Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Somewhere Over the Rain Garden……Dreams Really Do Come True

By Sage Passi

Liz and Thomas Biagi’s new rain garden in North St. Paul

A big pink frog stares into Liz and Thomas Biagi’s newly created rain garden in North St. Paul. I guess it should not come as a total surprise. Liz is a kindergarten teacher at American Indian Magnet. Looking at things from a youthful, fresh angle certainly goes with the territory. She and her husband have a three year old daughter which might explain the appearance of several toy frogs in their yard. But I venture to speculate another theory. Frogs are symbols of transformation and the permanent presence of several of these characters in the Biagi front yard points to the efforts they have taken to alter the lay of the land in front of their house…..and where the water ends up after a rain storm.

Liz Biagi (in pink) hosts the Stopping Water Where it Drops  rain garden class
in the spring of 2013.  Here participants are assessing the soil in her yard with the
assistance of Joe Lochner and Ryan Johnson from Ramsey Soil and Water
Conservation District.
It didn’t all happen at once. Liz signed up for a series of rain garden workshops in the spring of 2012. Her home is in a high priority sub-watershed – Kohlman Creek so it made a lot of sense to her since the project expenses could be covered under the District's cost share program. I called her in the fall after her classes to check in and to ask her if she would consider letting the Watershed District use her yard as a demonstration site for our next spring series. I was glad she hadn’t installed anything yet. A blank slate makes for a good teaching opportunity. When I drove up to her house in May, after the long drawn out winter, I could tell that the wheels had been turning in her mind. She was getting ready to spring into action. By the time I got back to her house in mid-July everything in her front yard looked completely different.

Liz and Thomas could have hired a contractor to install their rain garden but they are a family with a creative bent, resourcefulness and a sense of adventure when they take on a project. When it came time for them to figure out how to excavate under their sidewalk to get their roof run-off to the rain gardens they relied upon a You Tube video created by a high school teacher and his class to provide the basic advice for how to do it. But then they resorted to their own ingenuity to create the tools to get the job done.

Liz points out where they redirected their rooftop run-off into a catchment
basin and then underneath their sidewalk.

“What started out as a difficult and tedious digging job evolved into something a lot more fun.” We were very surprised at how quickly we were able to get a channel for the drain tile dug under the sidewalk using PVC pipe, a special nozzle, a connector and the force of water. “ 

The Biagi's spent $4.77 on materials that streamlined the process
of creating a channel under the sidewalk for the drain tile that
conveys rainwater into their garden.
It’s a couple months later and now dry creek beds meander throughout their yard, conveying water from the rooftop of her home into the rain gardens. They also serve as pathways to travel around the yard. Small wooden bridges over the creek paths have become focal points that invite you to explore how water travels between downspouts into the rain gardens. Watching the movement of water during a rain storm has become a fascination for Liz.

“ I was told that you’ll get to the point where you’ll be out there in a raincoat watching your rain garden. Sure enough one morning there I was at about 4:30 AM putting on my raincoat and going out onto the bridge to watch how the rain was moving along the creek beds and filling up the rain gardens.”

Dry creek beds made of different sizes of river rock help water move into the rain gardens.
Note the addition of turtles as well as frogs.  Does this signify the "slowing down" of the
water so it can infiltrate into the ground instead of running off?

And as for the frogs…..They may be serving as lawn ornaments in Biagi’s gardens but they also carry a deeper message. 
I think this quote parallels the Biagi’s take on challenging the status quo.  When it comes to stewardship about stormwater we’d all benefit from changing our perspective.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mystery of the Month: August

Photo (Art!) by Paul Erdmann.
Guess who sponsored a state-wide graphic design/botony competition for high-school students to see who could invent the coolest and most believable Flower From Mars.

The answer? We don't know, but it sounds like a great idea. 

Perhaps the students would have come up with something like the image here, but this is not instagram or art class, folks. This sky-scraping bloom is real. What is it?

Meet a couple cousins in the Dipsacus family.

