Thursday, July 18, 2013

Living Streets

Maplewood's routine street replacement project gets a boost.
By Cliff Aichinger

The Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District has been working to complete a 'Living Streets' demonstration project.
Our goal with developing a Living Streets demonstration project was to demonstrate how residential streets could be reconstructed to improve water quality as well as provide multiple benefits for the community.

Though the plants are now maturing in our first demonstration site, the process was not without a few hurdles, many lessons learned, and one major geographical change.  We'll come back to that but let's back up for a moment and explain what a 'living street' is.

What is a Living Street?

The term “Living Streets” was coined by the North St. Paul Living Streets Task Force to describe a new type of street that will eventually replace most of the city’s existing streets. A common term used in other parts of the country is ”Green Streets” or “Complete Streets.” The Task Force decided that the term “Living” better described what was being achieved by changing the streets to provide more comprehensive quality-of-living benefits to residents. 

Living streets are narrower and have less pavement than existing streets. Reducing the width of existing streets reduces stormwater runoff, construction costs and assessments to residents. It allows room for the installation of rainwater gardens to treat stormwater. Where there is a need, bike trails and sidewalks may be installed. Narrower streets also provide more room for trees.

Unlike existing streets that are only designed for cars, liv­ing streets are designed for cars as well as people and the environment. Rainwater gardens and street trees remove pollutants from stormwater before the water enters area lakes, helping to improve lake quality. Narrower streets and street trees also slow traffic, creating a safe environment for everyone. Bike trails and sidewalks make it easy for all residents to exercise and connect with neighbors.

What do Living Streets look like?

Living streets will vary depending on the street function and location in the city. The Living Streets Plan includes design templates for three different types of streets and concepts for busier collector streets.

Living Streets are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the street. Elements of a Living Street may include:
• sidewalks on one side
• bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders)
• parking
• marked street crossings
• pedestrian signals
• comfortable and accessible transit stops
• rainwater gardens
• trees
• vegetation

Left: Existing residential street layout.  Right: Proposed residential street layout.

What are the benefits of Living Streets?

• Living Streets have economic benefits because they:
– Cost less to build
– Reduce long-term maintenance costs
– Increase property values
– Spark economic revitalization

• Living Streets build community because they:
– Increase safety by incorporating traffic-calming and speed-reducing elements
– Help children by providing room for safe walking and biking
– Improve public health by encouraging a healthy life-style for people of all ages
– Enhance neighborhood beauty and strengthen a sense of community

• Living Streets improve environmental quality because they:
– Improve water quality of lakes and streams with addition of rainwater gardens
– Improve air quality by providing the means to reduce C02 emissions and other pollutants
– Reduce summer heat generated by streets by using less asphalt and more street trees
– Reduce raw material and energy used in street construction by building smaller street surfaces

Taking a stroll along a new sidewalk and raingarden on Bartlemy Lane in Maplewood.

Clean Water Funds Help Pave the Way

The District began the journey in 2009 when the District offered to help the City of North St. Paul prepare a Living Streets Plan. The plan was completed with the assistance of a City Task Force of North St. Paul residents, business representatives, and City staff. This plan was completed and adopted by the City Council in January 2011.* 
The District received a $500,000 grant for this effort. The District provided $600,000 in matching funds. Our grant targeted implementation in the City of North St. Paul.

In 2010, the District applied for a Clean Water Fund grant to assist in design and construction of a 'Living Street' demonstration project. We knew that this new approach would meet some resistance from City staff and residents, but our hope was that the benefits would far out way the perceived negative changes. This demonstration project was intended to serve as a site where future residents, city staff and elected officials could see how this new type of street looks and functions.

Hurdles and Detours

Following adoption of the Living Streets Plan in early 2011, the North St. Paul City Council authorized proceeding with project planning and design for a Living Streets project on 15th Avenue. Staff involved the residents in a process to design the street and locations of rain gardens, sidewalks and trees. There was strong support on the part of some of the 69 property owners, but there was also some organized resistance to changing the street design and the plan to include a sidewalk on one side of the street.

Ultimately, in October 2011, the City Council decided that the opposition was too great and declined to order the completion of the project. Following this action, District staff approached the City of Maplewood to gauge their interest in completing a demonstration project with our grant and match funds.

The City of Maplewood was just beginning the design process for a street replacement project in the Bartelmy-Meyer neighborhood. The City was excited to participate and staff began working with the City and neighborhood on a Living Streets design.

Spring thaw feeds young plants in a rain garden on East 7th Street in Maplewood.

The Living Streets Come to Life

The project planning in Maplewood was authorized in late 2011 and approved in spring of 2012. Construction on the project began in June 2012 and completed in October.

Streets were narrowed from 32 feet wide to 24 feet and 1.5 miles of sidewalks were added, but overall pavement was reduced by 1 acre compared to a conventional 32 foot street replacement. The project also included construction of 32 rain gardens, 1 regional infiltration rain garden and 200 drought resistant trees in street boulevards. It is estimated that the project results in sequestering 40 tons of CO2 every year. These changes result in improved function and livability for the neighborhood. The estimated total phosphorous removed for the project is 11.6 pounds per year. As a result of the project we now estimate that 50% of the stormwater is filtered or infiltrates, 10% runs off, and 40% evaporates.

