Thursday, February 14, 2013

Legacy of Learning: Louise Watson and the Evolution of the District's Education Program

Louise and LEAP Frog at WaterFest
By Louise Watson

In January 1994, Minnesota became the 8th state in which I've had the opportunity to work on environmental issues. In the western states (CO, NM, UT, ID, CA, WA, and SD) where I worked, issues included water supply versus conservation, environmental and social effects of energy extraction, uses of geothermal, water demand conflicts of the Columbia River basin, national atmospheric deposition and its impacts, natural resource management for the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and erosion and water quantity issues from national forest management activities. 
Once in Minnesota I worked briefly for the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District planting trees, with a St. Croix River citizen network and with a McKnight Foundation report about the Upper Mississippi River.

The Twin Cities stormwater management issues became a new adventure in August 1994 when I started work for the District. I approached my job with the same curiosity as always with a zest to share with others what I learn. Thus my first task of pulling together the 1997 Watershed Management Plan (WMP) became a sharing of my discoveries about the District with the potential readers and users of the Plan. Integrated resource management was a relatively new concept in the urban stormwater world, as was human dimensions of water resource management
. These concepts I gladly embraced, given my diverse background of work and diverse studies in urban and regional planning, ecology and forest/prairie/water resources studies. Since the 1997 WMP called for an education program, I researched other citizen involvement and education programs nationwide, discovering features which appeared in long lasting programs. I designed these features into our new program to provide relevance to people's lives and interests, give opportunities to explore and experience watershed issues, and to offer encouragement to teach others and influence their favorite organizations in support of water stewardship. In 2003 I received the MAWD (Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts) Program of the Year Award.

Louise and the rest of the staff at the RWMWD
Office Groundbreaking in 2005.
During these early program development years I served on the WaterShed Partners Steering Committee and co-led an ad hoc Education Committee with Jerry Spetzman (then at the Department of Agriculture) and served on the WaterShed Partners' Science Museum Exhibit Development Team which resulted in four exhibits and a loan program--some of which remain in use at the State Fair and at District events such as WaterFest and our recent Maplewood Mall Project Grand Opening.

Then there was the era of debates on phosphorus in fertilizers: I was very engaged in that arena, developing a close working relationship with the University of Minnesota Soils Department and helping the District conduct a soil phosphorus content survey. Once the law was enacted I surveyed, monitored and educated all the fertilizer store outlets in the District and worked with cities revising their fertilizer ban ordinances.

Also in the early years of the Public Involvement and Education (PIE) Program, teachers were my foremost target audience because they are in a position to teach and inspire many others of a wide age, ethnicity, and economic range. The District began working with Cairn & Associates to invite 176 teachers from dozens of schools from Woodbury to Roseville and St. Paul to White Bear Lake, school districts and private schools alike. They completed six workshops for 190 teachers and administrators, and stewardship activities at Battle Creek, Carver, Centerpoint, Little Canada Central Middle, Cowern, Eagle Point, Farnsworth, Hayden Heights, Highwood Hills, North High, Oakdale, Tartan High, Otter Lake, Richardson, Roseville Area Middle, Skyview, Sunrise Park, Weaver and Willow Land schools, as well as at Maplewood Nature Center's Jim's Prairie, Postal Credit Union (PCU) Pond, and the North St. Paul Urban Ecology Center. Over time schools have gradually allowed expenditures and teacher/class time for watershed bus tours, maintenance staff training as well as
collaboration on schoolyard stormwater control projects.

I met Sage Passi at Farnsworth School in 1998 leading Eco Education’s Phalen Stewards--A Watershed Awareness Project involving sixth grade teacher Mara Coyle, Sue and Rich Cairn and Jerry Spetzman. Together we launched the Phalen Stewards Education Project to test the assumption that schools can be useful in educating the general public, including non-English-speakers.

In 1999 I used a Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) grant to fund myself, two teachers and Ron Struss from University of Minnesota Extension to attend an Adopt-a-Watershed Leadership Institute that included launching a 10-month program to test the use of the environment as an "integrating context for learning" at the teachers' schools. The project finale was a workshop we put on for 34 teachers and agency educators.

Louise presents a certificate of appreciation to Dorothy Lynch at Waterfest.
In 2000 I sought the assistance of Sage Passi (due to her many contacts with teachers and an avid interest in using the environment as her context for teaching), and fortunately the District hired her as the Watershed Education Specialist. Many of her accomplishments over the years are well documented in our monthly newsletters and website.

