Local farmers adapt to improve soil health and the St. Croix River

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean | Posted on 24-03-2015

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Scandia farmers' breakfast

Scandia farmers’ breakfast

On a chilly morning in March, 30 local farmers gathered at the Scandia Community Center to meet staff from the Washington Conservation District and learn about new funding available for conservation projects on farms in the St. Croix Valley. During a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, and cinnamon rolls, District Manager Jay Riggs explained how elevated phosphorus levels in the St. Croix River are creating unhealthy conditions and what farmers can do to address this problem.

The Conservation District was established in 1942 in the wake of the dustbowl. Over the years, it has encouraged a variety of conservation farming practices, including using cover crops to hold the soil in place during the winter, building sediment basins that temporarily hold back runoff water and allow sediment to settle out, planting buffers of native or perennial plants along lakes and streams, creating grassed waterways in high-flow areas of farm fields, and planting trees to improve wildlife habitat and reduce wind erosion.

Five years ago, the Washington Conservation District received a grant from the St. Croix River Association to identify the “Top 50” locations in southern Washington County where conservation projects could most help to keep phosphorus and sediment out of the St. Croix River. Staff looked at potential projects identified in previous watershed plans and ravine inventories, in addition to conducting field assessments and site visits with land owners to identify new opportunities. Using modeling software, they estimated how much sediment and nutrients could be captured at each location and prepared a cost-benefit analysis of different structural and nonstructural practices that could be used. Then the district began reaching out to landowners.

During 2012 and 2013, the Washington Conservation District worked with five landowners in Afton and Denmark Twp. to install sediment basins on their properties in order to slow down rain runoff, reduce erosion, and filter out pollutants like sediment and phosphorus. A sediment basin is essentially a large, shallow bowl with a berm to hold back water from rain and melting snow, allowing time for suspended sediments to settle out. Pipes are built into the sides of the berms, allowing the water to flow through slowly so that it doesn’t cause erosion downhill or downstream. All five of the sediment basins were built upstream of eroding gullies that were previously sending large amounts of sediment and nutrients downstream to the St. Croix River. Together, these five projects will keep 163 pounds of phosphorus out of the river each year, which is the equivalent of 81,500 pounds of algae.

Now, the Conservation District has additional funding from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, through a Legacy funded Clean Water Grant, to install additional conservation projects on farms near the St. Croix River in both southern and northern Washington County. By pairing state funds with local Watershed District funds, the Conservation District will be able to complete these projects at little to no cost to the farmers that own the land.

Though this particular grant is short-term, Riggs made it clear to the group in Scandia that the Washington Conservation District is interested in establishing long-term relationships with area farmers and landowners and in doing more than just one-time projects. No-till farming and cover crops are two additional conservation farming strategies that have been getting a lot of attention in the Midwest lately because they help to improve soil health so that farmers can achieve greater yields with less chemical fertilizers, thereby increasing profit margins. No-till and cover crops also result in less erosion because there is less bare soil during the year, which translates into less pollution for nearby lakes and rivers – a win-win situation for everyone.

To learn more about funding and technical assistance available for conservation farming practices and projects in Washington County, contact 651-330-8220 or go to www.mnwcd.org.

Local residents stampede fairgrounds during rain barrel and tree sale

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Yards and Landscaping | Posted on 18-03-2015

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9:30am, Saturday, April 25 – Lake Elmo area police are called to the Washington County Fairgrounds after a crowd of local residents swarms Conservation District staff during their annual tree and rain barrel sale. Witnesses report that a woman in a tan station wagon leapt out of her car yelling, “No more winter, ever, ever again!” Shortly thereafter, people began jostling one another as they raced to scoop up bundles of trees, rain barrels and compost bins. One man tripped over a weed wrench as he rushed to ask a Master Gardener about emerald ash borer, and in the ensuing confusion, a rack of informative brochures was knocked to the ground.

