Local cities adapt to changing water availability

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Water Conservation | Posted on 15-04-2014

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A view from the White Bear Lake Yacht Club show the impacts of declining water levels on White Bear and other area lakes.

According to Steve Kernik, Environmental Planner with the City of Woodbury, there is a distinction to be made when talking about city efforts to conserve water, “Before White Bear Lake…and then after.” Like other communities in Washington County, Woodbury gets 100% of its municipal water supply from wells that tap into groundwater aquifers. Whether it’s water for drinking, flushing toilets, watering lawns or cooling factory machinery, it all comes from the same source – cool, clean groundwater that has been naturally filtered through years of infiltration and percolation.

Like other growing communities, Woodbury is also keenly aware of the city’s increasing water needs. More homes and people mean more wells to drill and more money to spend. Then there is the question, will there be enough water? Ten years ago, the Metropolitan Council released frightening projections for aquifer draw-downs in portions of Washington and Dakota Counties. Around the same time, water managers began wondering if new wells in Woodbury might impact Valley Creek, a nearby trout stream fed by groundwater. Along with many other metro area communities, Woodbury implemented summer watering restrictions, adjusted its water rates to encourage conservation, and began searching for ways to reduce its per capita water consumption. Then White Bear Lake started shrinking and suddenly everyone was talking about groundwater.

In northern Washington County, the City of Hugo has also been adapting to meet water needs as the community grows. Like Woodbury, the city has adjusted water rates and implemented watering restrictions. City ordinances also include landscaping requirements for new development that encourage shade trees and native landscaping, when possible, and also require builders to put down topsoil before laying sod so that lawns won’t need as much water. Despite all these efforts, City  Administrator Bryan Bear says they felt like they were “in the crosshairs,” once people started talking about the impacts of groundwater use on White Bear and other area lakes.

Now that groundwater has become such a hot topic, both Woodbury and Hugo are ramping up their efforts to reduce municipal water use and looking to irrigation, especially, for improvement opportunities. “During the winter we can supply all of our city water needs with only three wells,” explains Kernik, “but during the summer we need 17 to meet peak water demands.” Even with increased water rates and watering restrictions in place, summer water use continues to climb, especially in the new developments where built-in irrigation systems are the norm. At the same time, however, the city also struggles to manage stormwater runoff from roads and developed areas. Last year, while Washington County was widening County Road 19, Woodbury and the South Washington Watershed District worked with them to redesign existing stormwater ponds at Eagle Valley and Prestwick Golf Courses so that the irrigation systems can reuse runoff water from the road to water the golf course greens instead of pumping new water from the aquifer.

Up in Hugo, the city recently completed a similar project at Oneka Ridge Golf Course with help from the Rice Creek Watershed District. Runoff from surrounding ditches is routed into ponds that feed the irrigation system, and when there is left-over water, it flows to infiltration trenches that help the water to soak into the ground. Currently, Hugo is looking into the feasibility of retrofitting stormwater ponds in a couple dozen Homeowner Associations within the city so that they can reuse stormwater for irrigation as well. In addition to looking for more places to reuse stormwater water, staff and officials from both Woodbury and Hugo know that educating the public and changing residential landscaping practices will be critical to ensure that municipal water use is sustainable in the long run. “We’re bringing all our ideas to the table right now,” says Kernik. “The goal is to hold water use at today’s levels even once the city is fully developed.”

To download a one-page fact sheet with recommendations for mowing, irrigation and aeration to promote a healthy and less thirsty lawn, go to www.mnwcd.org/lawn-care. Experts recommend that you mow often but keep your grass tall (at least 2.5 inches in spring and fall, and 3 inches in summer), aerate compacted soils once per year around Labor Day, and install rain and soil moisture sensors on irrigation systems to reduce unnecessary watering.  Learn more about native plants for replacing lawn at www.BlueThumb.org.

Scooping the poop with style

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean | Posted on 04-04-2014

Dogs on pier at Lake Elmo Regional Park

There once was a gal from Stillwater,
Whose dog was a too frequent squatter.
She’d pick up the poo,
‘Cause it’s the right thing to do,
But man, did she wish it was not her.
 

