by Sarah Squires
In the land of 10,000 lakes, Winona County is a unique change in landscape, with the area’s waterways predominantly in the form of streams and brooks.
And some of those streams and brooks can boast trout populations that other areas can only remember, as developments and other factors have taken a toll on trout numbers in Minnesota.
Just how the county can protect those streams while respecting the rights of property owners is a balance that is played out within its zoning ordinance, and the subject was up for discussion earlier this month when Planning Commission members reviewed shoreland rules as presented in the draft ordinance.
But measures for protecting trout streams within the county hadn’t changed with the rewrite, and geologist and commissioner Jeff Broberg asked that the county take a closer look. Calling the rules “upside-down,” Broberg pointed out that in the current ordinance trout streams were some of the least protected waters, allowing for the most dense developments planted closest to their banks.
The shoreland portions of the ordinance for both the existing ordinance and the draft rewrite are based on the state’s Department of Natural Resources’ model ordinance. That model is currently undergoing an update, with a draft expected to be released in June 2009.
Eric Johnson, Winona County Zoning Administrator, said that the county won’t likely make any major changes to the shoreland regulations during this ordinance rewrite, rather, it will wait and see whether the DNR’s new draft helps address some of the concerns with trout stream protection. “When you look at the state, most of the shoreland is in the northern part in lake country,” he said, adding that much of that model is focused on lake protective measures. He said that he thought the DNR’s update would address some of the issues unique to Southeastern Minnesota, such as stream protection. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all [state model ordinance],” he said.
Initial work done on the DNR’s update for the model ordinance does indicate that it may enhance the sections on river regulations and look beyond the northern lakes areas. “The goal is to have workable standards that reflect key resource values and science and are adaptable to a variety of local issues and needs,” reads a summary of a guiding committee meeting in March. Two issues listed to be addressed with the update included an added emphasis on rivers and adding “flexibility, creativity and addressing geographic diversity (one-size-does-not-fit-all.”
Stream protection: what’s on the table now
Waterways are divided into classifications within the state’s model ordinance, with most of Winona County’s trout streams falling into the category of “Agriculture and Tributaries.”
But that classification carries the least restrictive setbacks and density requirements for developments, with a 100-foot setback required for an unsewered structure, a 50-foot setback required for sewered structures, and a 75-foot setback for sewage treatment systems. Waterways which fall into other classifications, such as “Remote” waterways, carry setbacks of up to 200 feet for such developments.
Additionally, density restrictions for waterways classified as tributaries (most trout streams) require lot widths of 100 feet for single family homes without sewer, and 75 feet for those with. For waterways classified as “remote,” a 300-foot minimum lot width is required.
That means that more dense development is allowed along the banks of those trout streams than other waterways within Winona County, something that Broberg said was just backward.
“That’s the least restrictive category,” he said. “Tributary is not the right classification.” Broberg asked that the county add an entirely new classification for trout streams with its own setbacks and density standards to help protect those streams from the negative impacts associated with developments.
And Broberg argued that such a change in classification is just what the county is supposed to do with the model ordinance. “This is exactly what the authority of the county is,” he said, “to make this determination. The one thing that the DNR left for communities to decide is what’s important [for setbacks and standards].”
Dense developments set closely to such streams are associated with runoff, which can raise the temperature of streams, add sedimentation, and kill fish. And while much of Winona County’s trout streams fall into mostly agricultural areas, some people would like to see more restrictive protections in place before development pressures might arise.
The county’s Planning Commission is expected to continue reviewing the draft zoning ordinance next month, with a tentative meeting set for January 8. The next meeting will likely include discussion on bluff protection measures, a hot topic early on in the zoning ordinance process.