Citizens Guide To Lake and Watershed Restoration Projects

 


 

FORWARD

 

The following information is intended to assist South Dakotans in our efforts in restoring lakes and streams through implementation of watershed projects. The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Watershed Protection Program intends to meet its mission to improve and maintain the water quality of South Dakota’s lakes and streams together in partnership with citizens. Project success strongly depends on local initiative and commitment.

 

When it comes to pollution, what comes around goes around (and around and around) the watershed. A watershed is an area of land from which all the water drains to the same place. The final destination could be a stream, pond, lake, or wetland. A watershed can be large or small depending on goals of individual projects.



Parts of a restoration project


Successful lake and watershed projects follow a logical progression through five phases. These phases are:

 

     problem identification and prioritization
     assessment
     planning
     implementation
     operation and maintenance

 

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The first question that needs to be answered in developing a watershed project is, "What is the problem?" The answer may not be as obvious as first thought. Often symptoms are confused with sources of problems. Also, while a group of citizens agree that the problem is with water levels, further examination may determine that some people think that high water levels cause their problems, others may be negatively affected by lowered water levels. It is also quite common to find that the local citizens have a number of different problems they wish to address, but resources don’t allow tackling them all at once. Then a decision must be made as to which problems to address first. It is extremely important that all the participants understand which problems are being addressed at any one time. Only in this manner can the correct information be gathered and resources be properly directed. A written statement of the problem with as much detail as possible will be helpful.

 

An assessment, or evaluation of the problem, is an essential part of any lake or watershed restoration project. A thorough assessment documents problems and identifies the feasibility of possible solutions.

 

A typical watershed assessment consists of a two-year effort that includes gathering and analysis of all pertinent existing information, water quality sampling, runoff measurement, biological information, land use, social and economic concerns, watershed modeling, and development of restoration alternatives. Project sponsors may have adequate information already to prepare an assessment report or may prefer to complete an assessment on their own. However, if grant funding is to be pursued, all assessment information is subject to review and approval by the Watershed Protection Program. This will ensure that there is sufficient detail to prepare project implementation plans and funding applications.

 

A completed study report is a requirement for most types of funding for implementation. There is usually some type of financial assistance available for assessment activities. Matching fund requirements to complete an assessment are typically 60/40. This means that the local sponsor will need to come up with 40% of the cost of the assessment. This non-federal match may be any combination of cash and donated services.

 

Other types of assessments may also be conducted depending on the nature of the problem, type of watershed and availability of funding. The Watershed Protection Program staff will meet with you to determine the type of assessment that is appropriate to your situation and assist you in assessment design.

 

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The planning stage of a restoration project comes after the assessment is completed. Information from the assessment study report is used to design an implementation project. A funding package including several different sources of funds is typically needed for implementation. During planning, applications are prepared for funding, budgets are developed for restoration activities, and workplans and milestone schedules are prepared. Also, application is made to the Board of Water and Natural Resources for inclusion in the State Water Plan. This work is to be completed by the local sponsor with technical assistance from DENR. Depending on need, funding assistance may be available for planning activities. Inquiries for funding assistance in planning should be made to the Watershed Protection Program.

 

The implementation stage begins when construction or resource management activities are initiated to correct or prevent sources of pollution. Implementation encompasses activities ranging from lake dredging projects to land-use management changes in a watershed. Generally, this is the most costly portion of a restoration project.

 

Operation and maintenance of the project will assure that these efforts will continue to deliver benefits into the future. After the implementation stage is completed, a system will be needed to assure that the practices and structures developed during the implementation project continue to be maintained and operated.



STARTING THE PROCESS


The first requirement for a successful restoration project is local interest and concern. The DENR Watershed Protection Program is "customer driven". This means that funding and effort only go to projects with strong local support. If you perceive a water quality problem with a lake or stream and want to know what type of assistance is available to deal with the problem, you should contact the DENR Watershed Protection Program at (605) 773-4254.



Initial informational meeting


Once you have made initial contact with the Watershed Protection Program, we suggest that you organize a meeting of local groups and agencies. A representative of the Watershed Protection Program will attend the first public meeting to explain the options that are available to assist you with a lake or watershed restoration project.

 

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Attendees invited to the meeting should include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:

 

     County conservation districts
     County commission
     City governments
     Special purpose districts
     Watershed landowners and managers
     Local residents
     Lake associations
     Sportsmen groups
     Service organizations
     Concerned citizens

 

We also recommend inviting other state and federal agency representatives such as the US Army Corps of Engineers, SD Department of Agriculture, SD Department of Game, Fish and Parks, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These agencies have responsibilities relating to water management and can be a valuable resource of project ideas, funding and staffing. This initial meeting provides an opportunity to discuss perceived problems, develop plans to share limited resources, and, since many of the stakeholders are involved early in the process, reduce the potential for conflicts. Also, steps to completion, project costs, and funding options are explained in detail.