Thanks to the recent warmer weather, our family has been venturing outside more and more often. Both our front and back yards are still mostly covered in snow, but the patches of greenish-brown grass and earth beneath are gradually becoming larger.  Interspersed among the piles of snow and ice, muddy ground, and sloppy puddles, a terrible hazard has emerged – dog poop. In fact, the massive quantity of dog poop in our yard is rather breathtaking (literally) and somewhat perplexing too, as we have only one dog and have actually been picking up the poop as much as possible throughout the winter. How much poop can one dog create?

According to DoodyCalls, a pet waste removal service, the 78.2 million dogs currently living in the U.S. create 10 million tons of waste every year, enough to fill 267,500 tractor trailers to the brim. Larger dogs obviously create more waste than smaller dogs, but none-the-less, an average sized dog could easily generate 255 pounds of poop in one year!

Given how horribly unpleasant it is to scoop up partly defrosted feces from my yard, would there really be any harm if I just wait until it melts away? One look at my toddler scrambling around on his mostly melted snow fort and I know that the answer is definitively yes.  Unfortunately, dog poop can carry a whole host of bacteria and parasites, including heartworm, whipworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, parvovirus, giardia, salmonella and e.coli. Avoiding the poop until it melts away naturally isn’t really an option either; some of the parasites like roundworm remain infectious in contaminated soil for years.

Then there is the issue of nutrients. Many people falsely believe dog poop acts as a fertilizer, but because dogs are carnivores, their poop is actually quite different from horse or cow manure. There is some research from University Extension offices around the country showing that pet waste can be composted and then used as fertilizer, but only if you follow a special compost recipe to ensure that you get safe results. It is true, however, that dog poop contains nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen (human feces does as well). This can be a problem for local lakes and rivers when dog poop washes into storm sewers or waterways, contributing to excess nutrients in the water that can cause harmful algae blooms. In some parts of the country, cities have had to close beaches near dog parks or “dog-heavy” areas after rainstorms due to too much polluted runoff.

So what’s a stylish gal to do about dog poop on her walk or in her yard? First, you need to get yourself some color-coordinated bags. We buy ours in little spools that fit easily in a pocket and come in green, pink, yellow and purple. In the yard, you can accent your look with a pair of lady-like gloves. We’ve got a box of blue latex exam gloves on a shelf in the garage and they do help to make things less gross. If all else fails, you can always hire a service!

Walking on Water

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Partners and Updates, Yards and Landscaping | Posted on 02-04-2014

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The view from the top of the south hill stairs is almost worth the climb.

Quiz time! Your husband is out of town, you’ve been working all day, after picking up your two-year old from daycare he runs into the backyard and refuses to come inside, and the dog is jumping up and down whinnying because she hasn’t gone for a walk yet. Do you: a) Scream at the dog, “Leave me alone, leave me alone, leave me alone!”; b) Bundle your son into a snowsuit and then attempt to walk around the neighborhood while the dog pulls frantically and the child stops to dig in the snow at each new house you pass; or c) Strap the two-year old to your back and the dog’s leash to your front, then head out for some exercise? If you chose a, b or c, you are wrong.

So it came to be that I was hiking through Stillwater last week, carrying my son Charlie, who now weighs more than 30 pounds, on my back. The Kelty backpack used to be so practical, but now that Charlie is older he is heavier, wigglier, and more demanding. “That way mama! Downhill. River! Bridge!” he shouted as we zigzagged our way through town. Before I knew it we were on the lift bridge, literally walking to Wisconsin. “No! Down there!” Charlie cried as he pointed urgently at the St. Croix River below. Though the ice looked firm as ever, I wouldn’t trust it for a minute. “No such luck!” I replied. “Mommy can’t walk on water.”

Though today’s thermometer may as well have traveled through a time warp from January, the subtle signs are out there that spring really is almost coming. A goose stood honking outside my office window last week, the squirrels are beginning to bound more flamboyantly, and in spots here and there, dry land has emerged from beneath the snow. It’s staying light later into the evening, and after several months of near-hibernation Charlie and the other children in our neighborhood are beginning to play outside again. Standing outside in yard reminds me that I do, in fact, have a yard and that I actually spent quite a bit of time last summer planting new gardens throughout the front and back. Did the new flowers and shrubs survive this winter’s deep-freeze?

