address water issues that cross county boundaries. Construction of flood storage projects and improving the water quality of Heron Lake are cross-county boundary issues. Although some of the projects are similar in nature to the SWCD and the NRCS, the HLWD focuses its improvements and programs on achieving the maximum benefit for a specific issue or problem (such as addressing a TMDL for a lake or stream). The HLWD focuses its programs and activities within the "watershed" of the resource and looks for the best location and project to achieve the most return on investment. The HLWD has its own funding authority, but collaborates with other agencies to make local funds go as far as possible. The HLWD also has legal authorities that the SWCD and NRCS do not. Those authorities are used to work more effectively with local governments and landowners for the benefit of the watershed.

Heron Lake and its watershed encompass many of the same problems seen in other rural, agricultural areas in Minnesota. Point and non-point source pollution, intensive tillage, non-compliant septic systems, feedlots, and urban storm water runoff are all problems that must be addressed. HLWD has implemented the following Best Management Practices (BMPs) to address these issues:

Water quality monitoring has been done since 1992 to measure water quality improvement. Samples are collected at three stream sites and several lakes in the watershed. Since 2010, there has been a steady decline in the number of semi-truck loads of sediment entering Heron Lake annually.

While the HLWD has the authority to levy taxes, the total allowed is far below the dollars needed to carry out programs and install conservation practices. To supplement the levied amount, much effort is put in to securing outside grants. Since 1996, the HLWD has been awarded over 60 competitive grants totaling over $2.9 million dollars being spent on environmental improvement and education within the HLWD. Grants have been received from organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Board of Soil and Water Resources, Ag Star, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, and the Clean Water Fund.

HLWD makes every effort to partner with other organizations to maximize the benefits of the efforts and available resources while providing the best possible avenues to address the environmental, educational, economic and agricultural needs of the watershed, its communities, and its residents.

HLWD partners include:

•  Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR)
•  Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR)
•  Ducks Unlimited
•  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
•  Heron Lake Okabena Community Foundation
•  Jackson, Nobles, Cottonwood, and Murray County Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD)
•  Jackson, Nobles, Cottonwood, and Murray County Natural Resource Conservation Services (NRCS)
•  Landowners
•  Local youth organizations
•  Minnesota Department of Agriculture
•  Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA)
•  Nobles, Jackson, Murray, and Cottonwood Counties
•  North Heron Lake Game Producers (NHLGPA)
•  Pheasants Forever
•  Prairie Ecology Bus Center (PEBC)
•  University of Minnesota Extension (UMN)
•  United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)