I created WaterFest in 2000 to celebrate the District's 25th anniversary and the completion of the Tanners Lake improvements projects, and designed the event to feature the teachers and students we had worked with for several years, knowing they would bring with them family members, neighbors and friends, and assuming they would enjoy meeting each other. This event gave the teachers and students a chance to "show and tell" the event visitors what they had learned about water resources. It's a thrill to see students and teachers explain their discoveries to WaterFest visitors each year. In 2012 WaterFest expanded to include St. Paul Park and Recreation's National Get Outdoors event, which easily doubled the best WaterFest attendance (in 2000) to 4000. During its first year of design and planning I succeeded in developing a working relationship with the 3M Foundation and environmental staff; 3M donated $4000 each year through 2002 and staffed the WaterShed Exhibit Tent with their staff. WaterFest was held at Tanners Lake in Oakdale for two years, and then moved to Lake Phalen Park in 2002 to help publicize the District's shoreline restoration project (planned and executed by District staffer, Bill Bartodziej). Residents, churches and schools in the area were directly invited to attend or volunteer. WaterFest has become widely known, exceptionally diverse, very energetic and uniquely branded to the District. WaterFest 2012 was embraced by the Phalen Stewards as they volunteered, provided new activities and requested that we hold the newly restored Phalen Park Stone Arch Bridge Dedication at WaterFest, thereby bringing the State Senator and Representative, the Maplewood Mayor and the City of St. Paul Mayor's Office staff to WaterFest. What will WaterFest 2013 bring? As Debbie Meister takes over the WaterFest tradition, I am sure it will expand as it did in 2012 when her contract to run the event began.

Of course WaterFest success relies on our very successful K-12 program, based on the same principles of engagement, relevance and opportunities to explore, share and promote favorite and exciting watershed discoveries. The pinnacle of the K-12 education program is the implementation of schoolyard improvements for water management, aesthetic and ecological value. Schoolyard projects serve as field projects with lasting educational value. Churches have also been an effective target audience for the education program. Watershed Education Specialist Sage Passi has worked exceptionally hard to bring to fruition these concepts of institutional support from school and churches in furthering watershed stewardship. With Sage's assistance the Ramsey County Master Gardeners began to ease into the watershed stewardship arena as they learned how to restore private lake shores and guide private, school and church rain gardens.

Direct engagement with staff of public works at city and county levels is another hallmark of my education program. Citizen calls about street dirt and clogged catch basins led me to investigate city street sweeping and catch basin maintenance programs. By 1998 I had developed inventories of sand use and street sweeping practices that led me to call public works staff to learn about our water quality concerns and to share ideas, issues, questions and answers to street management effects on city and county budgets as well as effects on water resources. With the assistance of public works expert Joel Schilling, I held annual meetings about how road systems and maintenance practices strain budgets and impact stormwater facilities as well as water quality. Eventually our workshops featured Jay Michels (Erosion & Sediment Control Specialist at Emmons & Olivier Resources Inc.) talking about National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), Phase I, Phase II and the Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4) permit programs and in 2003 the group dubbed itself the Public Works Forum, began meeting monthly and became focused on meeting the new MS4 permit requirements and winter sanding versus salting practices. I was presented the Environmental Leadership Award at the first state-wide Road Salt Symposium. In 2005 the District asked Joel to survey cities nationwide to find out street sweeping frequencies. In 2007 I was approached by University of Minnesota Extension with the offer to centralize my public works training sessions for metro-wide participation. In 2009 I began a 319-grant-based series of 4 annual workshops on winter road and parking lot maintenance and series of 3 annual workshops on turf maintenance for public works, contractors and maintenance crews of many other entities including churches, private and public schools, hospitals, 3M, H.B. Fuller, colleges and the VA campus.

Outreach and education for other city staff and officials has been less intense and has involved a variety of approaches. Follow-up from the adoption of the 1997 Watershed Management Plan required visits to each City Council in the District, and coordination with each city as they updated their Local WMPs. Various staff and I worked with city environmental advisory commissions, and in 2008 I collaborated with the University of Minnesota Extension Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) program to conduct a boat tour of the Mississippi River along St. Paul's shorelines for local elected officials.   

The numbers of people involved in all these efforts was gratifying, but I was always interested in where the people lived and to learn their names and interests. Since that quickly becomes overwhelming, a mapping system was created to show who lives near a water resource and where there are concentrations of involved people. An updated map would be useful as well as informing if time would allow.