Walking across the river last week, I remembered that the St. Croix is still there too and I suddenly wished fervently that the ice would melt so that we could jump in a canoe and paddle instead of tromp. All in good time, said the spring.

In the coming weeks, there are a flurry of opportunities for people to embrace the coming spring and the changes it will bring to our yards and our surrounding watershed. On April 7, 5:30-8:30pm, the East Metro Water Resource Education Program will hold a raingarden design course at the Family Means Center, 1875 Northwestern Ave. in Stillwater. Learn how and why to build a raingarden in your yard and then sit down one-on-one with a landscape designer from the Washington Conservation District to create a design. Register on-line at http://tinyurl.com/2014StillwaterGarden. A similar three-part raingarden design course will be held at the Bayport Library on April 24, 6-7:30pm, April 29, 6-8pm, and May 1, 6-8pm. Register at http://tinyurl.com/2014BayportGardens. Residents from Stillwater or other Middle St. Croix Watershed communities who attend the workshops will qualify for a $250 plant grant. Other Washington County residents can qualify for cost-share grants through their local watershed organizations as well.

The Washington Conservation District is also taking orders for its spring tree sale. Bare-root seedlings are sold in bundles of 25 for $35, and a bird packet, which has five each of Bur Oak, White Oak, Black Cherry, White Pine, Chokecherry, and Wild Plum, is also available for $50. Download an order form at www.mnwcd.org/land/trees. Trees will be available for pick-up on April 25 and 26 at the Washington County Fairgrounds. In addition, the Recycling Association of Minnesota is currently taking orders for compost bins ($55) and rain barrels ($69), which can be picked up on April 25 in Roseville, April 26 in Minneapolis, or May 31 in St. Paul. Order on-line at www.recycleminnesota.org.

Finally, for those interested in learning more about local and state efforts to protect and restore the St. Croix River, the 15th Annual St. Croix Basin Conference will be held on April 8 at the University Center in River Falls. Find more information and register on-line at www.stcroixriverassociation.org. Ability to walk on water not required.

Ready for the Melt

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 18-03-2014

 

My view from the dog sled. The snow’s deeper than it looks!

As we jumped out of the truck, a cacophony of 25 dogs barking, howling, yipping and yowling greeted our ears. Our hosts, Harry and Mary, smiled as they strode across the yard to welcome us to their home. For more than 40 years, the couple has lived in a little house with a wood stove and no running water, plunked down on 300 acres of forest in way northern Minnesota. During the summer, they make a living taking people on guided fishing trips into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the rest of the year, they hide away from it all, reading books, baking bread and racing across snow-covered trails with their exuberant pack of sled dogs.

My friends and I lucked out when winter relaxed its frigid grasp on Minnesota just in time for our girl’s weekend getaway. Despite the warmer air, however, snow up north is still very, very deep. When we got back to the area where Harry and Mary keep their dogs, we found well-worn paths around and between each dog’s den, which created the misleading impression that the snow was only a foot or two deep. Stepping off the trail to walk towards one of the dogs, however, I soon found myself in up to my hips. Later that day after our dogsledding adventure, we discovered that even our snow shoes were no match for the snow. We, like the dogs, were forced to stick to the paths or risk be swallowed by the great white abyss.

By the time we returned to the cities on Sunday evening, the temperature down here had climbed above 40°, and the hard pack of ice and snow encasing the sidewalks, streets and driveways around Stillwater had finally begun to melt. No doubt the cold weather will come back again for at least another punch or two, but it does finally seem possible that winter will eventually end. Surprisingly, despite all the snow, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) predicts normal to below normal flood risks for the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers. Along the St. Croix River, however, there is a higher risk of flooding due to the heavier snow pack northeast of the Twin Cities. Meteorologist Paul Douglas estimates that there are three to four inches of water tied up in the snow in southern Washington County but five to six inches of water in the snow north of here. Up along the North Shore of Lake Superior, there could be up to ten inches of water released during the melt. Right now, it is hard to predict how the spring will progress. Very warm temperatures or heavy rain increase the risk of flooding, while a long, cold slow melt will keep river levels more stable.

