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What is a Watershed District?

MCWD watershed mapA watershed district is a unit of government that is based on the natural boundary of a watershed. The Minnesota Watershed District Act was implemented in 1955. It allowed for the establishment of local units of government, such as watershed districts or water management organizations, to protect and manage water resources based on hydrologic boundaries rather than political boundaries. Because it relies on the natural boundary of the watershed, a watershed district could include all or part of a number of cities, townships and counties. 

To manage water resources on a watershed scale in a representative way, watershed district boards consist entirely of citizens who live within the district. They are appointed to provide the best possible representation of the interests within the diverse communities of the watershed. This keeps the watershed relevant at the local level, and helps support land use practices that protect and preserve the water resources within the district.

By statute, watershed districts have the responsibility "to conserve the natural resources of the state by land use planning, flood control, and other conservation practices using sound scientific principles for the protection of the public health and welfare and provident use of the natural resource." 

Watershed districts are formed to address a number of water resource issues:

  • water quality protection
  • erosion control
  • flood control

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) oversees the establishment of watershed districts, as well as provides oversight and support to watershed districts, soil and water conservation districts and other conservation districts. 

The concept of watershed management of water resources is now the preferred method of protecting and managing water resources and is being used by several states and the United
States Environmental Protection Agency.