Local decision to proceed - sponsor selection


After the initial meeting with the local groups and agencies, a second meeting of the local groups is scheduled. State agency representatives will not usually attend the second meeting. The purpose of this meeting is for the local people, groups and agencies to reach a consensus on whether or not to pursue a restoration project. If a decision is made to pursue a project, an agency or group must be selected to serve as the local sponsor of the project.

 

The sponsor is the local entity responsible for implementation planning and management. The sponsor will need to seek and manage project funds, and hire and supervise staff. The sponsor will be responsible to see that all local and field sampling is completed, and that information and education programs are carried out. Local governmental units like conservation districts, water development districts, cities and counties often make good project sponsors because they have the systems in place to manage people and funds.

 

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ASSESSMENT

 

Letter requesting assistance - plan of study


The Watershed Protection Program is responsible for assessment planning with input from the local sponsor.
Once a consensus is reached to pursue a project with state assistance and a local sponsor is selected, the new sponsor should send a letter to the Watershed Protection Program stating they are ready to move forward with the project. The sponsor should also request that the Watershed Protection Program begin to prepare a project-specific assessment plan. The following address may be used for the letter:

 

     South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources
     Watershed Protection Program
     Joe Foss Building
     523 E Capitol Avenue
     Pierre, SD 57501-3181

 

When the Watershed Protection Program receives the letter of request, staff will review existing data and information to prepare a plan of study and budget for the assessment. This plan will be forwarded to the sponsor for review and approval. A thorough review of this plan should give the sponsor a clear understanding of the costs and tasks to be completed for an assessment. A Watershed Protection Program representative will be available to travel to the project area to explain the plan of study and budget, at the sponsor's request.



Assessment funding


When the sponsor approves the plan of study, DENR will assist the sponsor with funding applications for the assessment. The source of funding will depend on the type of project. The funding for an assessment is typically a combination of federal and local funds. While federal funds are being sought, the sponsor needs to locate and identify sources of matching funds. Each funding program has specific dates when applications are due for consideration. DENR will inform the sponsor of these application deadlines. Funding requests for assessments will be submitted based on the readiness to proceed and the order in which the requests were received.

 

If the application for funding is approved, the state will develop a contract with the sponsor. At this time, the sponsor will identify the source and amount of matching funds to the state. With funding and a signed contract in place, the actual assessment may begin.

 

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Assessment responsibilities


The costs and responsibilities are outlined in the workplan. For a typical assessment, the responsibilities of the local sponsor include, but are not necessarily limited to, the following items:

 

     provide a local coordinator to collect water samples and assemble land use information
     provide an office for the coordinator
     provide a vehicle and possibly, a boat
     track milestones
     prepare semi-annual project reports
     keep the local public informed and involved

 

DENR will provide the following items for the assessment: monitoring equipment, training for the local coordinator, workplan, financial tracking of grants, data management, computer modeling, data analyses, final report, and technical assistance as needed throughout the study. The final report will contain the results of the data analyses and conclusions describing the condition of the watershed and/or lake. Options for restoration will be listed and opportunities to correct the problems will be discussed. DENR will publish the report and present it to the sponsor and/or local citizens. Upon completion of the final assessment report, the project is ready to begin the next step in the restoration process.



PLANNING

 

Investing in good planning up front will result in many returns during project implementation and provide benefits years after the project is completed. Planners should be prepared to spend significant time and effort to develop a realistic plan that can be supported by the local community and various funding sources.

 

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Inform all stakeholders of planning start-up


It usually takes a coalition of many agencies, organizations and individuals to form a viable base for implementation. These are the stakeholders in the project. Each will have different views and priorities. All stakeholders may not initially agree on project components or how to proceed. It is important to make sure that before an actual implementation plan is initiated that the general public and all stakeholders are informed that the goal of the project is to solve a particular resource problem, even if many of these individuals were partners during the assessment process. At this point, based on the information from the assessment, a good definition of the problem as well as a good data base from which you should be able to identify opportunities to solve the problem should exist. Before you proceed with detailed planning, you should again inform the public and the stakeholders that you intend to initiate detailed planning and offer them the opportunity to participate.

 

If there are sharply divided views about whether or not to proceed with implementation, this is the time to work with those opposing factions to develop a consensus. Ignoring potential conflict rather than dealing with it will only cause greater problems later.

