Thursday, September 28, 2017

Carp management expands to Lake Owasso Chain

by Chris O'Brien

Following recent success managing common carp in the Phalen Chain of Lakes, the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District is now setting its sights on the Lake Owasso system. With four interconnected lakes (Owasso, Wabasso, Bennett and Grass) and twelve shallow ponds, the system offers prime habitat for carp to potentially out-compete native gamefish, uproot aquatic vegetation and harm water quality.

Carp management in Lake Owasso and connected lakes is part of the District’s goal to control phosphorous-loading in these waters. As carp root for food along the lake bottom, they stir up phosphorous-laden sediment, which in turn contributes to turbid water and algal blooms.

The key to keeping carp in check is figuring out how many there are, where they go, and how they spawn and recruit (survive to adulthood). Using this information, the District hopes to efficiently remove large numbers of adult carp while also limiting their ability to repopulate the system.

Counting carp

The District enlisted Jordan Wein of Carp Solutions to conduct a general population assessment through electrofishing this summer. After calculating a biomass estimate, they found that each lake in the chain contained more than 100 pounds of carp per acre, the threshold generally considered to inhibit water quality. Most concerning were Lake Owasso and Lake Wabasso, which each turned up more than 400 pounds of carp per acre.

The team also marked over 200 carp with a fin clip as part of a mark-and-recapture study to verify these estimated population numbers. “We’re being strategic by marking the carp now so that when we eventually harvest them, we’ll be able to get a good estimate of how many were in the lake,” explained Bill Bartodziej, RWMWD Natural Resources Specialist.

The video below shows the Carp Solutions team using box nets baited with corn to capture large numbers of carp on Lake Owasso.


Location, location

In addition to the population assessment, Carp Solutions surgically implanted radio transmitters in 20 adult carp to figure out where they congregate in the winter and where they spawn in the spring. Since carp tend to travel in dense schools, the radio-tagged fish will likely betray their rubber-lipped brethren and help the research team track seasonal movements of the larger population. 

One of 20 adult carp implanted with radio tags, which will
help the District track seasonal movements and develop a
comprehensive carp control strategy for the Owasso system.

At 37 feet deep, Lake Wabasso is likely an overwintering hotspot for carp. Using radio telemetry to pinpoint locations where thousands of carp school up under the ice, the District plans to enlist a commercial fishing operation to harvest these fish with large sein nets.

Carp nurseries

While netting adult fish should put a dent in the carp population, confirming spring spawning locations could be key to a long-term management strategy. “It’s very unikely that carp are successfully reproducing and recruiting in Wabasso, so they are probably spawning elsewhere in the system,” said Wein.

Bluegills are voracious predators of carp eggs and tend to control numbers of young carp in large lakes. However, shallow ponds and wetlands often serve as carp nurseries where they can hatch by the millions and grow in relative safety from predators. Future management strategies may include setting up barriers to keep carp out of these nursery areas, netting them there and/or stocking bluegills to eat the carp eggs.

Over the last five years, District
carp management in the Phalen Chain has reduced carp density by over 60 percent. Among those efforts was eliminating carp in Lake Casey (a former carp nursery in North St. Paul) by drawing down the water level, allowing carp to winterkill, and then stocking bluegills and largemouth bass. Tracking the movements of Owasso carp could help identify similar carp nursery locations and allow the District to rein in these prolific fish.

Flood study underway for Grass Lake and Snail Lake area

In response to high-water conditions around Grass Lake, Snail Lake and nearby wetlands, the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District is coordinating a large-scale flood study, currently underway. The goal is to identify strategies that will stabilize the system to withstand increasingly heavy precipitation and rebounding groundwater levels, ultimately protecting homes and property.

The District contracted with Barr Engineering this summer to begin evaluating various flood control options. Meanwhile, District staff continues to closely monitor surface water and groundwater levels to gather additional data. Below is a summary of the work completed to date.

Snail Lake

Challenge: Snail Lake is currently landlocked without a managed outlet. High water has forced closure of the swimming beach, and while homes on the lake have not been impacted to date, an extreme rain event could potentially put low-lying properties at risk for flooding.