Well, perhaps that won’t really happen, but for reasons I don’t fully understand, people in Minnesota seem to go bonkers about rain barrels, trees and all things gardening come April. I understand the excitement when a long, dreary winter finally gives way to spring – I myself have already been Googling garden arbors in anticipation – but it’s almost as if we’ve all been on a diet since October and just discovered the rain barrels are filled with chocolate frosting.

The Washington Conservation District began its tree sale in 1978 as a way to provide low-cost trees to local residents for habitat plantings, farm shelter belts, wind breaks, and home landscaping. Last year it sold more than 18,000 trees. The tree orders start trickling in over the winter, and by the end of March, the phone is ringing off the hook with people anxiously inquiring if they’re too late to get their trees. Already this year, Balsam Fir, Wild Plum, Paper Birch, Norway Spruce, Sumac, Common Choke Cherry, White Pine, White Spruce, Basswood/Linden, and White Oak are sold out, and the sale doesn’t even end until April.

For around ten years, the Washington Conservation District has been offering rain barrels during their spring sale, and this year, the District will partner with Recycling Association of Minnesota to offer both rain barrels and compost bins.

Rain barrels are popular because they enable gardeners to make use of a resource that would otherwise go to waste. By collecting rainwater from rooftops, they prevent the water from flowing off down a driveway or into a storm sewer. Later, this water can be used for trees and gardens in the yard, instead of relying on city water or pumping new well water out of the ground. Compost bins also help gardeners to turn waste into a resource. The bins convert leaves, grass and kitchen scraps into nutrient rich compost that can be used to boost flower and vegetable gardens. This helps to keep food waste out of landfills and also provides free fertilizer.

To learn more about the Washington Conservation District spring sale, go to www.mnwcd.org. Trees are available in bundles of 25 for $35, with a special bird-friendly packet of 30 trees for $53 available as well. The rain barrels hold 54 gallons of water and cost $69. They come with all of the necessary hardware, as well as a screen on the top to prevent mosquitoes from laying eggs inside.  Compost bins hold 82 gallons and cost $55. All items must be pre-ordered and picked up at the Washington County Fairgrounds on Friday April 24, 8am-8pm or Saturday, April 25, 8am-noon.

No stampeding is allowed, even in the name of conservation.

Spring Melt and Battling Mud

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean | Posted on 12-03-2015

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Don't let mud reach the storm sewer! They connect to lakes, rivers and streams.

Don’t let mud reach the storm sewer! They connect to lakes, rivers and streams.

The long awaited spring has finally arrived. Goodbye snow and icy roads, dreary days spent indoors, and abundant layers of clothes. Hello…mud. I took a walk in the Tamarack Nature Preserve over lunch today and I saw a guy in the parking lot basking in a lawn chair next to his car as if it were the middle of summer. Luckily for me, there are wooden boardwalks crossing the wetlands in the preserve because there was still a fair amount of ice on the trails and where there wasn’t ice, there was mud. Meanwhile in my own backyard, the lawn is more like a quaking bog than a play space.

Mud is an inevitable part of spring, but it can be a big problem for local lakes and streams when it doesn’t stay put on the land. Active building sites can be particularly problematic, even when they’re relatively small. In Minnesota, the Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) requires a permit for all construction sites disturbing an acre or more of soil. These permits require that the land owners and developers install erosion control measures to keep mud from washing off into nearby lakes and streams, especially during spring snow melt and heavy rains. If the site will remain inactive for 14 days or more, such as during the winter, permit holders must stabilize all bare soil and stockpiles of soil with mulch, staked sod, riprap, erosion control blankets, or another material that prevents the soil from eroding.

Erosion control requirements are more stringent near wetlands and other water bodies.

Erosion control requirements are more stringent near wetlands and other water bodies.

Oftentimes the local Watershed District or city may have erosion control requirements that are even more restrictive than the MPCA. For example, the Brown’s Creek Watershed District requires permits for all projects that move more than 50 cubic yards of soil or remove vegetation from 5000 square feet of land. Also, the MPCA and local watersheds have additional provisions in place for building sites located near lakes, rivers and wetlands.

