Public Policy Graduate Student Collaborates with Elk River on Wetland Policy

March 30, 2016 / By: Karen Lally, SCP Intern

In 1991, Minnesota passed the Wetland Conservation Act (WCA) in response to public concern about disappearing wetlands. The act prohibits the draining, filling and, in some cases, excavating in wetlands unless comparable wetland areas are created to compensate for the loss of these unique ecosystems (MBWSR Manual). Local government units - such as cities, counties, or watershed management organizations - are then responsible for enforcing the WCA requirements at a local level.

According to the National Wetland Inventory, Elk River is home to 1,256 wetlands, which play a key role in the community's flood management, water quality, wildlife habitat, and aesthetics. To protect these ecosystems, the City of Elk River passed an ordinance in 2006 which requires that a 25-foot natural buffer surround the edges of wetland areas and stormwater ponds. Such buffers are put in place to infiltrate stormwater, reduce nutrients entering into wetlands, control erosion, and capture sediment.

However, though the ordinance was passed nearly 10 years ago, there are still wetland areas in Elk River that are not compliant with the 25-foot wetland buffer policy. Kristin Mroz, Environmental Technician for Elk River, notes that "some of the wetlands located on city property don't even follow our own ordinance. It is in our best interest to identify these wetlands and take corrective action towards buffer placement. The city should be a role model to private landowners." To help reach this goal, Elk River is partnering with St. Thomas graduate student Andrew Erickson to research public policy options and to recommend creative education and communication strategies to increase public awareness and participation in wetland protection.

At this time, Erickson is working on his final thesis for Elk River. He says that his project "involves the evaluation and comparison of Elk River's WCA administration with administration of other local government units across the state in an effort to increase community awareness and compliance with WCA requirements." His final comprehensive report will include his findings as well as recommendations for action that Elk River can take to increase awareness of the buffer ordinance and the importance of protecting wetland areas. Mroz says that the city is "looking forward to reviewing Andrew's work and enacting his recommendations. The work he is doing is very valuable to our city staff and will be a resource to share with private landowners." Erickson's project will also be complemented with maps created by students in Geographic Information Systems (GEOG 321) taught by Dr. David Kelley.  Students in David Kelley's class will work with Elk River to map locations on city property which are not conforming with the 25-foot buffer. Check in with us later in the semester to learn more about how these projects are progressing! 

Source: Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources. The Minnesota Wetland Conservation Act Manual. Sept. 2004. St. Paul.