Cut-leaf teasel (Dipsacus laciniatus L. with white flowers) and common teasel (Dipsacus fullonum L. with purple or pink flowers) came to the U.S. from Europe. Prickly dried teasel flower-heads were once used in the fabric industry for wool carding and fabric-knapping. More recently used in dried flower arrangements, they escape areas near cemeteries and spread along roadsides, grasslands and waterways. First year plants stay low to the ground, in a dandelion-like rosette form. The rosette grows bigger each year, reaching an incredible 2-foot diameter. Flowering stalks are formed once rosettes reach a critical mass. The plant dies at the end of the flowering year.  


Teasel grows up to seven feet tall, with opposite leaves which join around the stem, forming a water-holding “cup”, serving as mosquito nurseries. The entire plant is extremely prickly! Plants typically branch and produce multiple flower heads, blooming in July and early August. Flowers on the large cylindrical heads bloom in successive rings instead of all at once. One plant may generate three thousand seeds. Teasel seeds stick to mowers, feet and tires and can float in water, contributing to its spread. Goldfinches, mice and other animals eat the seeds, possibly bringing it to new areas.

Both species of teasel are listed as prohibited/eradicate species on the Minnesota Noxious Weed List. Eradication is required by Minnesota Statutes. It is illegal to propagate, sell or transport this plant. 


How can you help prevent the spread of teasel?

An infestation of cut-leaf teasel in Roseville, MN was likely begun by someone tossing a dried arrangement into a vacant lot. Please dispose of all potted plants, arrangements and wreaths of any species in a responsible manner. Do not plant teasel or buy dried flower arrangements containing teasel. Report teasel found in Ramsey County to the Ramsey County Cooperative Weed Management Area; carole.gernes[@] In other areas of Minnesota, call the Arrest the Pest hotline: 888-545-6684.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Memorial Service for Roger Lake

July 13 turned out to be very nice day after some overnight rain. The informal memorial event organized by Roger’s family was very appropriate to commemorate a lifetime of service to improve the environment and water management in Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District (RWMWD). Roger, RWMWD's long time Board President, was an outdoorsman at heart and the open picnic shelter at Battle Creek Regional Park was an appropriate site.

Roger’s son Dan organized the event and, after some socializing and refreshments, talked of Roger’s life and his love of Minnesota’s plants and water. Several other people spoke of Roger’s contributions to protection of valuable plants and animals in his role as wildlife researcher at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Cliff Aichinger, RWMWD Administrator, spoke of Roger’s 35 year dedication to the District and his significant contributions to the management of the District. He mentioned that Battle Creek was a very appropriate location for his memorial, since Roger played a major part in the planning and implementation of the final project to restore the creek and manage the significant flows in the creek after the development of St. Paul’s east side and Maplewood and Woodbury.

Cliff also spoke to Roger’s long time Board Presidency and his ability to effectively chair Board meetings and insure the contribution of all Managers to the decision making process. Roger’s calm demeanor, thorough preparation, and his excellent facilitation skills, insured that the Board adequately addressed major issues and came to consensus agreement on the best approach to solve the many complicated issues that arose over the years.

Cliff acknowledged Roger’s role in addressing major milestones for the District including the Battle Creek Project, the continuing Capital Improvements Program and projects, hiring of the District’s first administrator, growth of the District staff, construction of the District office building and much more. Cliff expressed the sentiment that he will be sorely missed by all the Board and staff.

Friday, August 9, 2013

On the Screen: Re-Frosting the Cake: The Life and Times of the Phalen Chain

By Sage Passi
Carrie Jennings, DNR Geologist
The Life and Times of the Phalen Chain talk by Dr. Carrie Jennings, Minnesota DNR geologist, filmed at the Watershed District’s annual LEAP ceremony at HB Fuller headquarters last fall is now available on YouTube, thanks to the efforts of GTN filmmaker Chuck Turning. In her talk, Jennings brings to life the dynamic history of this area in our watershed, joking with the audience that “I’m only going to talk about the last two million years.”