Though permit systems are in place, mud still slips through the cracks in many places, especially during the spring. Erosion control materials can get knocked down or beat up during the winter, which makes it all the more important for builders to get out on site at this time of year to repair things before the dirt starts washing into waterways or clogging up storm sewers. Oftentimes, small residential projects can be a problem because they aren’t large enough to require a permit. People who are doing a little landscaping or home remodeling don’t always think about erosion control, but the dirt can wash off of small sites just as easily as large ones.

Mud and dirty runoff can smother fish eggs and ruin water quality in lakes and streams.

Mud and dirty runoff can smother fish eggs and ruin water quality in lakes and streams.

One thing to look for in your own neighborhood is trails of dirt or mud leading to storm drains in the streets. Tracing backwards it is usually pretty easy to see where the mud is coming from; if it is a small area in the yard or boulevard, a few bags of mulch or a small roll of erosion control fabric from the local hardware store might be enough to fix the problem. Mud coming from larger building sites should be reported to the city or the local watershed district. In addition, the MPCA has a Stormwater Hotline at 651-757-2119.

If you own a larger track of land, such as a farm, the Washington Conservation District can offer advice and sometime funding assistance to reduce mud on your property and prevent erosion from washing away valuable pastures and crop land, polluting wetlands, lakes and streams in the process. To schedule a free site visit, contact 651-330-8220.

Chasing the Spring

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Partners and Updates, Yards and Landscaping | Posted on 04-03-2015

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Coming back from a frozen run.

Coming back from a frozen run.

The temperature hovered 1° above zero, though the wind made it feel much colder. As we ran, my dog Molly kept pausing and looking back as if there were someone else behind us. Who, I don’t know, as we did not see one single person outside of their homes or cars in our entire six-mile loop. I suppose she figured that the only reasonable explanation for why we would be outside running on such a miserable day would be if someone or something were chasing us. Then again, perhaps she was right, and the Abominable Snowman or possibly Old Man Winter himself was following us the whole way.

This is the time of year in which I am most likely to doubt that Minnesota will ever be warm again. Yet, we are now tantalizingly close to March 20, the official first day of spring. Before we know it (please let me be right), the snows will begin to melt, the bitter wind will lose its sting, and the trees and plants, long dormant, will come to life again.

Though the thermometer might not show it, one sure sign of spring is the Master Gardeners’ spring landscape workshop, scheduled for this coming weekend, March 7, at the Oakdale Discovery Center. The “Beyond Beautiful” workshop is a free event, open to the public, with opportunities for people to talk one-on-one with Master Gardeners about their own gardening projects, as well as to enjoy presentations on Conserving Monarch Butterflies, Landscaping for Birds and Bees, and Lawn Care and Pruning Tips.

The next weekend, March 14, St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Woodbury will hold an Environmental Fair, another welcome sign of spring. Dozens of local organizations and community groups will be featured at the event, with information and family friendly activities about raingardens and planting for clean water, composting, solar and wind energy, rain barrels, and more.

Meanwhile, local watershed management organizations are planning for another round of clean water projects in 2015. The Brown’s Creek Watershed District was recently awarded a $200,000 Clean Water Grant from the Board of Water and Soil Resources to retrofit the gravel parking lot at Brown’s Creek Park in Stillwater to reduce sediment pollution and cool runoff water flowing into the trout stream.  Also in Stillwater, the Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization received a $142,000 Clean Water grant to install up to 16 small-scale practices in areas that drain directly to the St. Croix River in order prevent 8lb of phosphorus and 2 tons of sediment from washing into the river.

In northern  Washington County, the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District will receive $108,431 for projects to improve Goose Lake, and $98,200 to reduce stormwater runoff in the City of Marine. In addition, the Ramsey – Washington Metro Watershed District was recently awarded a $150,000 Clean Water grant from the Board of Water and Soil Resources to work with faith-based communities in the local area on projects such as parking lot retrofits and raingardens that help to reduce runoff pollution.