The Watershed Advisory Commission in 2007
(and the sliding cake!)
Specific target audiences are far easier to educate than the general public. It has taken a wide variety of partners, strategies, and opportunities to reach out to the general public. Public meetings about projects and plans along with Citizen Advisory Committees were frequently used since the beginning of the District. Then with the advent of the Metro WaterShed Partners, expensive advertising campaigns have been cost-shared amongst the member organizations. In 1994 the District created the Natural Resources Board to develop an integrated resource management plan for the Phalen watershed and eventually the entire District. With the support of the District Natural Resources staff Bill Bartodziej and Manager Jack Frost, the brochures, signs and Landscape Ecology Award Program they created proved very useful. In 2007 the Watershed Advisory Commission was created from combining the Natural Resources Board with volunteers that I invited from various other District education efforts; Master Gardeners, teachers, WaterFest volunteers and representatives from other government agencies participated to varying degrees of commitment, along with the LEAP Team which still continues to lead a very strong program thanks to the leadership of Dana Larsen-Ramsay of H.B. Fuller.

Staffer Simba Blood developed and maintains the website, while I created the email-delivered newsletter in 2005 to drive readers to the website; its distribution has reached nearly 800 with the promise of many more readers now that we have launched an online version starting in 2013. Many thanks to staffers Carrie Magnuson, Sage Passi and Simba Blood for strong support, knowledge and influence in that transition as well as for their constant improvements to the newsletter and takeover of responsibilities over the years.

Louise gathers the masses at a
Tamarack Nature Preserve tour.

Other outreach efforts to the general public include my 2005 experiment with setting up Hamline University Center for Global Environmental Education (CGEE) computer kiosks at local libraries; a disappointing venture. However the Tamarack Swamp Nature Preserve tours I started in 2004 were so popular (thanks to our expert guide Jason Husveth and support staff Carrie, Sage and City of Woodbury staff Sharon Doucette) as to attract over 100 participants and many repeats every year, with the eventual take-over of the tours by the City of Woodbury in 2012. Tours of the Lake Phalen restored shoreline have proven very popular also. In 2006 the BMP Incentive Program and District Office Site tours and signage served to attract many curious people. Our Capital Improvement Projects and BMP Cost Share projects are visible examples of effective stormwater controls; the District has increased its use of signage at such projects. The most amazing set of features and signage are at the Maplewood Mall parking lot which has recently been retrofitted with over 300 trees, a mile of tree trenches, and 55 rain gardens.

The last public event that I had the privilege of organizing was the Grand Opening of the Maplewood Mall project on September 15 2012. In an effort to maximize public awareness of the District's recent spectacular accomplishment at the Maplewood Mall, I involved the Phalen Stewards group to explore and support the Maplewood Mall project and Grand Opening. As I leave the District, some volunteer stewards are discussing with various staff the concept of a water trail education program from the Mississippi to the Mall.

It is with great reluctance that I pass my baton on to the District Education Team, as they begin the exciting process of developing the 2013 Maplewood Mall public education program and the new system of QR Codes and website support to explain the many stormwater features at the Mall as well as perhaps along the water and walking/bike trails from the Mall to the Mississippi River. Although I will miss the excitement of developing these new tools for public education, I do plan to enjoy them and promote them as I will remain a devout advocate of the District's efforts.

Last but not least I extend my gratitude to District Administrator Cliff Aichinger and the Board of Managers for the privilege of serving the District these 18 years.



Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Casey Carp May Be Caput

Casey Lake Update - Winter 2013

Partners: Local citizens, City of North St. Paul, U of MN, DNR, and the RWMWD

By: Bill Bartodziej

U of MN researchers measuring a
carp caught via electrofishing.
The Watershed has been fortunate to be able to partner with the Sorensen Lab, U of MN, to study common carp in the Phalen Chain of Lakes. The ultimate goal of this work is to reduce levels of carp to a point where this invasive species is no longer causing water quality problems. So how does this fish affect water quality? Well, carp forage on the lake bottom for food, mainly targeting aquatic insects and plant parts. This feeding action stirs up the lake sediments which releases phosphorus into the water. Carp also excrete phosphorus as they digest their lake bottom morsels. Phosphorus is a food source for all plants, and too much phosphorus in lakes causes algal blooms. Large algal blooms will turn lake water green.

