Water issues have been all over the news in recent years, between pollution in the Mississippi River, declining water levels in White Bear Lake, and invasive aquatic species taking hold in lakes and rivers across the region. Meanwhile, the often untold story is that many Minnesota lakes and streams are actually getting better. Stillwater’s Lake McKusick was one of the first lakes in the state to be “de-listed” by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), thanks to local efforts, and area trout streams Brown’s Creek and Valley Branch are getting healthier by the day.
Watershed Districts and Watershed Management Organizations are the driving force behind many water quality improvements in the Twin Cities area. Governmental entities unique to Minnesota, WDs use property tax funds (or in the case of WMOs, contributions from their member cities) to prevent flooding and manage the health of surface water resources. Now, with an influx of funding from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, passed in 2008, local watershed improvement efforts are expanding at an impressive rate.
The MPCA, which once focused primarily on regulating factories and wastewater treatment plants that discharge to public waters, has now shifted to working with Watershed Districts and other local units of government to develop Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategies (WRAPS) that look at multiple factors contributing to water quality, both within a water body and also on the land in the surrounding watershed. During these studies, partners identify projects that could help to improve the health of the lake or stream that they are focusing on and involve nearby landowners and other interested people in the process of deciding which of these projects should go forward.
Next week, the Valley Branch Watershed District will kick off studies for five local lakes and one stream. Included in the study are Silver Lake in North St. Paul/Maplewood; Sunfish, Eagle Point and Horseshoe Lakes in Lake Elmo; and Lake Edith in Afton. A separate study will also look at Kelle’s Creek in Afton, which was recently found to have elevated levels of E. coli bacteria.
Silver Lake is popular for swimming, boating and fishing, but water clarity in the lake has been steadily declining since 1990. Meanwhile, concentrations of phosphorus, which contributes to excess algal growth, have been increasing. Last summer, the lake’s water quality was the worst since 1977. Though the other four lakes in the study are not nearly as well-known as Silver Lake, they provide important wildlife habitat and contribute to downstream water quality within the watershed. In addition, the lakes are popular destinations for local hikers, horseback riders and nature enthusiasts. Sunfish Lake is the namesake of Sunfish Lake Park, Eagle Point Lake sits close to the trail head at Lake Elmo Regional Park, and Lake Edith borders on Belwin Nature Conservancy.
Valley Branch WD invites people to learn more about the lakes studies on June 4 at Lake Elmo Regional Park. Watershed staff will share water quality trends for the five lakes and get feedback on the planned studies. There will also be a short, family-friendly hike down to Eagle Point Lake to look for aquatic invertebrates, which are common indicators of lake and stream health. During the Kelle’s Creek project kickoff, to be held on June 6 at Afton City Hall, local resident Leslie Thomas will share historical information about the area, as well as the results of her recent landowner survey. There will also be a short walk down to and along Kelle’s Creek.
For more information about Valley Branch Watershed District and the lake and stream improvement studies, visit www.vbwd.org or come to one of the public meetings.VBWD Lakes Project Kickoff Meeting When: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 – 5:30 pm Where: Nordic Center at Lake Elmo Regional Park (admission to the park is free on this date) What: Introduction to the project, the study lakes, and lake water quality, followed by a hike and pond dipping at Eagle Point Lake. VBWD Kelle’s Creek Project Kickoff Meeting When: Thursday, June 6, 2013 – 5:30 pm Where: Afton City Hall What: Presentation about this history of Kelle’s Creek by former watershed resident Leslie Thomas, an introduction to the project and the Kelle’s Creek E. coli bacteria impairment, and an informal walk down to Kelle’s Creek.