The total project cost was $4,298,610. The District contributed the Clean Water Fund grant ($550,000 and District matching funds of $550,000).

In early 2013 the District also paid for the addition of etched rain drop ripples in the sidewalks as part of the Districts Watershed Public Art initiative. The ripples were installed adjacent to each of the rain gardens as an artistic way to provide an educational message about stormwater runoff and the function and benefits of rain gardens.

Plans for the Future

The District hopes that future street projects incorporate this Living Streets design. We have shown that residential streets do not need to be as wide as they are today. We generally have more parking than needed and the benefits of traffic-calming and on-site stormwater management are important. We have shown in past studies that we need to reduce impervious surfaces in the District if we are to meet our water quality goals. Reducing street width has to be a major strategy to meet this goal.
Maplewood has completed and adopted a Living Streets Policy. This policy will be used in the design of all future street improvement projects. We encourage other cities to follow this approach. The District is currently examining how we will both encourage and support this change.

*The Living Streets plan is available at the District web site, in the Library section under Technical Reports

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Is it Clear Sailing for Casey Lake?

By Bill Bartodziej, Ecologist, RWMWD

The natural shoreline buffer along Casey Lake Park.

With the apparent loss of the carp population over the winter, all eyes have been peeled on how the Casey Lake system will respond.  Will we see crystal clear water?  Will the aquatic plants take off? Will the stocked bluegill spawn?

In spring, the water clarity had substantially increased from years past.  But would this water quality response be evident in the heat of the summer?  As we write this, we can report that Casey is still clear.  In fact, it is quite easy to see the Casey Lake bottom down to a maximum depth of three feet.  Over the last decade, summer meant murky water for Casey.  This was, in part, due to an abundance of carp that stirred up the lake bottom sediments.  These rough fish are also linked to increasing phosphorus in lake systems.  In Casey, it is likely that carp were responsible for big algal blooms that turned the water green.  The changes that we are seeing out there this year are pretty dramatic.

A submersed rock on the Casey lake bottom, and duckweed floating above.

 We have water quality data to support our casual observations.  Watershed and lake managers use “Chlorophyll-a” to measure how much algae is in the water.  Our watershed uses a grading scale, A to F, to report cholorphyll a measurements.  A lot of chlorophyll-a, typically over 50 ug/l in our watershed, signals water quality problems.  Below is a graph for Casey Lake:


From 2009-2012, chlorophyll-a in Casey Lake was in the D to F range, large algal blooms made it extremely difficult to see more than a foot into the water.  So far this year, chlorophyll a values have jumped significantly into the A range.  This dramatic change in water quality is likely due to the elimination of carp in the system.  

With the increased water clarity, we are starting to see more aquatic plant growth on the lake bottom.  This type of plant growth increases the ecological stability of Casey Lake.  If you take a stroll and stop at the access points in Casey Lake Park, you will see a few bluegill spawning “beds” about 10-15 feet off the shoreline.  These beds are clear circles in the sand about 10-12” in diameter.  This is a good indication that the stocked bluegill survived and are actively reproducing.  The U of MN research team will be electro-fishing in the next couple of weeks to come up with data on the fish community in Casey Lake. 

Please stay tuned for another update this fall!


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Just Another Day at the Office

It's a fun thing to say "just another day at the office" around here because well, it's rarely that simple or uneventful.  Here are just a few photos from some of our staff's typical day.

The Natural Resources crew has been hard at work doing a shoreline restoration at Round Lake in Maplewood.

The Water Quality team has been busy cleaning out trash racks at lake overflow pipes (top left), checking monitoring equipment (top right, middle right and lower left), installing rain barrels to the green roof at the office (lower right), and doing other highly technical things that are difficult to explain (middle left).

U of MN Carp Researcher's (mostly Reid Swanson's) day at the "office" includes lots of fish, of course!  From left to right, top to bottom:  A garter snake caught (and released) in Markham Pond. Pipetting carp DNA.  Northern Pike captured (and released) on Lake Owasso.  Low clearance for the shock boat in Lake Owasso.  Live well from carp captured in Upper Kohlman Basin.  Releasing a muskie on Lake Owasso. City of Little Canada helping tow the team out of a mucky area.  Bowfin caught in the channel between Gervais and Kohlman Lakes. A 3-year-old carp with a fin clip/regrowth from a previous capture.  Fixing the backup electrofishing unit.  Large mouth bass captured (and released) from Lake Owasso. Netting fish from the shock boat on Lake Owasso. 

Permitting Program Coordinator, Paige Ahlborg's day includes inspecting projects where erosion and sediment control measures need to be taken to insure nearby water bodies are not adversely affected by construction projects. 
Right: Database Developer, Tom Burns rides along for a few inspections to ensure he understands the process.