  • Engineers surveyed the six lowest homes on Snail Lake to help determine a feasible 100-year flood level elevation for the lake.
  • The team is now evaluating options for constructing a managed outlet system that could allow water out of Snail Lake if it were to reach this maximum level.

Grass Lake
Challenge: While Grass Lake’s water level fluctuates seasonally, its annual low point has been steadily rising since 2009. During periods of heavy rain in 2016 and 2017, the lake topped its banks on the north end, flooding trails and raising the water levels of nearby ponds and wetlands.

  • Two temporary sandbag berms have been installed along the north and northeast sides of Grass Lake.
  • The engineering team took soil core samples at both sites and is now working to determine the proper design and elevation for permanent earthen berms, which could be completed by March 2018.
  • In late March of 2017, the outlet channel from West Vadnais Lake (downstream of Grass Lake) was cleaned to promote drainage of the system. A similar project is planned for the Grass Lake outlet channel this winter.

Vadnais-Snail Lakes Regional Park

Challenge: Flooding from Grass Lake into adjacent ponds and wetlands, accompanied by seepage from high groundwater levels, has forced closure of several county park trail sections. Wetland A (pictured above), bordering the nearby Crestview Addition neighborhood, has been especially impacted as it is the lowest elevation point of the area and has no natural outlet.

  • The District installed two new groundwater monitoring wells, which record automatic readings every 15 minutes, along with seven surface water level gauges at key points around Grass, Snail and West Vadnais lakes. Staff has taken manual on-site readings up to 3 times per week while also checking inlet/outlet pipes to ensure they are functioning as designed.
  • In April, water was pumped out of Wetland A back into Grass Lake to see if this would alleviate high groundwater levels in the Crestview Addition neighborhood. Lowering the surface level of Wetland A had little effect on neighborhood groundwater. However, pumping other smaller ponds near Gramsie Road did have the desired effect of lowering groundwater and will be an important maintenance strategy in the future.
  • Once a peak flood level is established for Grass Lake and Wetland A, the District will advise Ramsey County on options for restoring trail access in low-lying areas of the regional park.

The District is committed to finding long-term solutions to the flood risk in this area, including replacing/adding outlet pipes to increase drainage. However, this is a complex system with flood considerations downstream through the Phalen Chain of Lakes, so any projects designed to move water from one area to another will require further thoughtful consideration.


Teamwork and "autumn joy" - A winning combination

by Sage Passi

Lesley Perg, a new Ramsey County Master Gardener, assisted students
at Roseville Area Middle School (RAMS) rain garden this fall.

We are in the final phase of completing our Clean Water Legacy-funded school rain garden projects. Jumping into the thick of things on a blistery hot fall day might not be everybody’s cup-of-tea in the world of school gardening, but Lesley Perg, a Master Gardener who transferred to the Ramsey County program from California this summer, was “cool as a cucumber” as she supported her team of seventh graders as they planted gallons of ‘Hot Lips’ Pink Turtlehead in the middle of one of these large-scale rain garden plantings in late September. I marveled at her calmness and comfort level as she stepped down into the crowded center of the garden in this complex matrix of planting areas. This was her first experience volunteering with our watershed district.

Merlin Schlicting, Ramsey County Master Gardener, contemplated the arrangement
of feather reed grass in another tight planting area at Roseville Area Middle School.

Room to move was at a premium in many areas of the garden and the number of students wielding long-handled tools could have been a bit daunting. But neither issue seemed to rattle Lesley and when the day was done, I didn’t hear any real complaints. Well, maybe, only about the heat. The same was true for the other Master Gardeners who stepped up to the plate over the past two weeks during our fall projects at Roseville Area Middle School (RAMS) and Central Park Elementary.

Teamwork makes anything possible.

I think everyone involved felt like through our teamwork we truly accomplished something HUGE! And we did!

Fifth graders plant at Central Park Elementary rain garden.

Where was this satisfaction coming from that was shared by this team of Master Gardeners, a Master Water Steward, and District staff who helped out students and the teachers? It can be truly rewarding to assist kids who have never held a shovel before and witness their comfort and confidence grow as they try it out. Assisting these young gardeners in transforming the mulched spaces into vivid landscapes to help their downstream lakes was truly inspirational. Our excitement continued to linger in the air as we all dispersed, tired but fulfilled at the end of each of our days of planting. 