 

Don't become discouraged if you don't get active participation from all of the stakeholders. As long as they are informed throughout the planning process, apathy is not necessarily a problem. On the other hand, uninformed parties may deal a hard blow to your project at the time they do become aware of your plans.



SMART planning principles


All good plans have certain elements in common. These common elements are summarized by the acronym SMART. SMART planning means the project plan is:

 

     Specific
     Measurable
     Attainable
     Realistic
     Trackable

 

Further information about SMART Planning, including a slide presentation, is available upon request from DENR or the Natural Resources Conservation Service to assist in the planning process.

 

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Formulate alternatives


Often when developing a project implementation plan, there is a tendency to pursue the one "right" plan. This single alternative option may lead to implementation of a plan but it also may overlook other opportunities to improve the overall project. Therefore, several alternatives should be developed to allow for choices that may optimize different project values, involve different participants, or involve different time frames for various activities.

 

There is also a tendency to develop project alternatives to fit certain funding sources or a preconceived budget. This approach usually leads to plans that are inadequate to solve the problem and frequently causes other opportunities to be overlooked. Program neutral planning will usually lead to a more sound plan. Under this concept, planning focuses on the solutions to the defined problem without fitting it into particular funding programs. After the plan elements are determined, the planners then identify the programs and funding sources that meet their needs.

 

All reasonable alternatives should be considered. Alternatives should not only address existing opportunities but also look at prevention of future problems. Wellhead protection plans, zoning ordinances, spill remediation plans and other similar activities may have a valid place in the formulation of alternatives.

 

It is not uncommon to find that additional information is needed while formulating alternatives. If this is the case, obtain the information rather than proceed with an inadequate data base. If financial assistance is needed to gather the additional information, assistance may be available under provisions of the Clean Water Act. Contact the DENR at 773-4254 for further information.


Evaluate alternatives


Each alternative should be rigorously evaluated for positive and negative potential impacts on social, cultural resource, economic, environmental and regulatory concerns. Special attention must be given to legal requirements and environmental values protected by federal or state law. Unresolved impacts to wetlands, historical sites, and threatened and endangered species can prevent a project from receiving necessary permits and funding.

 

During the formulation and evaluation of alternatives, you should again seek the advice of those agencies that have administrative authority over natural resources. Most planners will need to involve the Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, SD Department of Game, Fish and Parks, and SD Department of Environment and Natural Resources in the review process to make sure that there are no unpleasant surprises later.


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Select preferred plan of action


After potential impacts of the alternatives have been evaluated, it is time to select a plan. The plan may be one of the original alternatives, a combination of alternatives, or a modified alternative. All stakeholders should be given the opportunity to participate in the selection process if you expect them to accept the selected alternative and participate in its implementation.



Write the plan


The selected plan must now be written down, with detail. There are many plan formats available. DENR recommends the format used for EPA Section 319 Nonpoint Source projects. This format is acceptable for applications to the Board of Water and Natural Resources and the Conservation Commission. Regardless of the funding sources that you ultimately pursue, the EPA 319 format will assure that you have addressed all of the necessary plan elements. EPA 319 formats for watershed, groundwater, and information and education projects are available on computer disc or paper from the DENR Watershed Protection Program by calling 773-4254. Planning assistance is also available.



Notify public of decision


Now that you have drafted your implementation plan, you should notify the public. If there are portions of the plan that affect specific individuals, make sure they are not surprised by the public announcement. Even though you have kept the affected parties informed during the planning process, they will appreciate knowing of your decision to implement a plan before receiving calls from friends and neighbors.


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Update State Water Plan


Your specific implementation plan is now eligible to be included in the South Dakota State Water Plan. However, this process is somewhat competitive and there is no guarantee that the Board of Water and Natural Resources will include your project. State Water Plan information, application forms and assistance are available from the Watershed Protection Program, Water Development Districts, and Planning Districts.

 

The State Water Plan is a process intended to implement state policy on water resources management, serve as the principal guide for state policies and priorities, and identify areas for project assistance.



Target funding sources


Funding for implementation should have been a secondary consideration to identifying the activities needed to solve the problem up to this point. It is time to seek funds when you finally have a plan in hand. A good reference of available programs and funding sources to implement your project is "The South Dakota Nonpoint Source Program Manual." This manual is available free of charge from the Watershed Protection Program, telephone 773-4254.

 

Local involvement and funding are vitally important for implementation of any project. Federal and state funding entities will look critically at your proposed budget to see that the local commitment is strong. As you seek funds, be aware that almost all funding sources will have specific requirements that you must meet. Be sure you know what these requirements are and that you are willing to comply with them before applying.