If you missed the show and want to brush up on your geological facts or delve further into the mysteries of this Chain of Lakes, fret no more. It’s all there at including a two minute prelude from the LEAP ceremony that includes slides of this year’s winners before her talk begins. There’s even some speculation about the existence of a waterfall at the end of Lake Phalen eons ago that migrated upstream during the drainage of the River Warren and some theorizing about why the rainbow darter exists in Phalen Lake and no other lake in Minnesota. But you’ll have to watch the video to hear more about that!

The rainbow darter exists only in one lake in Minnesota, besides several streams. 
That lake is Phalen.  Carrie Jennings has a couple theories as to why.

Carrie starts her presentation with a map of Minnesota and a question, “Have our lakes and rivers always been this way? We have three main watersheds that drain to the Mississippi and one that drains north. We don’t question whether these rivers have always been this way. This is a temporary and recent situation.”

She introduces us to a new term – “Palimpsest” and goes on to explain that Phalen Lake is in a Palimpsest valley. A Palimpsest valley is one that has existed before but is partially eroded. Palimpsest comes from the Greek language meaning “again scraped.” It refers to manuscripts at a time when there was a shortage of things to write on. They would write something on a manuscript, then using a variety of tools ( maybe a knife or some pumice) they would scrape it and then soak it with milk, cheese or lime, then write on it again, usually in another direction. You could still kind of see what was below.”

Jennings goes on to explain, “That’s what glaciation has done to this landscape. There have been multiple glaciations across this region and they have partially erased the river valleys that have been there before but there is still some trace of what was there prior to that. Phalen represents that trace of a much older valley. Glaciations fill in these older valleys. I like to think of it as frosting. Every time you have a new glaciation you are refrosting some landscape that was there before.”

Glaciers moved through the central part of Minnesota. 
On this map this is where it looks like a finger ran through the frosting.

I thought I knew something about the history of Lake Phalen but now I know it was just a drop in the bucket. The plot just got thicker thanks to Carrie’s un-layering of the last two million years.  She perked my appetite for learning a lot more about the history mysteries of the Phalen Chain.   Check out the video to learn more!  Leave your comments below saying your favorite new-found fact.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

New groundwater study shows increases in some pollutants

Winter salt use contributes to water pollution.

One of the roles of the MPCA is to assess the condition of Minnesota’s groundwater. Clean groundwater is vital to the state of Minnesota. Groundwater supplies drinking water to about 75 percent of all Minnesotans and almost all of the water used to irrigate the state’s crops. The inflow of groundwater also is important to Minnesota’s streams, lakes and wetlands.

In a
new groundwater report, MPCA primarily looked at monitoring data from 2007-2011 that included traditional pollutants known to adversely affect groundwater such as nitrate, chloride and volatile organic compounds (VOCs or chemicals that participate in forming ozone). The report also included some newly-recognized pollutants, such as medicines, insect repellents, and fire retardants. The effects of these new pollutants, which are often referred to as contaminants of emerging concern or CECs, onto human and aquatic life are not fully understood at this point. 

Highlights from “The Condition of Minnesota’s Groundwater, 2007-2011” include:
  • Shallow groundwater in the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area (TCMA) is impacted by high chloride concentrations [road and sidewalk salt] with 27 percent of the TCMA monitoring wells in the sand and gravel aquifers having concentrations that were greater than drinking water guidelines set by EPA.
  • If chloride continues to increase in the groundwater, additional waters will likely violate drinking water and water-quality standards in the future.
  • Nitrate contamination generally has not changed over the last 15 years; however concentrations remain high in certain parts of the state.
  • The highest nitrate concentrations occurred in the aquifers in Central and Southwestern Minnesota.
  • CECs were detected in about one-third of the sampled wells in 2010. The most-frequently detected chemicals were the fire retardant tris phosphate, the antibiotic sulfamethoxazole, and bisphenol A and tributyl phosphate. No concentrations violated any applicable human-health guidance set by the state of Minnesota.
Monitoring is ongoing with additional wells being installed to increase the breadth of the monitoring network. This work will serve the state well into the future by detecting contamination problems that occur along with developing and tracking groundwater quality trends. To view the executive summary and full report on the condition of Minnesota’s groundwater, visit the MPCA’s
Groundwater in Minnesota webpage.

This article reprinted from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Waterfront Bulletin with permission.