Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Herding Carp

By: Bill Bartodziej

Super bowl commercials make you laugh with it and best-selling books have used the title, so why can’t we make reference to herding carp, oh I mean herding cats? Although there seems to be some similarities with carp and cats, we are making progress with carp management in the Phalen Chain of Lakes. With the continued assistance of the U of MN Sorensen Lab and a commercial fisherman, we had another successful netting of common carp in Lake Gervais. On February 25th, 825 adult carp were removed from this lake system.       

Overall, the main goals of this management program are to 1) reduce the adult common carp population to less than 100 lb per acre, and 2) keep substantial numbers of juvenile carp from entering the Phalen Chain of Lakes. Research points to 100 lb per acre as being the threshold where carp negatively impact lake water quality.

So what progress have we made? In 2009, the initial carp population estimate was just over 8,000 adults in the Phalen Chain. This amounts to roughly 180 lb per acre of carp. Below is a summary of the carp removal since the inception of the carp research and management program:



Removal Method

Adult Carp Removed



















Boxnet trap




Boxnet trap




Boxnet trap






                                                                                                             TOTAL =            3,855

The seine net being placed under the water.
Nettings are done in the winter using a large seining net attached to small robotic submarines that ‘herd’ the carp to an opening in the ice. In the summer, the U of MN research team uses a baited ‘boxnet trap’ to capture carp. A boxnet involves a 71-foot square net placed on the lake bottom with the sides down. For a two week period, the middle of the net is baited with dried corn. Once the carp become comfortable with the free meals and school over the net, the sides are quickly raised to catch the feeding carp.

Interested onlookers watch as the fishermen wrestle
thousands of pounds of carp.
As of March 2013, 3,855 adult carp have been removed from the Phalen Chain. The research team estimates that this is close to fifty percent of the overall carp population. Carp weight, or biomass, has declined from 180 lb per acre to roughly 90 lb per acre. Although estimates put us just under the 100 lb per acre threshold, we will still continue to reduce the population. This year, we will set more boxnets in Kohlman, and likely conduct another winter netting in February, 2014. Please stay tuned as we continue to make progress in herding the common carp in the Phalen Chain.

Carrie and Nicole (RWMWD staff and Green Corps intern)
look for tagged carp and count the catch.

A musky caught in the carp net was safely released
back into Lake Gervais.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

On the Screen - Grandpa Otto's Lake Phalen

Char's grandfather, Charles August Otto, built a house
across from Lake Phalen on the east shore where Char
lived in her early childhood.
by Sage Passi

“When I was growing up I always referred to Lake Phalen as my lake,” comments Char Wasiluk, longtime resident near Lake Phalen, at a talk she recently gave for the Maplewood Area Historical Society. “Maybe some of you think of it as your lake,” she said, with a wry smile. “But tonight’s presentation will give you a little picture of what life was like during Grandpa Otto’s time.”

Char Wasiluk, a historian for Maplewood Historical Society
recounts her own stories about growing up near Lake Phalen.

Documented in 2012, Char’s talk, filmed by video producer Chuck Turning from Government Television Network (GTN),
titled Grandpa Otto's Lake Phalen takes the viewer on a journey around the lake though the passage of time. Wasiluk, a history buff who has spent a lot of time gathering stories, photos and memorabilia, highlights the waves of changes that Lake Phalen has ridden through her life and a few eras before. It’s a personal story about life around the lake, but it’s also a tale with a lot of resonance for anyone who is curious about the transformations that have given the lake a rich history.

Grandpa Otto with a snow goose he shot.

Char’s Grandpa Otto was born in the Black Forest in Germany in 1855. He came to the United States in 1873 when he was 18. By 1885 he owned a hardware store at the corner of Arcade and East 7th Street. Grandpa Otto eventually built a house on the east shore of Lake Phalen. This is the house where Char was born and this is when her memories come to life as she begins her story about growing up in the neighborhood around the lake. She describes where her parents lived for several summers when she was quite young.

The canvas tent that Char's family rented during the summers of the early 1920s by Lake Phalen. 
Courtesy of Maplewood Historical Society.

These canvas tents were rented by residents at Lake Phalen during the summer from about 1918 to the mid to late 1920s.
They had wooden floors,a wooden side at the back, and screens. The tents were located near Larpenteur Avenue East
and Phalen Boulevard (now known as East Shore Drive).  Courtesy of Maplewood Historical Society

Char's mother in a woolen bathing suit, showing off the "fashionable swimwear" typical of the era in the early 1920s.  Courtesy of the Maplewood Historical Society.

