By Tom Hintgen

Otter Tail County Correspondent

In 2017 Otter Tail County and area counties adopted the philosophy of “One Watershed, One Plan.” Five years later, this philosophy is working well.

This plan utilizes the existing structures of county government, soil and water conservation districts and watershed districts while increasing collaboration across county lines.

The challenge comes from the fact that four major watersheds and four minor watersheds are situated in Otter Tail County, a county that’s larger than the state of Rhode Island.

A watershed is an area of land that drains all the streams and rainfall to a common outlet such as the outflow of a reservoir or any point along a stream channel. The word watershed is sometimes used interchangeably with drainage basin or catchment.

The comprehensive watershed management plan in the Otter Tail River Watershed is structured to conserve soil and water resources through the implementation of practices, programs and regulatory controls. 

Those practices prevent erosion, sedimentation, siltation and related pollution in order to preserve natural resources, ensure continued soil productivity, protect water quality, reduce damages caused by floods, preserve wildlife and protect public lands and waters.

County commissioners feel fortunate to have expertise from Brad Mergens and Darren Newville.

Mergens is manager for the West Otter Tail Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) office based in Fergus Falls. Newville is manager for the East Otter Tail SWCD office based in Perham.

In 2015 Mergens and Newville were named Outstanding SWCD District Employees of the Year by the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR).

County commissioners have in place an action plan while dealing with the eight watersheds in Otter Tail County.

“It’s one thing to be educated about watersheds, but it’s another thing to know what we should be looking for,” says County Commissioner Lee Rogness of Fergus Falls.

Former Commissioner John Lindquist of Dalton became familiar with the Pomme de Terre watershed in southern Otter Tail County, after attending several meetings.

The Pomme de Terre River begins in Otter Tail County, bordered by wooded hills and grassy meadows. This watershed includes the counties of Otter Tail, Douglas (Alexandria), Grant (Elbow Lake), Big Stone (Ortonville), Stevens (Morris) and Swift (Benson).