The need for an organization that "looks out for the best interest of the entire Zumbro Watershed" was recognized by a handful of private citizens back in March of 2004. At a workshop on sediment in the Zumbro River, these citizens were told that several of the stream reaches in the Zumbro were put on the state's "impaired waters list," meaning that they did not meet the state's standards for being clean enough for recreation or aquatic life.
After this realization, the citizens began meeting weekly to determine possible courses of action. As meetings took place, they were joined by folks from towns across the watershed.
On July 20, 2004, the initial group held a public meeting to discuss impaired waters in the Zumbro Watershed. They invited all interested individuals, farmers, cities, counties, townships, agricultural organizations, soil and water conservation districts, lake associations, environmental organizations and other state agencies with an interest in the watershed. More than 80 people attended this meeting and it was determined that a Watershed Organization that would promote collaboration among partners was needed.
In February of 2005, the Zumbro Watershed Partnership, Inc. (ZWP) filed its Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws and achieved its official 501(c)3 federal nonprofit status.
The decision to become a Partnership instead of a Watershed District or Joint-Powers Board stemmed from the desire to be citizen driven. The founders wanted the ability to grow the organization. In a partnership, citizens and local organizations work together to address common interests and concerns. Everyone is involved, thus the plan and work has the consensus of all parties who have a stake in the watershed. Since ZWP is member driven, we have a strong partner connection to provide the best community and professional attention to watershed topics. As the organization grows, we will work with both rural and urban water quality issues to find the best solutions for all the residents of the watershed.
Also in 2005, the ZWP applied for its first grant with assistance from the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources. The application was for a Federal Conservation Partnership Initiative Grant from the Natural Resource Conservation Service. The grant was approved, which provided $200,000 in funds and $200,000 in in-kind support from local partners to organize and publish a comprehensive watershed management plan, launch education and outreach initiatives, and conduct demonstration projects and four locations in the watershed. The plan and projects were completed in 2007.
Another major milestone for ZWP was in 2007 when it received an operational grant from the McKnight Foundation, which allowed us to continue operations and build our capacity to successfully coordinate efforts of the implementation phases of the watershed management plan.