Over the last five years, the common carp population in Casey Lake has been studied in great detail. We learned that Casey supported an extremely high biomass (weight) of carp, estimated at over 500 pounds per acre. Carp biomass above 100 pounds per acre is considered detrimental to lakes. Last year, a lot of effort was invested into reducing the carp population in Casey. In terms of management, this is important for two reasons. First off, Casey can be thought of as a carp nursery area for the entire Phalen Chain of Lakes. We have learned that fish in Casey can move down the watershed during high water conditions and populate other lakes. Secondly, it is very plausible that the high numbers of carp in Casey is linked to poor water quality. Without carp, there is a good chance that Casey will experience better water quality and a more balanced ecological system.


Number harvested

Total weight estimate (lbs)

February - netting (10’x50’ open water area)



March - Dead fish collection from shore (ice out)



April - Commercial netting (entire lake)



Summer electro-fishing and other



July - Box netting (baited trap)






In November 2012, Casey’s water level was lowered by opening a valve in the lake’s outlet pipe. This water level draw down was done in order to make repairs to the outlet pipe. As a result of previous maintenance work, the pipe settled at an angle and needed to be modified slightly. The outlet pipe valve will be closed in late February of this year. Casey’s water level will remain at or near its current elevation until the spring of 2013, where snowmelt and spring rains will naturally refill the lake.

A side benefit of lowering the lake’s water level is that it allows the lake water to freeze almost entirely, and thereby greatly reducing the amount of water that carp typically use to survive through the winter. Lake level drawdowns are sometimes used as a fish management tool. Last month, watershed staff drilled over 100 holes in the ice to monitor water depth on Casey (see map below). Drilling was concentrated in deeper areas of the lake where water pockets may exist.
The map indicates points on Casey Lake where holes were drilled in the ice to look for
open pockets of water where carp may be surviving the winter.
This year’s drawdown resulted in a very effective reduction of water in this system. We detected small (< 25 sq. ft.) pockets of water in several locations, but water depth was less than a few inches. We did not see any evidence of fish, of any species, taking refuge in these pockets of water. Additionally, the U of MN research team located four radio-tagged carp in four separate areas of the lake (skull and crossbones on map above). These fish were frozen in the ice sheet.

RWMWD intern Tracy augering a hole on Casey. She found
 seven inches of ice and saturated, muddy lake bottom
substrate underneath.
These findings suggest that this year’s water level drawdown, coupled with normal winter temperatures, resulted in very minimal open water refuge areas for carp. Watershed staff and the U of MN research team are optimistic that a majority of carp in this system will not survive through the winter. If a lot of carp wash up on shore after ice-out, the Watershed will assemble a cleanup team. An electro-fishing survey in spring will determine if any carp did somehow make it through these extremely tough conditions.

In December 2012, the City of North St. Paul passed a resolution supporting the management of Casey Lake. The council voted unanimously to move forward with the management approach that was outlined in the council workshop by the U of MN carp research team and Watershed staff (December 4th, 2012). The following is a summary of the plan which was covered in the resolution:

Casey Management Plan Outline – 2013
  • Water level drawdown to adjust outlet pipe – in progress, RWMWD
  • Carp treatment – January or February – (Note: not necessary due to the lack of an open water refuge)
  • Spring carp survey to determine treatment effectiveness – U of MN
  • If deemed effective, DNR will stock bluegill this spring.
  • Aeration system installation – late summer/fall – DNR, City, RWMWD
  • If carp numbers are found to be high in spring, then a piscicide (a substance used to kill fish) will be considered for a fall, 2013 treatment. Bluegill stocking would then be postponed until spring 2014. 
  • All parties will continue communication at each step of the management process.
Overall, our working goals for Casey Lake are focused on improving water quality through reducing carp densities. Without carp, it is likely that aquatic plant populations will increase. This will add to ecosystem stability and improve fish and wildlife habitat. Quality sport fishing (bluegill and bass) opportunities will be provided through DNR stocking and aeration. Also, bluegill eat carp eggs, and this will work to keep this invasive species at low levels.   

Soon after ice-out, the U of MN research team and Watershed staff will be electro-fishing Casey in search of the common carp. Please stay tuned this spring for a full report of our results and other findings!

U of MN researchers electrofish on the Phalen Chain of Lakes

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Partnering with Faith Organizations for Clean Water

BMP Dream Team
Investigating potential BMP sites at a church near Markham Pond. 
Left to right: Joe Lochner and Ryan Johnson from Ramsey Conservation District,
Angie Hong from East Metro Water Resource Education Program, and
Tina Carstens from RWMWD.