Dominique Guzman, Central Park 6th grade teacher, gave a
high five to one of his students after he completed planting several pots.

Stephanie Wang, Master Water Steward helped “tease” the roots
for the student she was assisting at Central Park.

This positive energy was accentuated by the arrival of the bees and butterflies who appeared moments after we secured the flowering plants like Fragrant Hyssop and Walkers Low Catmint in the ground. Chris O’Brien, our new communications staff person, even caught that on camera!


We had to problem solve to make these projects successful. I spent many days recruiting and scheduling Master Gardeners, measuring and laying out the planting areas, calculating the number of students we could fit into a plot and figuring out all the logistics. When the planting days arrived, everyone contributed to the whole process from helping shuttle and move plants around, orienting students about how to plant, filling and hauling water buckets, matching up mountains of gloves and pitching in to load up the stacks of tools, pails and other equipment into my car at the end of each day.

The morning calm before the storm. Gloves matched? Check.
Who is working where? Master Gardeners review their assignments. Check.

Watershed Project Manager Paige Ahlborg fills large barrels for watering. In addition, she did grant writing and reporting, communicated with contractors, reviewed bids, planted and so much more! Barr Engineering was responsible for the design and project management of all of our Clean Water Fund projects.

The real heroes were the kids who applied their own planting skills learned in their native countries, and the young people who stepped outside their comfort zone, got their shoes dirty and tried planting for the first time, then offered to plant a second pot. We were proud of each student for their accomplishments and the way they each “showed up."

Go TEAM Go! What a powerhouse of youth energy!

The sheer scale of these projects certainly made our work more challenging this year. Luckily most of the planting areas were amended with sand and compost, making it much easier dig than last fall at Maplewood Middle School where we had to cut through some very compacted berms. 

Nancy Berry, Ramsey County Master Gardener, guided students who were planting Autumn Joy Sedum on the hillside at Central Park Elementary. The bees love their flowers!

But the hardest challenge came from the weather. The temperatures hovered in the eighties and nineties for both weeks and the humidity was high. Thankfully fall has finally arrived for our next installment of projects coming up in October!

Kids cooled down after planting the rain garden at Central Park Elementary.

The District began developing these projects over three years ago when we applied for an accelerated implementation grant from the state to assess all our public school sites and prioritize locations for BMPs on their grounds. A couple years later we were awarded a Clean Water Legacy grant to implement six projects.

Last summer the first three rain gardens were installed and then planted in the fall by students in Maplewood and North St. Paul. This fall we worked with five classes at Central Park Elementary in Roseville and ten classes at RAMS to plant close to 800 gallon pots in these two rain gardens.

After two days we were down to the tenth class at Roseville Area Middle School!

First step, move the mulch. Second step, dig the dirt out.
Third step, pose for the camera.
Next month we will be cranking up that number to a “whopping” seventeen classrooms from Woodbury Elementary and Middle Schools that will be completing our final rain garden planting at their location over three days in early October. That project will involve 564 students. Watch for that story in an upcoming Ripple Effect.
 The photos below help paint the story of our efforts this fall.

Tracy Leavenworth demonstrates how to plant a pot of prairie dropseed
at Central Park Elementary. She provided instructions for all
of the classes the four days at each of the schools. No small feat!


Anthony Larson, Roseville Area Middle School science
teacher, advises his team of students.

Happiness written all over her face!

Thank you to everyone for a job well done! We are looking forward to seeing our rain gardens grow and thrive in the future.

