Water Resources

Water resource policies cover a broad spectrum of topics that range from floodplain management, stormwater runoff, erosion and sediment control, wetland management, and shoreland management. In many cases, these policy areas have already been established through past planning efforts and regulations. Examples include:


  1. Adhere to adopted plans and regulations that maintain, restore, and enhance the County’s water resources.
  2. Recognize the relationship between land use and water quality, and continue to support water quality improvements through land use plans and regulations.
  3. Preserve watershed functions for high-quality surface waters and recreation areas, and provide for restoration of watershed function for impaired waters.
    Minimize the alteration of wetlands.
  4. Recognize the carrying capacity ) of groundwater and surface water in development and land use decisions.
  5. Protect drinking water sources through encouraging sustainable water use and preserving the function of wellhead protection areas and groundwater recharge areas in land use decisions.
  6. Use low impact development techniques, improved management of buffers and natural resources in shoreland areas, and improve stormwater management in existing developed areas.
Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP): The SWPPP program has been prepared in conformance with the NPDES, Phase II Rules and is in compliance with the provision of the Clean Water Act. The SWPPP has been prepared to manage and minimize the discharge of pollutants from Stearns County MS4 systems to the maximum extent practicable. The SWPPP program’s purpose is to identify goals and Best Management Practices (BMPs) that will be implemented to meet the requirements of the NPDES Phase II rules. Measurable goals have been established for each of the BMPs included in the SWPPP, along with the implementation plan and the persons responsible for the fulfilment of the BMPs.

BMPs are a combination of education, public outreach, maintenance, and engineering controls that are appropriate to comply with the requirements of the NPDES Phase II permit.

Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Program

In 2014 the State of Minnesota first offered Local AIS Prevention Aid to all counties for the purpose of stopping the spread and/or preventing the introduction of aquatic invasive species, such as Eurasian watermilfoil and zebra mussels.  A Stearns County AIS Committee was formed for the purpose of developing a County AIS Plan to best use these funds.

The Stearns County Board of Commissioners adopted the County’s AIS Plan on February 17, 2015. Since the program’s inception, inspectors have logged over 60,000 watercraft inspections. The premise of the Plan is the receipt of County AIS Prevention Aid. If that Aid is discontinued, the AIS Committee and County Officials will need to determine the future of the program.

The Comprehensive Local Management Water Plan

Stearns County’s Comprehensive Local Water Management Plan (aka “County Water Plan”) serves as a guide for water and land resource restoration, protection and preservation. It is a cooperative plan, relying on partnerships between many different entities in order to accomplish the goals of the plan. Stearns County, with its planning and land-use authorities, is a member of this partnership, positioned to link land use decisions with local goals for water resources.

Shoreland Management

The history of Minnesota’s Shoreland Management Program dates back to 1969 with the passage of the Shoreland Management Act. Minimum development standards – such as structure setbacks, height limits, impervious surface limits, lot requirements, vegetation removal and land alteration requirements – are established in state rules (Minnesota Rules, part 6120.2500 – 6120.3900) and administered through local ordinances. Stearns adopted it’s first shoreland ordinance in 1973.

Floodplain Management

Floodplain management incorporates a community’s actions for reducing flood damage. Stearns County’s floodplain management ordinance specifies building standards for new and existing development that provide flood loss reduction as well as make flood insurance available to home and business owners through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Under the NFIP program, federally insured or regulated institutions (such as banks) must require flood insurance policies on all new loans for structures in mapped floodplain areas recognized by FEMA.

Storm Water Pollution Prevention Program (SWPPP)

The Goal of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of waters of the state through management and treatment of urban storm water runoff. The program requires that this be accomplished through the management of Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4s) through the preparation of a Stearns County pollution prevention program.

Watershed Districts

A watershed district may cover several counties. The boundaries of the districts follow the natural watershed (region or area which drains to a particular watercourse or body of water). A watershed district is usually named after the biggest watershed in the district. There are four watershed districts in Stearns County (see Figure 5.1): Cle arwater River, North Fork Crow River, Sauk River, and Middle Fork Crow River. Each watershed district works to prevent and control water-related problems. Each district monitors the water quality within ditches, rivers, streams, creeks and lakes. Some projects the districts handle include: administration of public drainage systems, water quality improvement systems and regulatory controls to protect water resources.

Watershed Districts

Wetland Conservation Act

Stearns County administers the State of Minnesota’s Wetland Conservation Act. This Act prohibits the draining and filling of wetlands without replacement. Excavations may also be regulated in some instances. The Act provides for exemptions which allow certain activities in wetlands without replacement. Activities managed by Stearns County include wetland determinations for certain property, reviewing wetland replacement plans, and providing certificates of exemptions, when applicable.

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