This spring, local watershed organizations will continue to offer mini grants to homeowners to help defray the costs of raingardens, shoreline plantings, and other similar projects that help to protect rivers, lakes and streams. The Washington Conservation District will also continue to offer free site visits for homeowners and property owners and to help design many of these clean water planting projects.

To get a jump start on planning for spring and summer projects at your own home, check out the Master Gardener Spring Workshop (Saturday, March 7, 8am-noon at the Oakdale Discovery Center, 4444 Hadley Ave. N.) or the St. Ambrose Environmental Fair (Saturday, March 14, 1-6pm at St. Ambrose Catholic Church, 4125 Woodbury Dr.).

To learn more about cost-share grants for raingardens and shoreline plantings contact the Washington Conservation District at 651-330-8220 x.35.

Until then, keep your eyes fixed ahead, and your feet moving swiftly, away from the winter towards spring.

Stormwater Detective

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean | Posted on 23-02-2015

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Minnesota Conservation Corps volunteers stencil a storm drain near the St. Croix River with the message "Do not dump, drains to the river."

Minnesota Conservation Corps volunteers stencil a storm drain near the St. Croix River with the message “Do not dump, drains to the river.”

My husband gets all the attention when we meet new people. His job as a forensic electrical engineer has him traversing attic beams, sifting through fire debris and kicking down doors in burnt up homes in a quest to discover the causes of fires. People’s eyes grow wide as they ask him if his job is a real-life version of the hit TV show CSI. He’ll nod and smile sagely, conveniently leaving out the part about the long monotonous drives to small Midwestern cities, the all-too frequent pig barn fires, and the hours spent shivering in the cold while investigating a fire in some arctic outpost in North Dakota.

In comparison, a job in water resources management doesn’t sound very intriguing.

“So what do you do for a living Angie?”

“I’m a stormwater educator.”

“That’s really, umm, interest…zzzzzzz.”

Well, I am here to set the record straight that the world of stormwater management can be seedy and sordid indeed. Take illicit discharge detection and elimination as an example. I’m sure you have no idea what that phrase means, but it sure sounds scandalous doesn’t it?

When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, it did not specifically address runoff pollution from city streets, commonly known as stormwater runoff.  Overtime, however, research showed that the water emptying out of storm pipes into rivers, lakes and streams was filled with many contaminants. Because these pipes collect rain and melting snow from streets and parking lots, the water is often filled with a gruesome mix of litter, dirt, grass, leaves, fine particles from car exhaust, road salt, lawn chemicals, and even dog poop. Even worse, some people intentionally pour toxic chemicals into storm drains near their homes, mistakenly believing these pipes flow to treatment facilities instead of straight to the river. Not too long ago, it was common for people to dump used engine oil into storm drains, instead of taking the oil to an auto repair store or their County Environmental Center. Even now, contractors frequently empty dirty wash water from carpet cleaning or wash cement off of tools straight into storm drains that connect directly to the lakes and rivers we swim in and fish from. These are the illegal (ie. illicit) discharges.

In 1987, congress passed a major update to the Clean Water Act that required cities with storm sewer systems to begin tracking, reporting on, and reducing stormwater runoff pollution. As a result, hundreds of communities and public entities in Minnesota now have stormwater permits, regulated by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Identifying and eliminating illicit discharges to storm drains is one of the requirements of these permits.

Because of the stormwater permit system, city staff get to become detectives. If they see soapy water coming out of a storm sewer outlet into a city lake, for example, it is up to the public works department to trace backwards and try to determine where the water is coming from. Is someone washing a car in a driveway up the road? Did a cleaning crew recently dump out wash water into the street? Sometimes, the answers to these questions are surprising. For example, when the City of Woodbury began investigating why water was coming out of some of their pipes even when it wasn’t raining, they discovered that overly irrigated lawns seeping down into buried storm pipes were often the culprit. Equally surprising, other cities have found examples of homes and businesses that have sinks and indoor drains connected to the storm sewer system instead of the sanitary sewer system.