Apply for funding

 

Seeking financial assistance can be overwhelming if you are unfamiliar with the various programs, application forms and funding cycles. Please ask for any assistance from your planning and development district or the various funding entities. Assistance is also available by calling the Watershed Protection Program at 773-4254.


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Apply for permits

 

There is a wide variety of activities that may be regulated and require the issuance of a permit before activities can proceed. Watershed and lake restoration projects often need a Section 404 permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers, a Section 401 water quality certification and/or a water right permit from DENR, flood control permits and local building permits. State and federal agencies involved in the project are the best sources of permitting requirements.



Funding secured



After you have been awarded funds for implementation, review all fund requirements and conditions carefully before signing any documents. The funding entity will expect you to meet all the conditions specified. When you sign the funding agreement you will be legally bound to meet those conditions.

 

Be aware that funding is not usually considered secured and available until all the grants and contracts have been signed by both parties. Even though the funding source has verbally committed funds, any expenditures made before the grants and contracts are signed may not be reimbursable or eligible as match.

 

Also, if necessary, modify your workplans before signing documents. Due to the funding requirements and the length of time it takes to receive funds, it is frequently necessary to make changes in implementation schedules and milestones. A revised work plan at this stage will prevent misunderstandings with the funding entities later.

 

It is also advisable to get a legal opinion on any documents you are asked to sign. Although the funding entity may provide you some general assistance, it is not their responsibility to look out for your legal interests.

 

This is also a good time to reaffirm your working relationship with the other parties that will be assisting in implementation. Often, significant time passes between adoption of the implementation plan and when it is funded. During this period of time, the other parties participating in project implementation may have had changes in priorities and available resources.

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IMPLEMENTATION

 

After you have received implementation funds, it is time to make sure that all the items envisioned in the workplan are actually accomplished. Good project management takes a great deal of time and effort. Many projects will get to the implementation stage based on the efforts of dedicated volunteers. While there can be a place for volunteers during implementation, almost every project will need a dedicated, hired staff. A talented project coordinator is the backbone of successful implementation. This individual will need strong organizational skills, will need to be a self starter, and absolutely must be able to work effectively with a wide range of people. A good project coordinator will save you money in the long run, so be prepared to pay a wage that will attract and retain sufficient talent.

 

The project sponsor will need to exercise periodic oversight to assure that implementation stays on schedule and within budget. Monthly oversight meetings are probably the minimum which will catch any problem before it becomes unmanageable. Most funding agencies will also require quarterly status reports.

 

This is now the time to set up your accounting system. Many sponsors prefer to use their existing office accounting system and set up a separate account for project funds and expenditures. Others use separate systems or accounting firms. In either case, safeguards should be in place to prevent unauthorized expenses or misuse of funds. Requiring dual signatures for expenditures should be routine. You should also designate a signatory for submitting payment requests to funding agencies.

 

Funding sources have varying requirements for expenditure documentation and vouchers. This is the time to meet with the funding authority and make sure that you understand the information they expect you to maintain in your office and submit as voucher documentation. You may also want to review what documentation will be required for the various grant conditions.



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Project close-out


When you are nearing the end of the implementation phase, it is time to begin working on your project close-out. You shouldn't wait until implementation is complete to begin writing your final report. If you have done a good job of preparing periodic status reports, much of the material needed to prepare the final report will be readily available. It is important that more than just the project coordinator be familiar with the project details. If your project coordinator's job terminates at the end of the project, the coordinator may take a job elsewhere and leave you with the task of project close-out and reporting.

 

The final report should document activities that were actually implemented and explain any differences between actual accomplishments and those that were projected in the work plan. The report should also display final project expenditures by category and provide recommendations for others contemplating a similar project. Be candid about what worked or didn't work and why.

 

The final report should also assess whether or not the original problem was solved and recommend any further actions needed. It is not unusual to gain new insights into problems while implementing a project.

 

A good time to tell the public what you have accomplished during your project is through news releases and tours. Closeout tours are also a good way to show your other participants and the funding entities that their time and money was well spent. Most projects will need a financial audit by a registered CPA. Results of the audit should be forwarded to all funding entities.

 

When you think you have met all of the final requirements for close-out, call or write the funding entities to assure that they concur.



OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE

 

Projects are rarely ever finished in the sense that continued operation and maintenance of management practices, structures and other construction activities will be needed to assure that benefits continue into the future. While an operation and maintenance agreement should be specified when a practice is put in place, the project sponsor needs to continue oversight well into the future. To keep the project benefits you worked so hard for, you should continue to monitor your project watershed to forestall any new threats to water quality.

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