Char shows a token holder used for the streetcar that
ran near Lake Phalen.
In 1924, when Char was three, her mother died and she went to live with her grandparents at their house in New Canada located near Linke’s Landing, at the corner of Larpenteur Avenue and a street now known as East Shore Drive. The landing was built by Carl Linke, a farmer who rented canoes and boats to people who lived in the area or others who came from a further distance to enjoy the lake’s many amenities. 

“Residents rowed across the lake from the landing to get to the streetcar on the west side of the lake. Or they walked across the ice in the winter or walked around the north end of the lake to get to the streetcar station in the park,” recalls Char. She held up a token holder prompting memories for those who used to ride the streetcars around town.

Char describes a large staircase built by the PWA (Public Works Administration) near Linke’s Landing on the east shore that provided a way for folks to get down the hill to the lake. She reminisces about her childhood memories of swimming at Linke’s Landing, the visit to Phalen Beach in the 1930’s by Johnny Weissmuller, Olympics swimming champion and star in Tarzan movies, the various beach and bath houses and pavilions built around the lake and cites many stories about the people she knew who lived in the area who also shared connections to the lake. (Images below)

A staircase built by the Public Works Administration (PWA) near Linke's Landing on the east side of Phalen Lake. 
Photo provided by the City of St. Paul.

Johnny Weissmuller, Olympics swimming champion and star in Tartan movies visited Lake Phalen beach in 1931.
Photo courtesy of the City of St. Paul.

Grandpa Otto’s Lake Phalen, with its diverse accounts from summer life at the lake to lore about John Dillinger’s escape from the law at nearby Keller Golf Course is a delightful testimony about life around Lake Phalen through the eras. Many thanks to historians Char Wasiluk and Bob Jensen, President of the Maplewood Historical Society who helped her put the talk together, and documentary videographer Chuck Turning for giving us such a rich portal into the lake’s past.

This video can be viewed at or on Watershed Weekly which plays Thursdays in March at 5 pm and Fridays at 4 AM on SCC Channel 15 for residents in Maplewood, North St. Paul, Oakdale, Vadnais Heights, White Bear Lake, Lake Elmo and Mahtomedi.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Heat is On For Triclosan

One of the thirteen indicators included in the State of the River report making headlines these days is the triclosan issue ( Trevor Russell from the Friends of the Mississippi and Lark Weller of the National Park Service who helped spearhead the collection of data and analysis for this report, highlighted these indicators about the health and condition of the Mississippi River at Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District’s Annual Recognition Dinner at the end of January.

What is Triclosan?

Triclosan is an antimicrobial product created for use in health care facilities. The use of this substance has broadened and has more recently become a common ingredient in many household products including soaps, deodorant, toothpaste, fabrics, cosmetics and toys.

What seems to be the problem?

We wash our hands with triclosan-based antibacterial soap, the water goes down the drain, and then to a wastewater treatment facility where it is cleaned before being discharged to the Mississippi River. It’s fine then, right? Not so fast. Triclosan does get broken down as it moves through the wastewater treatment system when it is exposed to chlorine, chemicals and sunlight, but this can cause some of it to become a different family toxic compounds (including carcinogens) called ‘dioxins’ that pose potential threats. Our wastewater treatment facilities are not set up to remove triclosan or its derivatives from the water, meaning it flushes through to the river.  Once there, these chemicals build up, causing potential problems with the animals reliant on the river and downstream waters.

But triclosan is not just going down the drain.  These chemicals, used widely in our households, are building up in us as well. The State of the River report summarizes several statistics of potential human and river environment effects, including a finding that triclosan is present in 75% of Americans over the age of five.*   

According to Bill Arnold, a civil engineering professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering who helped author the report: "It’s important for people to know that what they use in their house every day can have an impact in the environment far beyond their home. Consumers need to know that they may be using products with triclosan. People should read product labels to understand what they are buying."

In the news

Triclosan is making local and national news as scientists, public health workers, lawmakers, and consumers try to make the best decisions with evidence from current research.

