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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Minnesota (Section 319I - 1994)

Minnesota is taking a two-tier approach to achieving water quality through watershed projects and information and education programs. The Clean Water Partnership Program sponsors 36 water management projects in addition to clean lakes projects. Minnesota has used section 319 funds for technical assistance in 53 watershed management projects and has made a special effort to involve all state agencies.

Forestry Audits Evaluate how BMPs Work

Concerned about the impact of forest management on water quality, Minnesota decided to use section 319 funds to determine the effectiveness of best management practices and to what extent they are being used in forestry - operations throughout the state.

Forestry has been identified as one of Minnesota's four major sources of nonpoint source pollution. Pollutants from forestry operations include sediment, nutrients, organic debris, pesticides, petroleum products; water temperature increases are also of concern. BMPs provide the foundation for water quality protection from these - potential pollutants. Therefore, the state needed to develop a credible field audit process to evaluate how extensively silvicultural BMPs are used in forest management operations on state, federal, county, private industrial, and nonindustrial - private (small properties) forest lands. In addition, it needed to qualitatively measure the effectiveness of the state-approved silvicultural BMPs. In developing this field audit process, Minnesota evaluated waterbodies across the state--perennial streams, lakes, intermittent streams, open water wetlands, ponds, and groundwater. The field audits provide valuable information to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and the forest community on the degree to which BMPs are being employed. Audit results provide a focus for educational efforts and technical assistance and identify practice deficiencies so that the state can clearly target corrective measures to improve compliance.

Field audits began in the fall of 1991. The field audit forms used to evaluate forest management sites were based on the BMPs identified in Water Quality in Forest Management: Best Management Practices in Minnesota, the state-approved forestry BMP guidebook. The forms were updated and changed, based on an ongoing process of field discussions with professional and private interest groups and observations of how BMPs were actually working. The audit forms contain 96 BMPs that could be rated for each site. The field audit process is also structured to provide a qualitative measure of the effectiveness of the silvicultural BMPs based on visual observations of erosion to perennial and intermittent waters.

Four field audit teams--each consisting of five to seven experts in forest management, fisheries, road engineering, soil science, hydrology, and conservation-- perform the audits. Teams include representatives from the forest industry, state and federal agencies, county land departments, and environmental and conservation - organizations.

Team members and alternates attend a two-day calibration workshop to learn the goals and objectives of the field audits and the BMP process. Teams visit several field sites and audit the BMPs to become familiar with the field ratings. Audit sites are randomly selected from state, federal, county, private industrial, and nonindustrial private forest lands. Selection criteria - include management activities less than two years old, treatments encompassing at least 10 acres, and locations within 200 feet of a lake, stream, or protected wetland. The project has been funded through section 319 grants totaling $58,000. The state has contributed an additional $8,000 and will continue to fund this project and other similar ones. In 1991 and 1992, field audit teams reviewed 158 sites, with about 120 sites targeted for review in 1993. In the first two years, the forestry community met or exceeded BMP requirements to protect water quality an average of 83 percent of the time. Even when the audits revealed departures from BMP requirements, 77 percent of the time these departures were small and localized, with minimal impact on water quality.

During the program's first year, the audits revealed a significantly higher compliance level--88 percent-on county, state, federal, and private industrial lands managed by professional foresters. Compliance from nonindustrial lands was much lower--71 percent. These results indicate that Minnesota should target nonindustrial land managers for education and technical assistance.

These future education and technical assistance efforts focus on specific groups of BMPs. For example, compliance with filter strip BMPs statewide is high--88 percent in 1991, 93 percent in 1992--suggesting that landowners are cautious when operating near or adjacent to waterbodies. However, for water diversion devices (culverts, broad-based dips, water bars) and drainage structures (outsloping roads), statewide compliance levels were lower--73 percent in 1991, 84 percent in 1992. This suggests that limited resources should focus on improving the use of these specific BMPs.

Overall findings show that when BMPs are properly installed, they do the job of containing erosion and sediment movement. The more BMPs are absent or not properly installed, the greater the amount of erosion and sediment flow. Specifically, audits show that when BMPs met or exceeded state requirements, water quality was protected in 99 percent of situations. Even with minor departures from requirements, water quality was adequately protected almost 60 percent of the time. However, major departures substantially increased long-term impacts.

Focusing efforts on nonindustrial private land will encourage continued successful implementation of the nonpoint source control program. The field audits also provide the forestry community with information on how to improve specific BMPs to achieve even greater water quality protection. Forestry will continue to emphasize education. Continuing logger education, resource manager training, and one-on-one field training will be major efforts. The state forestry agency will pursue partnerships to develop educational strategies and outreach programs for nonindustrial private forest landowners.

The expanded field audit process will continue as the cornerstone to measure success. Continuing to audit forest management operations on all forest land types will demonstrate progressive improvement in adopting and using forestry BMPs. The major forestry organizations in Minnesota and appropriate water quality agencies are receiving results of the field audits through workshops for professional land managers, training, and other continuing education programs. The audit process has also been an opportunity for industry, agencies, and the environmental community to work together to address environmental issues.

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