Organic lawn care: Better turf without chemicals

Photo credit: CleanWaterMN

Maintaining a healthy lawn doesn’t mean you have to douse it with chemical weed-killers and fertilizers that can cause harmful runoff. Just ask “Organic Bob” Dahm who is pioneering a natural approach to lawn care in the Twin Cities. Clean Water Minnesota recently caught up with Dahm and client-turned-business partner Melissa Berg to learn how aeration, organic compost and the right seed blend can build a resilient lawn that’s easy on the environment.Read the story at

Interested in trying natural lawn care for yourself? Dahm and Berg recommend
The Organic Lawn Care Manual: A Natural Low-Maintenance System for a Beautiful Lawn by Paul Tukey. You can also register for an Installing Turf Alternatives workshop on October 24, presented by Metro Blooms and Blue Thumb. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

District staffing changes in the air

The month of September marked a couple of big changes here at RWMWD. On Sept. 8, Administrative Secretary Carole Pastorius retired after 19 years. Her hard work and attention to detail was an asset to countless projects and helped keep our operations running smoothly.

We appreciate her commitment to the District’s mission, her dedication to our environmental work and the individualized support she provided each of us. We wish Carole the very best in her retirement!

Also this month, we welcomed Chris O’Brien to our team in the role of communications coordinator. This is a new position created to guide the strategic planning, implementation and continuous improvement of all District communications efforts.

Since graduating from Winona State University with a degree in Mass Communication, Chris has worked as an editor for North American Fisherman magazine, marketing coordinator and project manager for Supervalu Store Design Services, and most recently, an information officer for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. An avid fisherman and musician, Chris lives in the Battle Creek neighborhood of Saint Paul with his wife, Kim, and their two young sons, Henry and Everett.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Seeking Master Water Stewards-in-Training

Master Water Stewards identify examples of residential water practices during one of their classes.

Are you looking for an opportunity to get involved protecting water in your community? Consider becoming a Master Water Steward. Now entering its third season, the deadline for the Master Water Stewards program in the District is fast approaching. Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District is seeking four Master Water Steward applicants for the coming year.

Applications are due September 30 and can be found here. Classes will begin on October 10. Contact Sage Passi at 612-598-9163 or by email for more information.

Stewards-in-training will participate in classes both online and in person, tour our watershed and identify projects in the community that will reduce water pollution. As part of the certification process, Master Water Stewards work in pairs to design a capstone project and develop an outreach educational activity or event.

Evan Pugh shares his knowledge about protecting bee habitat
while doing maintenance for rain gardens.

Here is an example of what one of our Master Water Steward teams accomplished this year after completing their training:  

Master Water Stewards, Bill Cranford, Rachel Hanks and Phyllis Webster initiated the Adopt-A-Drain program as their capstone project in the Phalen Heights area of St. Paul this spring. They reached out to over 700 household in their neighborhood in order to identify residents who would commit to clearing leaves, dirt and trash regularly from storm drains near their homes and keep them from polluting nearby Lake Phalen and the Mississippi River downstream.

Rachel Hanks installs an Adopt-a-Drain
sign in her neighborhood.

Rachel says, “It’s gratifying to experience positive results from our efforts to improve water quality. We see clean storm drains as we take our regular walks in the neighborhood. We have engaged with our neighbors and are building a network of people who also desire to keep our local Lake Phalen clean."

Master Water Stewards Program Intro Session at Urban Boatbuilders - September 14

Join Master Water Stewards and Watershed District program staff at Urban Boatbuilders on Thursday, September 14, from 5:30 - 7:00 PM to learn more about this dynamic program. Guests can expect delicious appetizers and a sneak peek at the Urban Boatbuilders workshop, as well as great conversation with the people who know this program best - our stewards. Stewards will be sharing their stories throughout the event. Stop by on your way home from work and stay as long as you’d like. RSVPs appreciated.

The workshop at Urban Boatbuilders

Directions and Parking
Urban Boatbuilders is located at 2288 University Avenue W, St. Paul 55114

From the west:
Urban Boatbuilders warehouse is on University, but set back from the road. Turn right on LaSalle and the building will be on your left. Parking is along the back on Myrtle Street.

From the east:
If coming from the east, you'll pass the address and turn around at Raymond to head east on University and take a right on LaSalle. The building will be on your left. Parking is along the back on Myrtle Street.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Cherishing a Crown Jewel – Tamarack Nature Preserve

By Sage Passi
The July tour at Tamarack Nature Preserve attracted an enthusiastic crowd.
Photo Credit: Dana Boyle
Tamarack Nature Preserve, tucked between Valley Creek Road, Radio Drive and Bielenberg Drive in Woodbury, is one of the few remaining intact tamarack supporting wetlands in the Twin Cities area. There are thousands of acres of tamarack swamps up north, but very few exist this far south. It’s become a favorite hiking destination for neighborhood walkers, birdwatchers, nature lovers and avid plant IDers.