At the end of the day, managing a municipal stormwater system will never be a high profile job, even though the work is vitally important to protecting the lakes and rivers we love. However, I have a feeling city staff might get more respect at cocktail parties if they started introducing themselves as stormwater detectives.

Thriving in the face of the Winter-maker

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Outdoor Adventures, Partners and Updates | Posted on 19-02-2015

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February 7 was one of those warm winter days that makes northerners dream of spring. The sun was shining, the air was balmy, and the only thing lacking was just a little more snow to make play time more fun. I spent more than an hour lounging in my backyard with kid and dog, before heading out in the afternoon for a leisurely run on the Brown’s Creek Trail. Come evening, we headed to Lake Phalen, where I helped to cue puppets for a special story-telling at the inaugural Phalen Freeze Fest.

Merganser and Winter-maker puppets in front of Lake Phalen

Merganser and Winter-maker puppets in front of Lake Phalen

When St. Paul Parks and Recreation began planning for Phalen Freeze Fest, they conceived of an evening in which hardy Minnesotans would come together to play and spend time outdoors, in spite of the cold and snow. Urban Roots and the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District lent their talents to plan a creative telling of the Ojibwe legend of Shingebiss, a plucky merganser duck that thrives throughout the winter, cutting holes in the ice to fish each day. Urban Roots, a Saint Paul-based organization focused on food, conservation and youth development, worked with teen volunteers to build larger than life puppets they used to act out the story. Meanwhile staff from Parks and Rec and the Watershed District worked with school and after school groups at St. Paul Public Library, Duluth Case and Hancock Recreation Centers, Harding High School Earth Club, American Indian Magnet, Farnsworth Aerospace, and Great River School to create smaller puppets for event attendees. The idea was to have kids in the audience act out the story as it was narrated and performed on stage.

Ten minutes before show time, the crowd was still small, but by the time the narrator began, nearly every seat was taken in the outdoor amphitheater near the lake. On stage, the youth surged forward and back, five to a puppet, as the Winter-maker and merganser took turns leading the story. In their seats, smiling children giggled and waved animal masks and sock puppets on cue. Some, like my son, shouted words of encouragement to Shingebiss, who nonchalantly carried on even as the Winter-maker doled out his worst.

Charlie tries out ice fishing on Lake Phalen.

Charlie tries out ice fishing on Lake Phalen.

After the story, the crowd fanned out toward Lake Phalen, where MN Department of Natural Resources, Fishing in the Neighborhood (FiN) staff were helping families try out ice fishing. Other activities included cooking over a fire, flashlight geocaching, lighted frisbee tossing and a Story Walk.

Our own encounter with the Winter-Maker happened later in the evening, once it was fully dark. My son led me down to the lake to show me where he had been fishing earlier and we chatted with the FiN staff as out little guy poked a stick into the water. Then, in the wink of an eye, he stood up and stepped plunk straight into the hole, soaking his leg all the way up to his knee. Being the plucky ducks that we are, however, we did not rage or shake our fists at the winter. We scooped the kid up and headed back to the car, and, when we stopped for Indian on the way home, Charlie wore one of my mittens on his foot instead of a boot.

Underground water

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Groundwater | Posted on 10-02-2015

Have you seen any good movies lately? How about the one where a little camera slowly descends into a well several hundred feet deep in Afton State Park? You can see water and rocks and, well…you know, it sure captivated a room full of science geeks.

With funding from the Metropolitan Council, the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment, and the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), the Minnesota Geological Survey (MGS) is wrapping up a pair of research projects that have vastly improved understanding of how water moves underground in the Twin Cities metro area. The research supports previous findings that high capacity wells are causing groundwater to move more quickly and go deeper than it would otherwise. New data collected also show that water is moving both horizontally and vertically below ground.