The Pioneer Press posted an article in January showing that the University of Minnesota is working hard to get more details on triclosan. The study looking at toxic buildup of triclosan and its derivatives in local lakes and rivers can be found at

 Just this past week, the Star Tribune posted an article showing that Minnesotans are doing more than taking notice. As this article points out, starting in June 2013 Minnesota state agencies have been ordered to stop buying products that contain triclosan. A bill banning triclosan’s use outside of medical settings is expected to be introduced and the Legislature will conduct a hearing on the pros and cons of the chemical. More at

Take home message 
So what are we supposed to do in this (thankfully nearly over) cold and flu season without our trusty antibacterial ingredient?   First off, consider that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that there are no advantages to using antibacterial soap over regular old soap and water (link). Secondly, read up on the sites listed above and go ahead and “Google it.” Take ownership of the issue by considering the evidence you find from reliable sources.  Use that information to make informed decisions about your purchases and your current household stock of items containing triclosan. And finally, follow local papers for more current updates on the legislative hearing. It should be a dynamic debate worthy of paying close attention.
* For more information on this and other statements, see

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Mystery of the Month - March

Can you guess what we're looking at this month?

Plant or animal, food or fungi, frozen or slimy? A
pple fritter frozen under Phalen? Sap covered tree bark? Underwater fungus?  Are you stumped?

If you guessed tree fungus, you're close.  It is a living thing that most people find unpalatable.

If you guessed a fish, you're much closer.

In fact you're dead on, but what fish has such unusual and nonuniform scales?

[drum roll]

You are looking at a close-up shot of a mirror carp. The mirror carp is a genetic variant or strain of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio L.).

The fish in the pictures above and below was unique among many common carp that we caught in a seine netting operation we did in conjunction with the U of MN and a commercial fishing crew a couple weeks ago in late February. 

Justine Koch with a mirror carp on
Gervais Lake

You may be familiar with water quality problems that are associated with the common carp. If you're a frequent reader of our eNewsletters, you are probably also familiar with the work that the University of Minnesota and RWMWD have been doing to manage carp populations in local lakes. But for all the trouble they are and the havoc they stir up in our lakes, we have to admit the common carp are interesting beasts.  

Did You Know…?
  • The world record catch for a common carp weighed in at over 90 pounds.*  That's the size of an average 11-year old!
  • Females can lay between 100,000 and 500,000 eggs at one time, and they hatch in less than a week.  Relative to MN cities, that's enough to mimic the population of Rochester at the 'low end' and the combined populations of Rochester, St. Paul, Woodbury and Maplewood at the 'high end.'  One fish, seven days.  Sheesh!
  • Before their destructive effects to lakes were realized, carp were originally introduced to the U.S. as a food source in the late 1800s. They are rarely used as such for humans in the U.S. today.
  • A mirror carp caught in the January 2011
    seine on Lake Gervais.
  • Koi (over-sized goldfish) will travel with carp schools in local waters.  We've even caught some of them in our nets in years past.  Two of these were in the DNR display at the State Fair last year.

The mirror carp that we are highlighting in this Mystery of the Month stands out against the other common carp because of scale patterns.  There isn't a clear consensus amongst our researchers on classifying something as a mirror carp or another variant called leather carp.  Generally speaking, mirror carp have patchy large scales and often have scales only along the dorsal edge (top fin) of the body and/or along the lateral line (side edge), whereas leather carp usually have no scales or just a few scales near the tail.

In the Phalen Chain and in other lakes studied by the U of MN researchers, it is estimated that about 1 out of 1,000 carp are mirror carp.  Justine Koch, one of the researchers, says she's seen two in Lake Gervais and one in Casey Lake (see photo below). 

Justine with a young mirror carp
on Casey Lake.
Interestingly, according to another U of MN researcher, Przemek Bajer, mirror carp are very prevalent in some parts of Europe (Germany/Poland) and make up closer to 80% of the carp there.

It is believed that mirror carp are a strain of domesticated carp bred by European monks.  Some say they were bred that way so they were easier to prepare for food.
    Historical food source, abounding survival mechanisms, interesting subspecies, but potentially devastating to our local lakes.  That's quite the resume for a critter our lakes can do without. 
    Stay tuned for upcoming stories regarding our collaborative work to manage the common carp.

*For more information on carp, look for more articles in this blog with the key word 'carp,' or look to these sites

Monday, March 4, 2013

Be the Next Rain Water Steward on Your Block! Sign Up For a Rain Garden Class!

Want to build a rain garden but not sure where to start?  We can
help you from start to finish.  Sign up for our classes!
by Sage Passi

Stopping Water Where It Drops, our free rain garden class series for the public, kicks off in April. (Details here) This is your chance to be a role model on your block! In 2006 we initiated a pilot program to train Master Gardeners to mentor schools, residents and churches to build rain gardens in their yards to address storm water run-off issues and to help improve water quality in our local lakes and rivers. Over the years, this training process has sprouted many demonstration projects throughout the watershed district. Each year we learn more about the art form of teaching rain garden design and construction. There’s always a lot to learn so come join us!