Anna Barker, Washington County Master Gardener and Master
Water Steward, shares her knowledge about plants on the summer tour.

The last public tour the Watershed District co-hosted in the preserve with the city of Woodbury was in 2013. Thanks to the encouragement and work of Tamarack Nature Preserve advocates, Dana Boyle and Stephanie Wang, the wheels began to turn again this spring to host another tour for the public in mid-summer to raise interest and appreciation for this “crown jewel” of wetlands. 

“We are working on a broad community engagement plan to help residents learn about opportunities throughout the year to tour the Preserve, help with trail management (buckthorn and burdock removal and trash cleanups) and become better educated about this amazing treasure in our own backyard,” announced Dana and Stephanie who live in neighborhoods adjacent to the preserve. 

Last year Dana created an online field guide that highlights the diverse plant life abounding in the Preserve. Click here for the guide

The sensitive fern, found along the boardwalk in the Preserve, Onoclea sensibilis,
gets its species name from how quickly the leaves die back after the first frost.
 Photo credit: Dana Boyle

Bog aurum, also known as water arum or wild calla, is prolific in the Preserve.
Photo Credit: Sage Passi
This summer, Dana and her colleagues created a crowd-sourced “project” for the Tamarack Nature Preserve on the iNaturalist app to complete their capstone requirements for the Master Naturalist program. This interactive field guide is for people of all ages and interest levels to gain an appreciation for nature, specifically this Minnesota wetland, and to collaborate in order to become part of a community of friends of the Preserve.

 Broadleaf Arrowhead in bloom in the Preserve
Photo Credit: Dana Boyle

The guide currently features plants that are found in the fen (a bog trail) and on its perimeter (a woodland trail). It will also include birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Anyone who visits the area is invited to add their observations to this project. Over time they will have a record of phenology and see when and where these observations are most likely to be found. Here is a link.

Left to right: Dana Boyle, Kevin Burshten, Amy Howard, Kristin Seaman and Stephanie Wang trek through the Preserve. 

In preparation for the summer tour, Dana and Stephanie organized a reconnaissance walk in May with Woodbury Assistant Park Supervisors, Amy Howard and Kevin Burshten and Woodbury’s Environmental Resources Specialist Kristin Seaman to look for long and short-term solutions that would address trail issues in the park.

A reoccurring challenge in the preserve is a stretch of the path on the north side of the preserve that becomes very muddy and impassable in the spring and summer. They were also scouting for locations where invasive species could be removed by volunteers.

A stretch of the path in the Preserve that is hard to cross during parts of the year.
As a short term solution Woodbury park staff built a temporary boardwalk over the areas that typically flood so that the upcoming tour participants and others using the park could pass on the north side of the trail between the two main boardwalks.

A temporary boardwalk helps hikers
pass over muddy areas of the trail.

Both Dana and Stephanie have also organized several ad hoc invasive plant removal activities and are planning an educational event in August with a Woodbury Pack 60 Webelos Cub Scout Den who will be cutting back burdock on the north stretch of the trail between the boardwalks and touring the preserve.

Researching Tamarack Swamp’s recent past

Stephanie wanted to learn more about the history of the preserve so she approached Steve Kernik, a retired environmental planner for the City of Woodbury who provided this historical background about the area. 

"The Tamarack Swamp used to be an unbroken system starting at the back of City Hall and flowing downhill all the way to Battle Creek Lake. Over the years it got severed by Valley Creek Road, Bielenberg Drive, I-494 and Weir Drive. Valley Creek Road impacted the upper part of the swamp behind City Hall because the culverts under the road were set too high, which resulted in permanent high water that changed the character to a normal swamp.