By Sage Passi

In the near future, six congregations will have a new message sinking in: clean water stewardship!  


Over the next three years, the Watershed District will work with six faith organizations in several high-priority areas (sub-watersheds with ‘impaired waters’ including Kohlman and Wakefield Lakes in Maplewood and Bennett Lake in Roseville). Projects using Best Management Practices (BMPs) such as rain gardens and trench drains will help to lessen the amount of stormwater run-off coming from expansive parking lots and rooftops and reduce the level of phosphorus and other pollution that reaches those important water bodies. This will be done thanks to a $150,000 grant provided by Minnesota’s Clean Water Fund, one of the funds created by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. These funds will be supplemented with cost-share dollars from the District’s BMP Incentive Program.  


So what has been “unpaving” the way (to put a twist on that phrase) for this kind of outreach and action? Collaborating in watershed education and stewardship with churches is not a new endeavor for the Watershed District. Over the past six years RMMWD has worked to develop partnerships with seven faith organizations in four cities in and near the District including the Church of St. Peter and St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in North St. Paul, First Covenant Church, Holy Trinity and Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Cross Lutheran and St. Paul’s Monastery in Maplewood and Trinity Presbyterian in Woodbury. Four other churches in the watershed have also been recently considering the option of using BMP cost share funds to complete water quality projects on their grounds.

“How this happens is the grace and beauty of working within a community. Churches value caring, responsibility and giving back to the community,” says Sage Passi, Watershed Education Specialist for the Watershed District who has been building rain gardens with community groups for the past eight years. “They often have a closely woven social fabric that fosters this kind of involvement.”

Pr. Preuss and Scott Zager at Cross Lutheran Church
Pastor Robert Preuss and project organizer and church member
Scott Zager at Cross Lutheran Church carry plants
out to their new rain garden

She goes on to say, “Educating leaders and congregations about the water quality issues in their community is a strong ingredient of these projects. It involves getting to know people, making connections, doing things together and letting things unfold over time. By setting the stage for opportunities for people to discover their own connections to a local lake, we can support them in finding individual ways to do their part to take care of and protect the local water bodies they value.”


But how did all this get off the ground (or should we say into the ground)? 


The story of involvement with churches in our watershed began six years ago with the inspiration of a teacher on the east side of St Paul and her sixth grade class.  Cindy Schreiber, now the Aerospace STEM Coordinator (Science Technology, Engineering and Math) at Farnsworth Aerospace Magnet instigated the Watershed District’s involvement with churches when her sixth grade class decided to create a watershed service learning project in their neighborhood. 

C. Schreiber and students at First Covenant Church
Cindy Schreiber invites student participation in a
service-learning project at First Covenant Church.
Students had been learning about impervious surfaces, run-off and the use of native plants in improving water quality at nearby Lake Phalen and the river downstream. First Covenant Church across the street from their campus with its many downspouts bringing roof run-off to the parking lot looked like an obvious opportunity. Through a lot of dedication, students mastered the steps of rain garden site assessment. They measured the surface areas that drained to the sidewalk and parking lot to size the garden and conducted soil and infiltration tests with the help of Ramsey Conservation District. Then working in small teams with assistance from the Watershed District and Master Gardeners students developed planting designs and submitted them to the church’s grounds committee. One team’s ideas were selected and then the work began!

Farnsworth students at First Covenant Church
Rain garden excavation underway by Farnsworth students at First Covenant Church
Their efforts soon attracted the attention of multiple science classrooms taught by Sherry Brooks. Kids from second grade to sixth grade removed the sod and soil at the church to create a basin for the raingarden. They hauled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of this material offsite back to their school ground. With the rain garden dug, they mixed compost and sand to amend the highly-clay soils to create better infiltration, lined the inlet with straw erosion blanket, then installed and planted the rain garden. 

Farnsworth sixth-graders install erosion blanket
at the rain garden inlet.
For three years afterwards, Brook’s students continued to take care of the garden, weeding it, collecting seeds, and cutting down the dead vegetation each spring. 

“The power for everyone in this project was realizing that we are part of a bigger community. It was a joint effort. Kids feel empowered being able to giving back to the community,” said Schreiber.

In recent years, a member of First Covenant Church congregation, Bill Cranford, got the “bug” too, took the ball, decided to run with it and worked with the Community Design Center’s East Side Youth Conservation Corps, Master Gardeners, Green Corps interns and members of a neighboring church to build six more rain gardens on his site, including several at a house that the parish owns across the street from the school.