During the upcoming weeks of thawing and freezing snow and ice, you can help to prevent localized flooding in your neighborhood by clearing a pathway for water to reach storm drains and culverts. Likewise, creating a pathway for the melt water to flow off your driveway into the yard or street will help to keep it from pooling and refreezing. If you have a chance while the weather’s still warm, take some time to tidy up the yard before melt water begins to wash abandoned toys, dog poop or litter into nearby wetlands or waterways. Shoveling up and throwing away the gunk in the street will also help to keep that from washing into storm drains that connect to our lakes and streams. 

It may not be quite spring yet, but the melt, it is a coming!

Enough with the Snow, Let’s Get Gardening!

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean, Yards and Landscaping | Posted on 24-02-2014

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Native gardens and raingardens help to protect water resources and also provide a food source for pollinating insects and birds.

There comes a time in every Minnesota year, usually late February or early March, when our collective patience with snow storms and sub-zero temperatures finally reaches its limit. This year, that happened sometime back in January. As I write, I can barely raise my shovel weary arms high enough to reach the keyboard, and the yard outside…well…it’s hard to remember what it used to look like. Though I can’t shake the nagging fear that perhaps the earth has shifted on its axis, making Minnesota the new North Pole, I’m fairly certain that spring actually will come eventually. At least it has every other year.

Next week, the Washington Conservation District (WCD) and local Watershed Districts will begin offering free landscape design workshops to help winter-weary Minnesotans plan raingardens and native plantings that help to create habitat and protect water resources. The first two workshops are scheduled for Tue., March 4, 6-7:30pm at the Washington Conservation Center in Oakdale and Tue., March 11, 6-7:30pm at the Woodbury City Hall. After a short 20-30 minute introductory presentation, workshop participants will spend the rest of the time working with Master Gardeners and Conservation District staff to begin designing water and wildlife friendly gardens for their homes. There will be a variety of plant guides and gardening resources on hand and, for those that register in advance, the WCD will print out aerial photos of their properties to use as well. At the end of the workshop, people can sign up for free site visits later in the spring.

In addition to the free garden design workshops, local Watershed Districts are offering cost-share incentive grants to encourage more people to plant raingardens in their yards. Raingardens are concave gardens that are sited to collect runoff rainwater from rooftops, driveways and roads. By allowing the water to soak into the ground instead of running off into storm sewers, raingardens help to recharge groundwater supplies and keep soil and nutrients from washing into and polluting nearby lakes and wetlands. Though dozens of common garden plants can be used in raingardens, many people choose to use at least some natives to attract birds and pollinating insects to their yards. Typically, cost-share grants include free design assistance from the WCD, as well as partial funding for plants and other landscaping materials. Grant amounts can range from $250 to $2500 depending on the size of the project and the potential benefit to nearby wetlands, lakes or streams.  

Planning a new garden is a much better way to occupy your mind than cursing the snow and ice. Just think of the possibilities! You could have a shade oasis filled with ferns and woodland flowers, a piece of prairie with towering bluestem and coneflower, or a simple and colorful assortment of sedum and day lilies. There are big raingardens and small raingardens, raingardens that stair-step down hillsides and those that wrap around porches. Some are crisp and formal, while others are wild and wooly. Best of all, they like us, survive even the harshest winters, which means that planning a new garden this year means having a beautiful garden for many years to come.

To learn more about the upcoming workshops and find registration information, go to www.mnwcd.org/events.

Healing from Groundwater Contamination in Washington County

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean | Posted on 13-02-2014

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In the next few weeks, select residents in Oakdale, Lake Elmo and Cottage Grove will receive letters in the mail from the Minnesota Department of Health asking them to participate in an important study tracking the impacts of groundwater contamination in Washington County. Titled PFC3 (East Metro PFC3 Biomonitoring Project), the study is part of a larger Department of Health effort with the unsettling name Minnesota Biomonitoring: Chemicals in People.