About ten years ago a lift station was installed (mainly for stormwater management purposes) which keeps the fluctuations down, but the damage is done. From Valley Creek Road to Bielenberg Drive the swamp is fairly flat, dropping only a few feet. West of Bielenberg Drive it drops quite quickly, about 30 feet from Bielenberg to I-494. So the swamp west of Bielenberg is somewhat drier than the east side just because of topography."

Studies Completed in the Preserve

"There have been a number of studies done on the swamp, some of them dating back to the late 1970's or early 1980's. The really early ones aren't very detailed but the last one (or ones), done by the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District are the most valuable. A detailed study of the vegetation of the swamp was done in 1999 that includes a map that shows the major ecosystems that are present.” 

This map delineates the location of different plant communities in the Preserve and its walking paths.
(Click on map for larger image.)
Kernik continued his recollections. "One of the interesting findings of that study was that all of the tamarack trees in the swamp are about the same age. They all got their start during the drought years of the 1930's. The assumption is that conditions were good for the tamaracks to germinate at that time, and as water started to rise in subsequent years, the trees were able to grow new roots just at the water line, which allowed the trees to survive in the deeper water. The problem is that young tamaracks can't germinate in the high water conditions.
One of the tamaracks that towers above the Preserve.

The District did a study of the high water which determined that it was caused by high groundwater, not surface water inputs. They examined what it would take to lower the groundwater through drain tile but determined that the damage caused by installing the tile would basically destroy the areas that we would be trying to save. So the high groundwater is just a fact of life. 

The other factor affecting the Tamarack Swamp is water quality. Tamaracks and the associated ecosystem usually exist in very low nutrient waters. It's not that they can't handle higher nutrient loads, it's just that other plants begin to outcompete them when nutrient levels rise. So this has affected the presence of other species moving in to the swamp."

To decrease stormwater runoff impacts the Watershed District installed two treatments systems in 1999 to capture sediment and contaminants entering the wetland. In 2003 the District designed a series of swales and basins, located along Valley Creek Road in Woodbury to treat stormwater before it enters the Preserve. 

The treatment systems on the edge of Tamarack Nature Preserve are pond-like with a brick bottom porous enough to allow some water infiltration, but hard enough to support a bobcat for sediment removal.

Rallying the Community

As summer approached, efforts to publicize the summer tour escalated. To initially get the word out about the tour and raise interest in the Preserve, Dana had a table at WaterFest. Many people stopped by as she worked on a painting of one of flowering plants that grace the boardwalk in the summer – the marsh cinquefoil.

Dana used painting at WaterFest to draw attention to one of the beautiful wildflowers growing in the Preserve.

Dana's completed painting of marsh cinquefoil

The tour was advertised broadly through many different organizations, social media networks, the city’s email lists and with posters in key gathering points near the Preserve (Caribou, YMCA and library), and along the trail access points. By mid-July, 150 people had reserved a spot on the tour and phone calls were still coming in right until the end! Clearly, interest in learning about this gem in our watershed is strong!

The crowd was intrigued with the variety of plants in the Preserve.

On the day of the tour, a thunderstorm threatened to cancel the event. But by six o’clock the weather had settled down and a group of eighty-five people in a range of ages showed up, from seniors to families with younger children from the surrounding neighborhood to Master Naturalists-in-training who were drawn from across the metro area to come to learn from Jason Husveth, plant ecologist of Critical Connections and his team of experts.

For nearly two hours Jason captivated tour participants with his explanations of the ecological and geological changes on the land, impacts of development on the water flow and all sorts of fascinating details about the diverse array of plants that inhabit this unique preserve. Meanwhile, in other areas of the park, two other tour groups, including an “express” version for parents with younger kids and for those who wanted a shorter tour. A second plant ecologist, Doug Mensing, kept participants engaged and inquisitive about the unique characteristics of the preserve and its diverse plants.

Jason Husveth, Critical Connections plant ecologist and tour leader, shares his knowledge about marsh marigold that blooms earlier in the season.

These are great ingredients for continuing to expand Woodbury’s engagement and protection of this valuable resource - people who are curious and excited about learning, a parks department that is responsive, and the kind of teamwork that lends a vibrant approach to crafting more opportunities for the community to appreciate the complex beauty and intricacies of nature “in the city”.