B. Cranford and other First Covenant Volunteers
Bill Cranford and other First Covenant Church volunteers make
plans for an additional rain garden in the front of the church.
The rain gardens at First Covenant continue to play a role in neighborhood education and community building. They soak in the run-off from the church rooftops and provide a demonstration site for residents in the neighborhood and new classes from Farnsworth who return each year to learn what a rain garden is and how they can help keep Phalen Lake and the Mississippi cleaner. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Other churches have picked up on this “mission.” St. Peter’s Catholic Church championed one of the first parking lots with pervious lanes in the District. The school adjacent to the church now has a large native garden site that infiltrates sidewalk run-off, provides habitat for birds and insects and is a huge learning site for the school and the church community, thanks to teachers Michelle Anderson and Jaci Krogh’s energetic third and fourth graders. St. Paul Monastery installed a green roof on a section of their roof in 2008 and in 2011 Cross Lutheran took on the mission of helping protect Wakefield Lake by channeling the run-off from their parking lot into a huge rain garden across the landscape in front of their church.

Preparing to Plant
Over 50 Cross Lutheran Church volunteers teamed up to plant
a rain garden at their site.  A Master Gardener provides
 instructions on how to plant.

St. Mark’s Church in North St. Paul just recently installed six rain gardens on their site. This spring Our Redeemer Lutheran Church on Larpenteur Avenue, east of Lake Phalen in St. Paul plans to complete a 650 square foot rain garden with the help of their Caring for Creation team, an Eagle Scout, Watershed staff and Ramsey County Master Gardeners. In Woodbury volunteers working with Washington Conservation District have helped to install a series of 7 rain gardens on their site. An underground cistern and a porous paver patio were also completed. 

The foundation for teaching stewardship and clean water has been laid, and these success stories give us faith that more congregations will be as excited as we are to make their church a community that pulls together to improve the natural environment. Stay tuned in the coming seasons to watch this program evolve!

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church
Excavation of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church rain garden site
was completed in the fall of 2012.  A team of volunteers will
be developing a planting design in February and the garden will
be planted in spring 2013.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Putting Minnesota Waters on a Low-Salt Diet

Tracy Leavenworth, Watershed District
K-12 consultant assesses the
salt use on school steps.
For years doctors have told people to stick to a low-salt diet. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), our waters should follow the same advice. When snow and ice start to accumulate on Minnesota roads, parking lots and sidewalks, one of the more common reactions is to apply salt, which contains chloride, a water pollutant. When snow and ice melt, most of the salt goes with it, washing into our lakes, streams and rivers. Once in the water, there’s no way to remove the chloride, and it becomes a permanent pollutant.

“Salt is a real threat to water quality. It only takes one teaspoon of road salt to permanently pollute five gallons of water,” warns Brooke Asleson, MPCA project manager for the Twin Cities Metro Area chloride project. “We are trying to spread the word that less is more when it comes to applying road salt because at high concentrations, chloride can harm the fish, insect and plant life in our waters.” Trees and plants growing near salted sidewalks and driveways can be injured by exposure to salt, too (which is why it’s advisable to consider salt-resistant species for boulevard plantings).

Salt build-up
Winter build-up of salt residue.

 With the arrival of icy sidewalk season, it’s a good time for a refresher on how to limit the use of sand and de-icing salts this winter. There are many ways to reduce salt use while maintaining high safety standards. Here are some basic tips:
  • Shovel… Then shovel some more. Shovel early and often when the snow falls, before the job gets out of hand. The more snow and ice you remove manually, the less salt you will have to use and the more effective it can be. Break up ice with an ice scraper and decide whether application of a de-icer or sand is even necessary to maintain traction.
  • More salt does not mean more melting. Use less than four pounds of salt per 1,000 square feet. One pound of salt, nearly enough for two average-sized parking spots, would fill a 12 ounce coffee mug (an average parking space is about 150 square feet).
  • Below 15 degrees is too cold for most salt to work. Most salts stop working around this temperature. Instead, use sand for traction or use a product designed for lower temperatures.
  • Sweep up extra salt. If salt or sand is visible on dry pavement, it is no longer doing any work and will be washed away. When snow and ice are melted, sweep up any remaining sand and salt. Either use the leftovers or dispose of them in the trash.
  • Identify drainage issues, such as areas where water drains onto your steps or accumulates in low areas in your sidewalk, and fix them during the summer.
  • If you hire someone else to do snow removal, look for a contractor that has earned a voluntary Road Salt Education Certification.