During the 1940’s and 1950’s, 3M disposed of chemical waste at three different locations in Oakdale along Hwy 5, just west of I 694. After the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency found a variety of hazardous substances in the soil and groundwater near these sites in the early 1980’s, 3M removed contaminated soil, installed groundwater monitoring wells, and constructed a pump-out system to remove pollutants from portions of the shallow groundwater aquifer. During this time, several homes with private wells were also connected to Oakdale’s municipal water supply in order to provide residents with safe drinking water.

Unfortunately, however, these measures did not completely resolve the problem. In the early 2000’s, 3M and the Department of Health detected perfluorochemicals (PFCs) in the groundwater collected from the monitoring wells and determined that these PFCs had contaminated private wells in western Lake Elmo as well as a few of Oakdale’s municipal wells. In response, the city installed a large carbon filtration system at its water plant in 2006 and 290 Lake Elmo homes with private wells were connected to the city water supply. Some homeowners in Lake Elmo with private wells also installed carbon filtration systems in their homes. Tests shows that the filtration systems are effectively removing PFCs and that the water is now safe to drink. 

Meanwhile, 3M continued to produce PFCs for non-stick cookware and stain resistant fabrics from the 1940’s until 2002. During this time, they disposed of waste containing PFCs on 3M properties in Cottage Grove and Woodbury, as well as at the old Washington County Landfill in Lake Elmo, which was in operation from 1969-1975. As in Oakdale, PFCs and other contaminants have since been found in the groundwater near these sites and some homes with private wells have had to connect to municipal water supplies or install filters in order to access clean water.

In 2008, the MN Department of Health initiated a study to determine if long-term residents of Oakdale, Lake Elmo and Cottage Grove were impacted by drinking the PFC contaminated groundwater before carbon filters were installed in 2006. They collected blood samples from approximately 200 adults and found that all had detectable levels of PFCs in their blood and that most had PFC levels higher than those found in the general U.S. population. A follow-up study conducted in 2010 with 164 of the original study participants found that PFC levels in most people’s blood had gone down, by 26% for PFOS, 21% for PFOA, and 13% for PFHxS.

This year, the Department of Health will follow up with the original study participants to determine if PFC levels in their bodies have continued to decline over the years. At the same time, they hope to recruit up to 200 new residents who have moved to Oakdale since 2006 to determine if PFC levels in their bodies are comparable with the general U.S. population, as would be expected now that Oakdale’s municipal water supply is treated and safe to drink. Next week, the Department of Health will send letters with questionnaires to some Oakdale homes and will use the responses to randomly select new study participants. Volunteers will be asked to give a small blood sample at the HealthEast Clinic in Oakdale and will be compensated for their time.

Because PFCs are relatively new, researchers do not know how much of a risk they pose for human health. To be safe, however, the Department of Health has set health risk limits for PFCs in drinking water and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency will continue to work with Washington County, as well as local businesses and communities, to monitor groundwater quality and protect people in areas with contaminated water supplies. The project coordinators hope that many Oakdale residents will participate and return their household surveys so that they will be able to determine if PFCs are still affecting people in the community.

For more information about the PFC3 biomonitoring project and other biomonitoring projects in Minnesota, go to http://www.health.state.mn.us/biomonitoring.

 

Things Change

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Yards and Landscaping | Posted on 11-02-2014

 

Minnesota’s northwoods could look different with a changing climate

Have you ever seen an opossum with frostbite? I spent one summer working at a wildlife park in northern Wisconsin, during which time I became adept at handling these slow-moving marsupials by the tail so as to avoid being defecated on…repeatedly. Like monkeys, they use their strong, hairless tails to hang upside down and move gracefully across tree branches. Unfortunately, however, opossums weren’t designed for life in Minnesota. Native to the southeastern United States, opossums have migrated west and north over the years, following manmade roads, bridges and ditches, as well as warmer weather. Though they’re able to eke out a living, most don’t survive more than one winter in the north woods and almost all suffer from frostbite on the tips of their poor, hairless tails.    

Ecological shifts are happening within our plant communities as well in response to warmer weather, different rainfall patterns, and pressure from new insect and animal species. Unable to pull up their roots and migrate north like the opossum, trees and other plants are particularly vulnerable to new stressors. Biologists predict that birches, firs and spruce in Minnesota will suffer massive diebacks in the next century and that the range for black spruce could shift 300 miles north into upper Manitoba.