To better explain this research, let me first offer a basic primer on how groundwater works.  Groundwater is the water beneath the land’s surface that fills the spaces between rocks and sediment.  If you think of the earth as a layer cake, there are porous layers where water is stored, known as aquifers, and confining layers of impenetrable rock that water cannot move through.  Thus, there can be several layers of aquifers, one on top of another, with the deepest aquifers containing the oldest water. Statewide, groundwater provides about 75% of our drinking water, and in Washington County it provides 100% of the water we use for drinking, irrigation, and commercial uses.

Groundwater interacts with surface water in many different ways. There are recharge areas where rainwater collects and soaks easily into the ground, as well as spring-fed lakes and streams where groundwater flows out to the land’s surface. We humans are able to access groundwater by drilling wells that go hundreds of feet deep into the ground to reach both shallow and deep aquifers.

As part of the County Geologic Atlas program, MGS has worked with many counties in Minnesota to map the sediments, rocks and aquifers below ground, as well as public and private wells.  These geologic atlases show where aquifers connect with surface water resources and also include information about geology, mineral resources, and natural history in each county. Additional maps, created by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, show water levels in aquifers, direction of groundwater flow, water chemistry, and sensitivity to pollution.

According to Robert Tipping, a Senior Scientist involved in recent MGS research, there is a correlation in the metro area between locations where there is deeper groundwater pumping, and those with higher levels of chloride in the groundwater. This information, paired with other water quality data collected, tells the MGS scientists that human activities (such as putting down road salt) are not only increasing chloride levels in groundwater, but also causing the chloride to move down into deeper aquifers.

By installing measurement equipment and dropping video cameras down into a couple of test wells, MGS was also able to document that water is moving both horizontally and vertically beneath ground. In a test well in Edina, Tipping estimates that water was flowing downward at a rate of 30-40 gallons per minute, which was much faster than they had previously imagined. Video footage from a temporary well built in Afton State Park showed water shooting out of a horizontal fault in one of the bedrock layers and then rushing downward toward a deeper level aquifer. Watching the video, it is easy to see how a poorly placed or improperly constructed well could act as a wormhole, allowing contaminants from a shallow aquifer to travel through confining layers into a deeper aquifer. To prevent this from happening in Afton, the test well was carefully controlled during the investigation and sealed at the end of the project.

In future research, MGS hopes to gain a better understanding of how groundwater travels through or across vertical fractures in bedrock, as well as how it moves through bedrock valleys. As for the thrilling footage from the bottom of a well, maybe you’ll find it on YouTube some day!

Learn more about the Minnesota Geological Survey at www.mngs.umn.edu. Find information from the Minnesota DNR’s County Atlas project at www.dnr.state.mn.us/waters/groundwater_section/mapping.

The Nature of Change

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Buckthorn, Yards and Landscaping | Posted on 09-02-2015

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Think Minnesota winters are bad? You should have been here 75,000 years ago when the snow never melted, even in the summer. Massive glaciers covered the land, encasing Minnesota in a slow-moving, back and forth deep freeze that lasted 65,000 years. When the glaciers finally retreated for good, they scraped the earth bare in some places, left heaps of rocky soil in others, and etched deep wrinkles across the land as the melting ice water flowed away to the oceans. Over the past 10,000 years, the glacial waters continued to recede, leaving us with the Minnesota landscape we know today. As the glacial lakes have dried up, they’ve left behind thousands of smaller lakes and wetlands as remnants, and the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers now flow through wide valleys carved by the glacial River Warren.

The Minnesota we know today includes three distinct biomes: pine woods in the north and east; oak woods in the center and southeast; and prairie grasslands across the southern and western portions of the state. Climate change is gradually moving the boundaries of these biomes, however. As a result, some keystone species like aspen, tamarack and moose are declining, while others like maple are migrating north and east. On top of all that, scientists are learning that temperature and precipitation are changing more rapidly here than in other parts of the U.S., especially in northern Minnesota.