What will protect your pet from heavy salt
use in the winter? Try booties!
Foung Hawj, videographer and newly elected Minnesota State Senator for District 67 from the east side of St. Paul near Lake Phalen, is a strong advocate for water quality in RWMWD. He just finished producing a video for residents in collaboration with Mississippi Watershed Management Organization called Improved Winter Maintenance: Good Choices for Clean Water. To get water-friendly advice on winter care of sidewalks and parking lots for residents check out this video on YouTube.

This video also contains useful information for pet-owners who want to protect their animals from the effects of salt on streets
and sidewalks.


In 2010, the MPCA more than doubled the number of waters that are listed as impaired for chloride. Too much salt results in costly damages and serious environmental consequences. The chloride in road salt enters our surface waters and groundwater after snow melts and is harmful to the aquatic ecosystems. While progress in Minnesota has been made in these areas, there is still much work to do in order to meet water quality standards and achieve a high level of road safety.
Dave Vlasin, Water Quality Technician for
RWMWD, discusses the issues of chloride
at Battle Creek Lake during a demonstration
for Crosswinds students.

Water quality staff at Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District are working with the MPCA in a metro-wide chloride study project. Currently RWMWD is monitoring 9 lakes including Lake Phalen, Tanners Lake and Gervais Lake. A zero to two meter composite sampling as well as a bottom sample are collected in the deepest hole of each lake and then samples are sent to the lab for analysis. The samples taken for the chloride study are collected four times a year (Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter), in addition to the normal sampling program. You can watch a short video on the metro wide project called Chloride and our Water - Monitoring the Mix by clicking here.  

To learn more about what you can do to reduce chloride in our waters, or to read more about MPCA’s role on this issue, visit the agency’s road salt and water quality webpage.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

On the Screen: February

Sage Passi, RWMWD
Don’t let this winter cold spell get you down. Surround yourself with a warm blanket, pop a bowl of popcorn and settle into an armchair, and watch some short videos by local producers that let you see what steps you can take to be proactive and informed about water quality issues.

Our local watershed hero, Senator-elect Foung Hawj is the producer of two of them. The Nature of Water, is a 12 minute video available in five languages that was made in a partnership between the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization and the City of Minneapolis to increase environmental knowledge and awareness in the Southeast Asian community. Click here to watch.

This video was produced to share information with communities who carry oral cultures, who otherwise are not reached by printed environmental materials. The video covers raingardens, stormwater runoff into our lakes and rivers, what a "watershed" is and how to properly dispose of household hazardous wastes and more.  To obtain a copy of the DVD, contact Zoua Her at 612-465-8780 x208 or at zher[at] We also have some in stock at our office! Contact sage[at] to request a copy. You can also read a report Assessing Attitudes, Perceptions and Behaviors about Water in Minnesota's Hmong Community by going to > Publications.

Improved Winter Maintenance: Choices for Clean Water is a recently released self-help video for residents who want to be water-friendly in their winter care of sidewalks and parking lots. There’s an awfully cute dog wearing foot protection in the video to boot. Click here to access some great tips to help you in protecting your nearest lake, river and wetland.

Ever wonder what Dave Vlasin and Eric Korte, our water quality staff are up to on lakes this time of year? There’s some great footage in a 3 minute video called Chloride and Our Water - Monitoring the Mix. Watch it here. This video captures some of the action that monitoring staff around the Twin Cities are conducting on lakes in the metro area to document and study chloride levels. Brooke Asleson, Watershed Project Manager for the MPCA’s Metro-wide Chloride Study, narrates the video.

Did you miss the Maplewood Mall Grand Opening on September 15? Here’s a chance to take in that event and get the full scoop on the variety of innovative rainwater management features RWMWD has installed to reduce stormwater run-off on a large scale at the Mall. From the cistern to tree trenches, to porous pavers and rain gardens, Chuck Turning, videographer for SCC has caught it all and turned this video into a documentary that tells the story of that event and the importance of this local project. Watch Maplewood Mall Rain Gardens Opening Celebration here.

Guests at the Maplewood Mall Stormwater Retrofit
Grand Opening Celebration.

If there are any budding/thriving videographers out there who want to volunteer to capture footage around the district for various projects for our Facebook page or cover other watershed related events please contact me at sage.passi[at]


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Mystery of the Month: February

Question: Every Minnesotan knows when the leaves change color it's time to start preparing yourself for another long winter, complete with snow, ice, and wind!  Thank goodness for warm houses, cars and winter clothing!