The 2014 Wild Ones Design with Nature Conference, to be held on Saturday, Feb. 22 in Plymouth, will explore the concept of “EcoShifting,” a term used to describe the relatively rapid changes we are seeing in ecological communities in response to climate change and human influences. Guest speakers will offer advice on how we can respond to these shifts now that water and soil resources are increasingly impacted and plants, animals, insects and diseases are moving out of their native territories. Far from being a doom and gloom discussion, however, these speakers will also share their own experiences with integrating adaptability and ecology into natural landscapes to create spaces that are not just functional, but also beautiful.

Keynote speaker Lisa Lee Benjamin, founder of environmental design and consulting firm Evo Catalyst, divides her time between the San Francisco Bay Area and Switzerland, where she shares her inspiration as a guest lecturer at several Zurich Universities. She will talk about the small things that people can do to live more harmoniously with the natural environment, as well as conscious and responsible choices we can make for both immediate and long-term benefit.

Also speaking will be Mark Seeley, the well-known Minnesota climatologist and meteorologist that soothes us with his low rumbling voice on our drives into work. Seeley will present evidence for climate change and its consequences, both globally and locally. Later in the afternoon, Douglas Owens-Pike, founder of EneryScapes, a local landscape design firm promoting ecologically based practices, will talk about xeriscaping for our changing Midwest climate. He will offer suggestions on how to save on irrigation by clustering plants with similar moisture requirements, and will identify those plants that have shown the best resilience to recent extreme heat and drought conditions.

Conference admission includes buffet lunch and afternoon dessert. Wild Ones members $50; non-members $55; full-time students $25. Tickets are $60 after February 7. Registration closes February 17 or when spaces are filled. To register, visit www.DesignWithNatureConference.org, or for more information, email info@DesignWithNatureConference.org or call 612-293-3833.

Coming in 2014: $1 Million in New Funding for Water Improvement Projects in Washington County

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean, Partners and Updates | Posted on 05-02-2014

When the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment was passed in 2008, it created a pool of funding (from a 3/8 of one percent sales tax increase) to be used across the state to protect drinking water resources, protect and restore habitat, preserve arts and cultural heritage, support parks and trails, and protect and restore lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. Because of this additional funding support, local units of government in our county have been able to dramatically increase the amount of clean water work they do each year. 2014 will be no exception.

On January 22, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) announced recipients for 2014 Clean Water Fund grants; included on the list are ten new projects in Washington County, totaling approximately $1 million. These new initiatives will be in addition to city, county, watershed and Conservation District projects already planned and underway. Here is a sneak peek at what’s in store:

More neighborhood raingardens in Stillwater. During Phase 3 of the Lily Lake Stormwater Retrofit Project (Phases 1 and 2 also received Clean Water Funds) the Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization will continue to work with the Washington Conservation District, City of Stillwater and local residents to install raingardens and other practices to keep stormwater from city streets out of Lily Lake. Grant award: $100,000

The Brown’s Creek Watershed District also received a grant to install residential raingardens in two high priority neighborhoods on the east side of Long Lake. Grant award: $57,000

Cooler water for Brown’s Creek trout. The Brown’s Creek Watershed District will develop a thermal model to determine why Brown’s Creek is sometimes too warm for trout to survive and reproduce and to identify the most cost-effective projects and practices to keep the stream cool. Grant award: $33,500

Improved ordinances and zoning codes. The Middle St. Croix WMO will work with St. Croix River communities to update their local ordinances and zoning codes to ensure that stormwater pollution from new development and redevelopment doesn’t pollute the river. Grant award: $127,000

Wetland enhancements in Bixby Park, Forest Lake. The Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District will work with the City of Forest Lake to modify an existing wetland complex in Bixby Park to improve water quality and reduce the amount of dissolved phosphorus heading downstream to Comfort Lake. This project is part of a larger planned effort to turn Bixby Park into a 100-acre nature park. Grant award: $360,750

Agricultural projects in targeted locations near the St. Croix River. The Washington Conservation District will work with 8-10 rural and agricultural land owners in high priority areas to install projects that reduce runoff and erosion to the river. Grant award:  $216,130