Ramsey Gardener, Carol Mason Sherrill measures the drainage area by calculating the roof area for a demonstration rain garden project in the Battle Creek neighborhood.  She partnered with Battle Creek Middle School students to provide assistance to several residents in St. Paul who live near Battle Creek.

Maplewood has been promoting rain garden education for the
public for many years.  Our introductory class for the
Stopping Water Where It Drops series kicks off at the
Maplewood Library on April 18th.
The City of Maplewood is a great partner in teaching the public. They team with us each year to put on these classes. You don’t have to be an engineer to take our workshops. We can help you through the process from start to finish. After all Maplewood knows a lot about building them – the city has created over 700 city rain gardens as a part of their street reconstruction efforts!

Our classes are taught by technical advisors from Ramsey Conservation District. They are known for their fun approach to teaching and their expertise in rain garden design. Get ready to be inspired and take the first class in the series on April 18. Learn why, where and how to build a rain garden in your yard.

The second in the rain garden series, "Site Assessment: Drainage
and Soils" puts a participant's muscles to the test while she
performs the soil auguring test at a residence in North St. Paul.
Get your hands dirty and join us on May 2nd for the second class, a hands-on field session at a home in North St. Paul. In that workshop you will learn how to assess your yard, calculate the run-off that comes from your site, learn about the type of soils you have, figure out how large to make your rain garden and determine how fast water soaks into the ground in your yard.

In the third class, having applied what you have learned in the first two classes, join us at Maplewood Nature Center on May 22 and we’ll help you come up with some basic planting plans for your own rain garden. Get inspired by the Master Gardeners on hand who will be there to provide personalized advice. Our technical consultants, in the meantime, can provide further advice through a home visit and walk you through our cost share application process. They can develop a design and provide technical consultation.

Our Best Management Incentive Program can even help you pay for your rain garden if you live within the District! You can even hire a contractor if that is the route you’d like to take and these funds will pay for that. Click here for more details on this cost-share opportunity. Staff from Ramsey and Washington Conservation Districts will provide technical assistance through this program.

Kris Gjerde's rain garden in the Battle Creek neighborhood before the sod is stripped and the ground is excavated (left) and after the rain garden installation (right).  She and her husband worked through the BMP program to receive consultation and cost share funds. 

Kris Gjerde's rain garden one year later.

Already Have a Rain Garden But Need Some Help? Don’t Despair!
“Divide and Conquer!”

A rain garden that could use a
little help.
Maplewood has added two new classes to the series for those of you who already have a rain garden but are experiencing some challenges. The titles of these classes resonate with a lot of us who have a few “bugs” we’d like to work out in our gardens. If you have a rain garden that needs some TLC, check out these two classes, “Rain Garden Rescue” on April 25 and “Divide and Conquer In Your Rain Garden” on May 16. I’m guessing that those of you who sign up for these two classes will appreciate learning some tips for taming your garden.

So whether your yard is a blank slate just waiting for a rain garden or if you've got one installed that needs taming, sign up for a class or the series by contacting us today and join the hundreds of stewards who are taking on the challenge of “Stopping Water Where It Drops.” Together we can help protect our lakes, wetlands and streams!

Registration information, dates and phone numbers to get more details at - scroll down to Events & Workshops.

It Takes a Team to Tango - A look back at the Volunteer Recognition Dinner

By: Sage Passi

The Watershed District may be a brick and mortar building with a dozen staff and interns working hard for clean water, but it is the teams of people like you that give our work a living, breathing presence in our neighborhoods. While we couldn’t possibly tell every story, we can take a peek at just a few.

Picture it.

Scenario One: Action Central in a back room on the north end of town. No decks of cards, poker chips or cigars. Just a plateful of peppermint candies on a table sprawled with colorful markers, tracing-paper spread and an AutoCAD drawing. Eyes riveted on pages of a Phalen Restoration Guide.  On a blustery, but sunny Valentine's Day afternoon, what do a retired electronics technician, a landscape architect grad student and a retired accountant find in common?  See the photos below for the answer.

Left: Jodi Refsland, grad student in landscape architecture at the University of MN and a Ramsey County Master Gardener brings her skills and talent to the table to help design a planting plan for Our Redeemer Lutheran Church's rain garden in St. Paul that will be completed by volunteers this spring. 
Middle: Dennis Paulson, a retired electronics technician and a member of the Caring for Creation team at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church taps his attention for detail and makes a copy of the design to bring back to an Eagle Scout who will help the church do a fund-raiser to pay for the plants in their garden. 
Right: Linda Neilson, Ramsey County Master Gardener has been mentoring teachers, students, residents and other Master Gardeners for the past six years in rain garden site assessment, design and construction.  She invited her former intern, Jodi (left) to be part of the church project.

