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Overview of Watershed Districts and Watershed Management Organizations

Watershed Districts

Watershed districts are local units of government that work to solve and prevent water-related problems. The boundaries of the districts follow those of a natural watershed (an area in which all water drains to one point).

Minnesota has 45 watershed districts, most of which are named after the primary lake or river within the watershed. Minnesota's watershed districts do not cover the entire state. They are created through a local petition process.

Laws that affect Watershed Districts are in Minnesota Statutes 103D.


The Minnesota Legislature authorized the creation of watershed districts in 1955, through the Watershed Act, with the idea that water management policies should be developed on a watershed basis, because water does not follow political boundaries.

The statutory purposes of watershed districts are to conserve the natural resources of the state by land use planning, flood control, and other conservation projects by using sound scientific principles for the protection of public health and welfare and the provident use of natural resources. The specific duties of Watershed Districts vary across the state -- some focus mainly on flood damage reduction, while others have a broad range of programs and services to protect and improve water quality.

Each watershed district is governed by a board of managers appointed by the county boards of commissioners with land in the watershed district. Each watershed district is also required to have a citizen advisory committee to provide input to the managers on projects and activities. Many watershed districts have paid, full-time staff; others rely on contract employees, primarily for engineering and legal services.

Watershed districts have been given broad authorities, including the authority to:

Quick facts:

Information and Resources

Joint Powers Watershed Management Organizations (WMOs)

In 1982, the Minnesota Legislature approved the Metropolitan Area Surface Water Management Act (Minnesota Statutes 103B.201 to 255), which requires local units of government in the seven-county Metro Area to prepare and implement comprehensive surface water management plans through membership in a WMO.

WMOs are based on watershed boundaries, and can be organized in three ways:

Watershed management organizations differ from watershed districts in a number of ways:

They also have many similarities, including the requirement to conduct their activities according to an approved watershed management plan. In addition to plan requirements in statute, metro area watershed districts and watershed management organizations must also abide by Minnesota Rules Chapter 8410, which spells out detailed plan requirements.

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Status of water plans

Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources

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