Funding to seal abandoned wells. Washington County will work with landowners to seal wells that are no longer in use in order to prevent groundwater contamination. Grant award:  $21,350

Clean water projects at businesses, schools and homeowner associations. The Washington Conservation District will work with homeowner associations in Washington County on projects to conserve water and reduce stormwater runoff. Grant award: $50,000

The Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District will also be working with commercial retail areas, strip malls and schools to identify retrofit projects that can reduce stormwater pollution to nearby lakes and streams. Grant awards: $58,515 commercial /  $54,083 schools

More bang for the buck.  Conservation Districts in the 11-county metro area will continue to conduct “subwatershed” studies in order to identify the most cost-effective practices and the best locations to keep stormwater runoff out of area lakes, rivers and streams. Grant award: $250,000

Ten Things You Might Not Know About Water Resources in Washington County

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean | Posted on 13-01-2014

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  1. There are LOTS of lakes. According to the Washington Conservation District, there are between 175 and 180 lakes in Washington County, though many of these could be classified as wetlands or basins. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) lists 252 lakes in Washington County.
  2. There are trout streams. There are eight trout streams in Washington County, six of which are included on the MN DNR “Designated Trout Stream” list. Brown’s Creek, which originates near Withrow and meets the St. Croix River just north of Stillwater, is stocked annually with yearling brown trout.
  3. The St. Croix River was one of the first eight rivers to be designated by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968. The act was created to “preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations.”
  4. Some lakes are healthy but others are in trouble. The Metropolitan Council uses lake monitoring data to create an annual report card for the Twin Cities area. Of the 71 lakes in Washington County included in this report card, ten received an “A” in 2012 and eight received an “F.” Forty-four lakes in Washington County are currently listed as impaired by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) due to excess phosphorus (which causes algae blooms), unsafe levels of mercury in fish tissue, or chlorides from road salt.
  5. Some streams are in trouble too. Portions of Brown’s Creek, as well as Hardwood and Clearwater Creeks in Hugo, are unable to support aquatic life. In addition, several streams in the county, including Brown’s Creek, Perro Creek in Bayport, and Trout Brook and Kelle’s Creek in Afton are impaired for e. coli, which can pose a health risk for people wading or swimming in these streams.
  6. But…many lakes are getting better. Three lakes in Washington County have been “delisted” by the MPCA because they are now meeting water quality standards. These include Tanners Lake in Oakdale (listed in 2002 for excess nutrients, delisted in 2004; the lake still has a mercury impairment), Sunset Lake in Hugo (listed in 2002, delisted in 2008), and Lake McKusick in Stillwater (listed in 2006, delisted in 2012). Carver Lake and Battle Creek Lakes in Woodbury will be delisted for excess nutrients this year, though the MPCA now plans to list both for excess chloride.
  7. Groundwater provides 100% of the drinking water in Washington County.
  8. Washington County is divided into five distinct “geomorphic regions.” The St. Croix Moraine runs diagonally across the county and includes areas of rolling hills and ridges with many lakes. There are deep glacial sediment deposits over the bedrock in this region and most surface water either infiltrates into the ground or runs to closed depressions. The Glacial Lake Hugo Plain in the northwestern portion of the county is flatter, with more wetlands and shallow lakes. In south-central Washington County, the Lake Elmo – Cottage Grove Outwash Plain is gently rolling with shallow depressions and sandy outwash deposits. The Denmark Dissected Plain in southeastern Washington County was never covered by glaciers and now has streams, but very few lakes. Finally, the St. Croix and Mississippi River Terraces include flat areas formed by sediment deposited from glacial rivers, which were much wider than the rivers are today. (For a map, see the draft Washington County Groundwater Plan, pg. 88.)
  9. There are eight governmental watershed management organizations in Washington County. Each is governed by a board of local citizens; they establish rules and implement projects to prevent flooding and protect surface water resources.
  10. Surface and groundwater are connected. Many lakes and streams in the county, such as Square Lake and Valley Creek, are fed by groundwater resources. There are also recharge areas in Washington County where water from wetlands, lakes and basins soaks into the ground and recharges aquifers.

