RENVILLE — Chippewa, Renville and Kandiyohi counties intend to have a “one watershed, one plan” approach to water quality management in place in the coming year.

Camilla Correll, a consultant with Emmons & Olivier Resources Inc., of Oakdale, said the three counties intend to have goals set by the spring of 2020 and a draft plan ready by the summer of 2020.

Correll spoke to attendees of kickoff events for the planning process held Thursday in Willmar and Friday in Renville. Both events attracted just over 40 participants.

The three counties are in the process of developing a single-watershed approach to overseeing water quality projects in an area being called the Hawk Creek – Middle Minnesota Watershed. It includes the Hawk Creek watershed, along with a portion of the lower Chippewa River watershed in Chippewa County and the Middle Minnesota River area in Renville, Nicollet and Sibley counties. Nicollet and Sibley counties are joined as “optional” partners in the process. They have only a small land base in the watershed area.

The process is part of a state law that has developed 82 separate planning areas in the state. Local government units in each of those areas are to work together to promote water quality initiatives. They will apply for Clean Water Legacy funding through the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, which has provided funding for this process of creating the watershed approach.

Correll said the legislation’s intent is to promote water planning based on watershed boundaries rather than political ones.

The process is also intended to lead to plans with “measurable improvements” for water quality.

Currently, the Soil and Water Conservation Districts in the three counties, as well as the Hawk Creek Watershed Project and the Chippewa River Project, have overseen their own water quality projects, often using Clean Water funding. By bringing the counties together, they can identify and prioritize the work needed, establish the measurable goals, and target implementation activities benefiting the watershed as a whole, according to Correll.

A policy committee consisting of a county commissioner and a Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor from each of the three counties will have final decision-making authority in determining which projects and funding to pursue. There will also be a steering team of water planners and SWCD staff from the counties and an advisory committee, to be appointed by the policy committee.

The assigned watershed area includes 897,500 acres, and 84 percent of the land base is in agriculture, according to information presented at the kickoff events. Long, Eagle, Ringo, Willmar and Foot Lakes, all in Kandiyohi County, are the largest water bodies in the watershed area.

It’s not clear at this time how the creation of the Hawk Creek – Middle Minnesota will affect the Hawk Creek Watershed Project or Chippewa River Project.