Scenario Two: A former agronomist, an ace story teller, a Green Corps intern, an avid birdwatcher and three dozen eleven-year olds converge at a limestone wall overlooking a river valley. As they discuss their observations and knowledge of the land, it’s impossible to distinguish the teacher from the student.

Top left: Mary Ann Simmons provides bird-watching coaching tips for a Farnsworth student on a trip to the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
Top right: Nicole Soderholm, a Green Corps intern for the Watershed District carries a sample of water from the pond to Farnsworth students to conduct several water quality tests.
Lower left: Bev Blomgren, a Master Naturalist and retired service learning expert for St. Paul Community Education inspires Farnsworth sixth-graders to visualize the many diverse habitats that converge across the refuge's river valley.
Lower right: Steve Simmons, a writer and retired professor of agronomy at the U of MN holds the "talking stick" and encourages the group to draw on their own creativity and understanding of connections in their storytelling circle.
One of several ponds, formerly used for raising bass, now capture stormwater from the large drainage area surrounding the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge near the airport and the Mall of America.

Scenario Three: A crowd of people assembles on a cold January night to listen to a top-notch tag-team talk about the state of the Mississippi River and its tributary, the Minnesota River. A hundred or so stewardship pledge forms leave the room that night with the guests.

Volunteers and partners celebrate their stewardship
accomplishments and listen to a talk by presenters from the
Friends of the Mississippi River and the
National Park Service
What do you suppose is the common ingredient in these scenarios? There is a lot more to it than meets the eye, but for starters they are all stories about people coming together out of concern for the land and the water. Every year, in late January or early February, when winter settles in and everyone needs a little encouragement and re-inspiration, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District takes the opportunity to acknowledge its partners, volunteers, interns, staff and Board of Directors for their terrific teamwork, their voluminous volunteer efforts and their creative contributions in helping protect water.

 This year the venue for the celebration was at Jimmy’s Conference and Catering in Vadnais Heights. Over one hundred people braved the winter chill to come together to acknowledge their shared concerns about water and to honor and celebrate their shared accomplishments in working together across the watershed district. This annual dinner serves as a time to renew and make new connections and to look forward to new possibilities for the coming year.

A big thank you goes out to Lark Weller, Water Quality Coordinator from the National Park Service, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area and Trevor Russell, Watershed Program Director at Friends of the Mississippi River who were invited to give a presentation at the recognition dinner about the recently completed study called the State of the Mississippi River Report that their two organizations teamed up to develop.

Trevor Russell, Friends of the Mississippi River,
and Lark Weller, National Park Service, present the
State of the Mississippi River Report at the Watershed
District's annual recognition dinner.

The report highlights 13 key indicators of river health, and details the results in a way that non-scientists can understand. It provides a current snapshot, as well as history and trends, of factors affecting the health of the river and solutions to help protect and improve the metro portion of the Mississippi River.  While the river’s water quality and ecological health have improved over time, it is also facing some distressing trends and challenges moving forward. You can read or download the report on line here at  We will also be featuring future blog entries to review some of these 13 indicators in more depth.  Search this blog for 'State of the River' to find these entries.

Wondering about the pledge?  Follow this link to find out and learn new ways you can do your part.  Encourage your neighbors to do the same! 

Thank you again to all of the volunteers that bring our clean water goals to the neighborhoods.  It is fun, humbling, and a great blend of conversations when we gather so many of you together on one night.  We proudly look at our team and the year ahead and cue the music.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Fish Creek’s Minnesotan Get Together

By Ginny Gaynor (Maplewood Nature Center)

The Maplewood Community Center was hopping Friday night, February 22, for Fish Creek’s Minnesotan Get Together. 130 people came out to support and raise funds for the Fish Creek project. Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District has been a key partner on this project, helping create a vision for the Fish Creek greenway and becoming one of the project’s funding partners. The project will preserve up to 70 acres of land in south Maplewood, adjacent to county open space. To date, over 80% of the $2,151,200 acquisition costs have been raised.

The February event was festive and celebratory. Author Chris Niskanen was the speaker for the evening and his new book, The Minnesota Book of Skills, set the theme. Maplewood Nature Center staff and volunteers pulled together six skills stations so people could try out basic Minnesota skills from canoeing to knitting to extracting a tick and more. The Fish Creek Committee and non-profit partner Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) raised funds for the project via a silent auction and individual donations.

For more information, or to make a donation to this project, visit