Area II Minnesota River Basin Projects History and Creation

For those unfamiliar with the Area II Minnesota River Basin Projects organization, what follows is a brief summary of its history and creation.

During the early 1970's, the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) conducted a Type IV Study of the Minnesota River Basin in its entirety. The Study divided the watershed into four area: I, II, III, and IV, hence where Area II derived its name. Area II refers to the territory draining into the Minnesota River stretching from Ortonville to Mankato, along the south side of the river. The watersheds include the Yellow Medicine River, Lac qui Parle River, Yellow Bank River, Redwood River , and the Cottonwood River. The Type IV Study emphasized the magnitude of flooding that has plagued the Area II residents throughout this century and undoubtedly since the area was first settled. Of the total acreage subject to flooding within the Minnesota River watershed, 90% (302,000 acres) lies within Area II alone, not including acres along the mainstem of the river itself. The unique topography of this area including the Coteau de  Prairies (otherwise know as the Buffalo Ridge) and low-lying plains are directly attributable to the flooding problem of this region.

The Type IV Study analyzed over 200 floodwater retarding structures within Area II of which 81 appeared quite promising, providing benefits well in excess of their cost. An as recommended in the 1977 Type IV Summary Report, a joint study done by the Corps of Engineers and SCS was authorized in late 1975 under Public Law 87-639, more commonly referred to as 'the 639 Study'. This study would be an implementation phase which would design alternatives for those 81 promising sites and closely analyze the related impacts. The final report for the 639 Study was completed in August 1989.

Even before these studies were undertaken, many dedicated men became involved in the early 1960's seeking solutions, or at least assistance, to the flooding dilemmas of this region. Through the organization of various committees and subsequent watershed districts, and with the diligent lobbying of the state government, an Area II Action Committee was formed and funded in 1974. That committee eventually became Area II Minnesota River Basin Projects in 1978 as it is known today. Area II is the only area of the original four which was organized and receives 75% of its funding from the State of Minnesota by statute, with the remaining 25% coming from the combination of the nine(9) member counties which belong to the joint powers board. The Board of Directors is comprised of two (2) county commissioners from each county representing a delegate and an alternate.

Because of the unique landforms, this area suffers severely whenever rivers even threaten to flood. And for that reason, Area II was formed. This organization does not claim to know the answer to solving the flooding problems for only Mother Nature has the capability to do that. But it is believed that measures can be implemented in this area that can at least reduce the tremendous damages; physically, emotionally, and financially that are so often incurred.

Along with any new undertaking, time provide valuable experience. Since Area II's onset, environmental and ecological concerns has risen greatly, and in many occasions, eliminated retention projects from consideration and/or construction. And the concept of building "the biggest and best" does not always hold true. From the years of flood damage reduction planning, it is felt that a "watershed-based" approach is the most accurate in detailing hydrologic and hydraulic conditions leading to effective structural designs. By analyzing an entire watershed with the assistance from computerized modeling, the effect of changing one structure on a tributary can be followed downstream to fully evaluate the effects upon volume, and more importantly, the timing of the peak flow as it enters the mainstem of the river. 'Stopping the water where it falls' is the ultimate key to flood damage reduction, not to mention controlling the sedimentation and erosion which are degrading the stat's, as well as the nation's, rivers and tributaries.

One way to accomplish this is through road retention technology, or the downsizing of culverts and bridges. This concept originated in the Red River Valley of Minnesota and has made tremendous strides at controlling flood waters with the temporary impoundments in this local area. Lyon County alone has over 35 road retention structures in place. The pools are environmentally friendly and most acceptable to landowners and regulatory agencies. Even greater benefit is gained when a county or township can include a downsizing project into a planned highway or road improvement. Through special legislation, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is allowed to cost-share on such retention projects reducing the costs to the local government. Area II works with its member county highway departments to provide maximum flood reduction benefit at minimum cost. Although the larger reservoirs continue to be a solid and effective form of flood control, the environmental impacts are far greater and permanent than for road retentions. Area II continues to support and promote the larger, multi-purpose structures despite the growing construction costs, required land acquisition, and natural resource considerations.

Besides the 'watershed-based approach', a comprehensive approach is another goal; comprehensive meaning the use of all resources and funding sources available. In other words, we cannot rely exclusively on a dam, or a wetland restoration, or aland treatment individually to solve our flooding problems. But if we can use all of them together, we can enhance the total effort for flood damage reduction. The comprehensive approach also allows for vast expertise from the local Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), watershed districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS - formerly SCS), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Board of Water & Soil Resources (BWSR), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and other agencies and organizations concerned with flooding and the environment.

Flooding isn't just a battle for one person or one organization to fight; it needs to be a united effort by all fronts. Area II is nine counties united, working in conjunction with one another as waster does not stop at county boundaries, and neither do the benefits of flood control.