For most of us, the changes we are most familiar with are those we see in our own communities. Farm fields give way to new developments, or an empty lot becomes a new store. Many rural landowners in the county tell me they’ve seen changes on their own land over the years. A few years back, after several consecutive years of drought, I heard more than one person remark that a pond or wetland on their property had gone dry for the first time that they could remember. People also notice that the woods around them are changing, as older oaks die and invasive species like buckthorn and garlic mustard move in. Sometime, they notice changes in the kinds of birds that come to the feeder, or the ducks that land on the lake. Change happens in town as well.  Neighborhoods gradually grow shadier as the spindly trees planted decades ago in yards and parks grow and spread, and invasive species in the form of weeds march across lawns and under fences.

On February 21, Wild Ones, a local nonprofit, will hold a daylong conference entitled Design With Nature: Changing Tactics. An event for gardeners, designers, and enthusiasts of native plants and natural landscapes, the conference is billed as an opportunity to “rethink how we design and manage our landscapes” in the presence of constant change, both natural and manmade. Travis Beck, a nationally recognized landscape architect, will share tips for designing yards and other landscapes that adapt naturally over time as trees and shrubs mature and other changes occur. Wiley Buck, a restoration ecologist with local nonprofit Great River Greening, will talk about local grazing initiatives using sheep, goats and horses to control buckthorn and manage prairies in rural and urban settings. Leslie Brandt, a climate specialist with US Forest Service, will discuss a Chicago-based initiative to manage city trees as an urban forest, using forest management practices to respond to the impacts of climate change.

The Wild Ones Design With Nature: Changing Tactics conference will be held Saturday, Feb. 21 at the Nicollet Island Pavilion in Minneapolis (free parking).  Register by Feb. 13 ($55 Wild Ones Members / $60 General Public). Learn more at www.DesignWithNatureConference.org.

Minnesota Fairytale

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean | Posted on 02-02-2015

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A frozen Brown’s Creek in the enchanted kingdom.

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was an enchanted kingdom. Within this kingdom, the trees grew taller than castles, crystalline rivers flowed through the land, and there were more lakes than a person could count. Many beautiful princes and princesses lived in the kingdom, and they weren’t all tall and blonde like the royalty from other fairytales either (though, to be honest, due to their Scandinavian heritage, a fair number of them were). Some had black hair, some had brown, and a couple even had red hair. In any case, these beautiful princes and princesses lived happily together fishing and hunting for food, swimming merrily in the many lakes and rivers, and drinking water that burbled up out of the earth like magic.

Over time, however, the people began to notice that many of the lakes and rivers in the kingdom weren’t as healthy as they used to be. In some places, castles and yellow-brick roads had been built too close to the water’s edge, and when it rained, the rain washed dirt and grime off of rooftops and roadways and into the water. The rain washed nutrients from soil, leaves and grass clippings into the lakes as well, feeding algae in the water. By the summer’s end, many of the formerly beautiful lakes in the kingdom were green instead of blue, creating most un-picturesque backdrops for the grand ball the king and queen hosted each year.

Elsewhere in the kingdom, fishermen and women who cast lines into streams came home empty handed. Many of the once plentiful fish had lost their breeding grounds, been smothered by sediment, or died due to warm water, salt and pollution. In some places, even the water that sprang from the ground came up dirty; fertilizers from farm fields and chemicals from businesses had soaked down through the soil, contaminating the water that nourished the people of the land.

One day (2008, to be exact), the king and queen called all of the people of the kingdom together and asked them what could be done to return the lakes and rivers of the land to their former splendor.  After much debate, the princes and princesses voted to pool their money together to pay a team of fairies to fix the water. Calling their decision the “Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment,” the people determined that for 25 years, they would set aside a small portion of their sales taxes to pay for clean water, habitat, parks and trails, and arts within the kingdom.