 

 

A Minnesotan’s Guide to Walking in the Winter

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Posted by Angie Hong | Posted in Keeping water clean | Posted on 06-01-2014

 

Winter in Minnesota can be grueling or fun.

Remember standing, waiting for the school bus in the morning with your winter coat unzipped, gloveless hands in pockets, and, certainly, no hat on your head because that would mess up your hair? Buying my first pair of adult-sized snow pants and mukluks, two years after college, was a transformative experience. The world outside was suddenly a playground with animal tracks to follow, snowy hills to climb, and frozen ponds to cross.  Adapting for the winter made everything so much better.

A growing number of lakes and streams in the Twin Cities metro area have become too salty for fish and other aquatic life to survive due to the large amounts of salt and deicers we’re applying to roads, parking lots and sidewalks during the winter. Furthermore, a Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) report released earlier this year revealed that 30% of private wells in the metro area have chloride concentrations greater than the chronic water-quality standard set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Are we adapting to the winter or trying to make winter adapt to us?

As little as a single teaspoon of salt pollutes five gallons of water, the equivalent of a 50 lb. bag of salt polluting 10,000 gallons of water. Salt washes off of pavement into storm sewers that connect to lakes and streams, and once it is there, the dissolved chloride becomes toxic to aquatic plants and animals. In streams, chloride concentrations tend to peak in the mid-winter when we are using the most salt on roads and parking lots. For example, water quality data from Battle Creek between 2002 and 2007 shows that chloride levels spike every year around January and February. Of the 142 metro area lakes monitored for chloride by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Metropolitan Council and local Watershed Management Organizations (only a fraction of the 949 lakes in the metro), 28 have too much chloride and about a dozen more are headed in that direction. East metro area lakes and streams with unhealthy levels of chloride include Silver Lake in North St. Paul, Tanners Lake in Oakdale, Carver Lake in Woodbury, Battle Creek and the Sunrise River. In addition, Battle Creek Lake in Woodbury and Beaver Lake in Maplewood / St. Paul are at high risk for exceeding the water quality standard in the next few years.

In response to this problem, many local municipalities have educated their staff, changed their practices, and purchased new equipment to reduce salt use while still maintaining safe roads. Nonetheless, many communities and private contractors continue to apply more salt than necessary, even when they know it won’t help, because they fear complaints from the public. It seems that we all need to do a better job of adapting for the winter if we want to protect our precious water resources. With this challenge in mind, I offer some lessons I’ve learned since my stubborn teenage days.

First of all, it is better to don a snow boot than to curse the snowy sidewalk. In fact, many people I know wear snow boots to work and then leave them near the doorway and change into different shoes when they arrive. Wearing Yaktrax or a similar strap-on traction device over your shoes also makes it much easier to walk (or even run) on city sidewalks or icy trails without slipping and falling. On that note, I’ve determined that the easiest and most enjoyable way to walk around town with my two-year old during the winter is to pull him behind me in a sled rather than struggling to push a stroller in the snow or carrying him precariously on my back. Ironically, this often causes me to curse the few people who’ve actually cleared their sidewalks down to the pavement.

Second, though I rarely follow this advice myself, shoveling early really is the most effective way to clear your driveway and sidewalk before the snow becomes compacted. Throwing salt on top of snow just creates a slushy slippery mixture that still needs to be shoveled, and salt stops working completely when the pavement gets too cold (sodium chloride stops working around 15°, while magnesium and calcium chloride can go down to 0°). If you do use salt, use no more than 4lb of deicer for 1000 sq ft; one heaping coffee cup of salt weighs about one pound and can melt ice on an area about the size of a two car parking space. On a warm melting day, no salt is necessary and, when the weather is really cold, the best option is to use sand, which doesn’t melt the snow but provides traction and can be swept up and reused afterwards.

Finally, when it comes to driving, go slow, leave early and be glad that winter in Minnesota doesn’t last forever. Better yet, use your extra time in the car to daydream about all the fun things you’ll do on healthy, freshwater lakes when summer finally returns.

Head to www.mnwcd.org to watch a 15-min video with tips for maintaining your driveway and sidewalk during the winter or to download a list of winter maintenance companies certified by the MPCA.