The Natural Resources (NR) crew is back.  Top left and bottom right: Simba and Janna (NR Intern) loaded and hauled 74 bales of hay to be used at Phalen Golf Course on a restoration.  Top right: Tessa (NR Intern) collects native plant seed from the office prairie.  Lower left: An admitedly very blurry photo of Bill Bartodziej on a tractor, grading a shoreline restoration on Round Lake in Maplewood.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Citizen Input Sought at District Public Meetings

Gervais Creek is just one of the gorgeous resources we work to protect.
The Watershed District is beginning the process of updating its Management Plan which happens every ten years. This is an opportune time to involve the community in providing input and insight on local issues that affect our local lakes and streams.  This revision effort will involve 3 public meetings this fall  at several locations around the District that are intended to:

·         provide a forum for citizens to ask questions and voice any concerns about local  
 lakes and streams and the watershed as a whole

·         inform citizens about the trends and history of the lakes in their area

·         help citizens learn more the issues that create the conditions they observe in lakes/streams and solicit input about potential District plans to improve them

·         allow for discussion of broader issues that will be addressed in the plan update

Friend and foe.  Native swamp milkweed grows alongside highly invasive
reed canary grass on Lake Owasso in Shoreview. 

Here are a few possible topics that could be up for discussion – water quality or flooding concerns, watershed redevelopment, impacts of climate change, groundwater concerns, algae, fisheries and carp. Any and all concerns will be recorded.  Each meeting will provide some time to get acquainted, refreshments, a short overview of lake histories and their general conditions and include facilitated small group discussions about issues/concerns.

We invite you to attend a meeting for the area and lakes/creeks that interest you most.

Maplewood, Little Canada, St. Paul, North St. Paul, White Bear Lake, Vadnais Heights and Gem Lake  (Phalen, Round, Keller, Gervais, Kohlman, Willow, Wakefield and Beaver Lakes)Tuesday, September 17, 6-8:30 PM, Maplewood Community Center (Room C), 2100 White Bear Avenue, Maplewood

Woodbury, Landfall, Oakdale, Maplewood, St. Paul (Carver, Battle Creek and Tanners Lakes, Battle Creek, Fish Creek) September 26, 6-8:30 PM, Woodbury City Hall (Ash/Birch conference rooms), 8301 Valley Creek Road, Woodbury

Roseville and Shoreview (Lake Owasso and Wabasso, Snail, Emily and Bennett Lakes)
Thursday, October 3, 6:00-8:30 PM, Shoreview Community Center, Snail Lake Common Room, 4580 Victoria Street North, Shoreview

We encourage anyone to attend who would like to participate in the dialogue or be an “ambassador”  for lakes and creeks in their community. Please contact Sage Passi at 651-792-7958 or sage.passi[at] for more information.
Lake Wabasso
We hope to see you there!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Invasion of the Zombie Weed

This bouquet of sunshine can actually be a management nightmare on any property.

Common tansy is a perennial brought to North America from Eurasia.  Introduced for medicinal, horticultural, insect repellent and embalming purposes, it is now spreading into wild areas in the Upper Midwest and Canada.  Like many invasive plants, tansy escapes cultivation meaning it easily spreads from where people intentionally plant it.  From there it invades open, disturbed habitats, roadsides, grasslands and waterways.  Thousands of seeds are spread by mowing after blooming begins.  Seeds will form on flowers even after they are cut from the plant.   Seeds are also transported to new areas with fill from gravel pits. 

An embalming flower that will produce more of its species and run amok even when dead, dying, and headless?  Sounds pretty zombie-like to me.  Perhaps "mummy weed" would work better, but it's not as catchy.  I digress.

Tansy grows 3 to 6 feet tall, with alternate, bi-pinnately compound leaves.  The waxy, fernlike leaves are strongly aromatic when crushed.  Blooming from July to October, the button-like yellow flowers are up to 0.5” wide, and grow in clusters. Tops of flowers become rounded and turn a dirty-yellow color, then brown with age.  One plant may produce up to 50,000 seeds.

Tansy is listed as a prohibited/control species on the Minnesota Noxious Weed List.  Control is required by Minnesota Statutes in order to reduce established populations and prevent further spread.  It is illegal to propagate, sell or transport this plant.


Control Methods: pull or dig up rhizomes of small patches in early spring prior to flowering.  Mow before flower buds appear or open.  Do not mow after flowering begins.  After flowers open, clip them off and place in a black plastic bag and leave on site in a sunny location.  It is illegal to transport any part of the plant without a permit; including bringing it to a compost site or disposing in the garbage.  Toxic!  Wear gloves when handling!

Do you know of a roadside or public area with a large amount of Tansy?  Contact our Ramsey County Cooperative Weed Management Coordinator, Carol Gernes, at carole.gernes[at] or 651.792.7977.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mystery of the Month - July

Can you guess what this close-up photo is of?  Any idea where in the Watershed District it is?

No doubt, a caterpillar is taking shape, and it seems like a purple coneflower is now showing up.....

 What else can we see at this scale.....


Okay, let's back up a bit......

And a little more......

So you've probably guessed that it's a pretty amazing mosaic, but do you know where yet?

Ta daaa!  The mural at Maplewood Mall, by talented mosaic artist, David Aichinger, is under construction once again.  Come on by and see him finish it up, and while you're there, check out some of the artistically-designed stormwater management features that have gone in by the main entrance in the last couple years.