But what living thing withstands such brutal punishment without seeking shelter and survives until spring?

Answer: The question this month could have a few answers, but we were talking about trees and their amazing survival mechanisms!

Winter Survival of Trees: Whatever gets you through the ice
by Tracy Lawler, Natural Resources Intern


Our forests include mainly deciduous and coniferous trees. These trees have adapted different strategies to survive the change in seasons.

Deciduous trees lose their leaves every year; this includes species like maples, oaks, ash, and elm.  When nights become longer in the fall, the benefits of photosynthesizing decrease- the sun is further away and shines for shorter periods. The longer nights signal the trees it’s time to start slowing down photosynthesis and store energy for the long winter.  Chlorophyll, the chemical which gives leaves their green color, is the primary actor in photosynthesis.  As photosynthesis decreases the leaf is stressed and chlorophyll starts to break down. This allows the leaf to show other colors underneath the chlorophyll.  If the tree has carotenoid pigments under the chlorophyll, the leaf will turn yellow, orange, or brown. Some trees have anthocyanin pigments which appear red or purple.  Trees will then reabsorb nutrients stored in the leaves.  After, the leaf will start a process called abscission that will release it from the branch. In abscission, a hormone called auxin is released. This hormone tells the leaf to create a tear between the leaf and branch, and tells the branch to seal the hole to prevent the loss of sap.  The tree, which has now stored the nutrients in its protected trunk and deep roots, can fall into dormancy until spring when longer days mean photosynthesis can resume.  A lot of energy will have to be used to re-grow the leaves these trees drop every year, but there are advantages to this strategy.  No leaves mean less chance of limbs breaking in the winter or loss of water; two things that will help the tree grow in the spring. 

Coniferous trees (also called evergreens) hold on to their leaves (needles) from season to season.  Some examples of coniferous trees are cedars, spruces, pines, firs, and junipers.  In the winter evergreens will lose more water than coniferous trees and run a higher risk of predation when their needles are the only food source for animals.  So why do conifers keep their leaves year-round? Because conifers have an advantage of saving the energy deciduous trees use to regrow their leaves.  They have also adapted their leaves to be able to withstand the cold conditions and still be able to photosynthesize in the winter! The color of their dark green needles is also thought to better absorb energy from the sun. Their waxy, needle-like leaves help them to preserve water.  Even their trunk’s cone shape and drooping branches help them to more easily shed snow and ice so their needles are exposed to more sunlight. Conifers can process the smaller amount of sunlight in the winter and be ready to go in the spring, giving them a jump up on deciduous trees that have to re-grow all their leaves before they photosynthesize sunlight.

Gervais Mill Pond trees
Both conifers and deciduous trees change their biochemistry to keep the water inside them from freezing, using a process called “hardening”.  If the water inside their cells were to freeze and crystalize then it would damage the cells and the tree would die. Fortunately, the trees in Minnesota and in other regions with brutal winters have a few strategies to prevent that from happening.  In addition to moving nutrients into their well-protected root systems, they move water out of their cell walls and collect it in a way where it cannot form crystals that would rupture their cells. They also collect sugars inside their cells to lower the freezing point. This is like putting anti-freeze in your car’s cooling system so your car still drives in below freezing temperatures! The process of hardening takes a few months.  If temperatures were to fall quickly before the tree has completed this process it could be severely damaged or even die.  In the spring, when the threat of hard freezes have passed, the trees go through a process of “un-hardening” so their water and nutrients can come out of storage and be used for energy.

There are always exceptions, even in the tree world. There is actually one conifer in Minnesota that changes color and loses its needles each winter; the Tamarack.  Did you know that even without their leaves, some trees can still photosynthesize? Aspen, a deciduous tree, lose their leaves every fall, but have evolved so their bark contains chlorophyll.  That is why the aspen’s bark looks a little green. It is only able to absorb a small amount of energy during the winter but that still helps it survive and make new leaves in the spring!

And so there you have it, the different ways the coniferous and deciduous trees we love survive the freezing Minnesota winter we don’t always love.   It’s a good thing they are able to survive each winter so they can provide their benefits all year around. These benefits help us every day and include carbon sequestration, erosion control and soil stabilization, food and shelter for animals and insects, oxygen production, and much more. Thanks to their adaptations you can count on them to be there after every hard winter, still full of needles or growing back leaves, welcoming the new spring.