After this decree, the team of fairies set to work. They collected water samples to determine which of the countless lakes in the kingdom were still healthy and which needed help. They planted magical prairies, trees and gardens around the rivers and lakes to purify the rainwater flowing off of the land, and they taught the princes and princesses how to take better care of their water. A few years later, many of the lakes in the kingdom were clearer than they had been, the fish had lower levels of mercury, and the water coming out of the castles’ wastewater treatment plants had much less phosphorus.

Try as they might, however, the fairies couldn’t fix all of the problems.  Though their magic was strong, they still needed help from the princes and princesses to clean up the water. So, the fairies gathered the people of the kingdom together again and they told them, “Each one of you has something you can do. You may not realize it, but you all have magic too. Some of you can help to plant the magic gardens and trees, some of you can put less fertilizer and salt on the ground, and some of you can teach others how to protect our water. We will only succeed if we all do our part.”

What happened then? It was a fairytale ending of course. All the princes and princesses used their magic powers and the fairies waved their wands faster than ever. A cloud of glitter rose up into the air and when it finally settled, it covered the kingdom in pure white snow. Beneath the snow, the lakes and rivers were clean again, and the people of that enchanted land lived happily ever after.

To learn more about progress on the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, visit www.legacy.leg.mn/. Find a summary of Clean Water Funds invested, actions taken, and outcomes achieved at www.legacy.leg.mn/sites/default/files/resources/2014_CleanWaterFund_ReportCard.pdf.

Reusing Runoff at the Oneka Ridge Golf Course

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Water Conservation | Posted on 12-01-2015

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Until recently, it never occurred to most Minnesotan’s that water could be a finite resource. After a string of dry summers resulted in low water levels for White Bear and other area lakes, however, local communities have begun looking for innovative ways to reduce groundwater pumping. Reusing stormwater runoff for irrigation is a relatively new idea that is gaining popularity because it offers the elusive possibility of addressing two problems with one solution – reducing stormwater pollution and conserving groundwater resources.

In late 2014, the Rice Creek Watershed District completed a massive stormwater reuse project in partnership with the City of Hugo and Oneka Ridge Golf Course that will capture and reuse up to 32 million gallons of nutrient-rich stormwater that would otherwise flow into Bald Eagle Lake, contributing to excess algae growth and poor water quality. The project received additional funding from a $497,100 Clean Water Fund grant from the Minnesota Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment.

The foundation of the Oneka Ridge project is a large stormwater pond near the 18th hole that collects runoff from about 1000 acres of land. The pond connects to an irrigation system that waters 116 acres of turf. Extra water not needed for irrigation is pumped into perforated pipes so that it can soak into the ground and recharge shallow groundwater supplies. According to estimates, the system will reduce the golf course’s groundwater pumping by up to 50%, though the actual amount will vary from year to year depending on how much rain there is. By reusing the water instead of letting it run off, Oneka Ridge will also keep 75 pounds of phosphorus per year out of Bald Eagle Lake.

Golf courses, athletic fields and homeowners associations are ideal locations for stormwater reuse projects because they have ample space for stormwater ponds and are usually using a lot of water to irrigate turf. The South Washington Watershed District recently worked with Prestwick Golf Club in Woodbury on a similar project that uses stormwater runoff from County Road 19 for irrigation. Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota has designed a new eco-friendly dormitory that uses stormwater runoff to fill and flush toilets. A similar system at the new Saints Stadium in St. Paul will use stormwater from the nearby Metro Transit facility to irrigate the ball field and fill 10% of the toilets.

Homeowners interested in using stormwater to water lawns and gardens can install underground cisterns to collect runoff from rooftops or driveways. Several years ago, Jackie Metelak, a Master Gardener in Mahtomedi, replaced her driveway with porous pavers and installed an underground cistern to collect water for her many gardens.  Trinity Presbyterian, a church in Woodbury, installed a similar cistern on their property, along with raingardens and a porous paver patio. Washington Conservation District provided technical assistance for both projects, while the local watershed districts supplied cost-share funding.