Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Priority Church Grant Projects Are in Motion

By Paige Ahlborg

One of several rain gardens installed in fall 2013 at Lakeview Lutheran captures parking lot run-off.

Last year RWMWD received Clean Water Legacy Grant money to install stormwater best management practices (BMPs) at churches in priority areas of the District. Our priority areas are Kohlman Lake, Wakefield Lake, and Bennett Lake subwatersheds because they are impaired water bodies. Churches were selected as our focus group because they typically have a large amount of impervious surface (parking lots, roofs, and sidewalks) draining directly into local water bodies.

Wakefield Lake is impaired for phosphorus.  BMP projects in its
subwatershed being built this fall at Presentation Church and
Woodland Hills Church, are designed to help address this issue.
The grant funding we received along with District cost share funds allowed us to install practices at 6 churches. Last year we installed 3 rain gardens at Lakeview Lutheran Church and 5 rain gardens at Redeeming Love Church in Maplewood (Kohlman Lake Subwatershed). This year staff has worked closely with four other churches in the District to design stormwater BMPs which are scheduled to be installed this fall. Prince of Peace and Grace Church in Roseville (Bennett Lake Subwatershed) and Woodland Hills Church and Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Maplewood (Wakefield Lake Subwatershed) will all be installing various BMPs including native planting areas, rain gardens, and a tree trench. These BMPs will reduce the amount of stormwater reaching their receiving waters and will reduce the amount of phosphorus and sediment going into the waters.

Construction on the tree trench that transects their parking lot began in later August
at Presentation Church.

We have been very lucky to work with very dedicated and environmentally conscious representatives at all the churches. They have made this an easy process, and we are extremely excited that we will soon have all these beautiful rain gardens doing their part to clean up our local water bodies. We will continue to work with the churches on education, maintenance, and volunteer activities as a way to ensure the entire congregation is aware of the benefits of these BMPs and what a great opportunity these grant funds are for the church.

Please visit the
Minnesota's Legacy web site for more information related to the Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment.

New Faces in New Places

RWMWD Staff and Interns as of September 2014.

We've got some new faces on board and one of our staff has a new role with the District. Here’s the scoop on who they are and what they are up to!

Our New Office Manager - Shelly Melser

In case you wonder why you haven’t seen Shelly Melser at the front desk lately, here is the reason why. Shelly, who has worked for the District since 2001 has shifted from being our receptionist (with many other tasks) to taking on the responsibilities of office manager. Her new roles include handling accounts payable and receivables, benefits, payroll and grant reporting. She is also still responsible for a number of her previous tasks including arranging vehicle and building maintenance, purchasing and coordination of our filing system. Shelly, we certainly depend on you for making things run smoothly behind the scenes! Thank you for all the hard work you do!

Welcome to our New Receptionist - Deb Barnes

When you enter the Watershed District office or call our main line you will find a new person at the front desk to greet you. Deb Barnes, our new receptionist, who joined our staff on July 21,2014 says,
” It felt like home when I walked in the door.”
Previously, she worked for 18 years as a church office administrator in east St. Paul until the church closed its doors.  On the day I did my Ripple Effect interview with her, Deb was in the midst of making updates to the District’s data base.
“I love organizing things and working with anything to do with computers,” she acknowledged.  “I also like learning about the variety of things other staff members are doing.“ 
Deb, a grandmother with 5 grandchildren, ages two months to 6 years, loves working in her yard in Lino Lakes, doing home projects and camping.  When asked what she is looking forward to in the job, she answered, “Being so capable that I can be the 'go to' person. I enjoy working with people.”

New District Intern - Natalie Campbell
We’d like to extend a warm welcome to our new District Intern, Natalie Campbell who will be working with Ramsey Washington Metro Watershed District this fall. Natalie, a student in her fourth year at the University of Minnesota, is completing a degree in Environmental Science Policy and Management. She recently returned from a semester abroad in Australia at James Cook University studying oceanography and sustainability. She was introduced to the Watershed District when Cliff Aichinger, the District Administrator gave a talk last fall in one of her Environmental Planning classes at the U. Campbell will be working two days a week at the District, doing job shadowing, helping out with some field work and assisting staff with a variety of tasks.

Mystery of the Month - September

A multiple choice quiz for your mystery this month.  The photo above is showing:
a.  A climbing structure at a third rate water park.
b.  A structure that helps strain trash out of the creek.
c. A structure to slow down the creek to help prevent erosion.
d. A barrier to stop carp from moving upstream.
e. None of the above.

The correct answer is d. A barrier to stop carp from moving upstream.

This cattle grate carp barrier is in Kohlman Creek, just upstream of Kohlman Lake. It is there to prevent this invasive fish from swimming upstream to Kohlman Basin, a breeding ground for carp. The barrier is raised out of the water in the winter but early spring when carp start looking for a place to breed, it’s lowered down to keep them out. As stated in a previous Ripple Effect, female carp can lay between 100,000 and 500,000 eggs at one time, and they hatch in less than a week. Then when the adult carp get older they root up shallow plants and muddy the water. This increases phosphorus which increases algae. In preventing carp from moving upstream, we are helping to improve water quality in the Phalen Chain of Lakes.

U of MN carp wranglers, Justine and Reid harvesting carp during the spring migration.  Carp were trapped between the barrier and a net.  They were so crowded most could be removed by hand.  For more about Justine and Reid's adventures with the carp research project, look for the keyword "carp" in the blog margin.
The cattle grate has to be cleaned often, especially after large storms.


Cardinal Flower –Nectar for Hummingbirds or a Tonic for Lovers?

Cardinal flower and the ruby-throated hummingbird pollinating it.  Love at first sight?
Photo by C. Magnuson (RWMWD).

By Sage Passi

I fell in love with the cardinal flower years ago when we first planted it in Marian Seabold’s rain garden – one of the many home rain gardens we planted years ago. I must not be the only one who is enamored with this bright red flower. I’ve noticed that the landscape designers who consult on our church rain garden designs also have an affinity for this lovely native wet meadow species, as evidenced by its appearance this year in a number of projects I’ve been keeping my eyes on. Its crimson blossoms stand out as September gardens begin to transition to their fall flowers and summer foliage fades. 

Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) paired with Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) in
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church Rain Garden.
But alas, cardinal flower, like some loves lost, has a habit of disappearing in our gardens after a while. It’s short-lived so you may have to renew your vows to this flower periodically and plant it again if it doesn’t successfully reseed itself.

Cardinal flower stretches out its blooming time to September.  Left to right: July, August, September, November.

Lobelia cardinalis can grow to be two to four feet tall and is related to Lobelia siphilitica (great blue lobelia); both display the characteristic "lip" petal near the opening of the flower and the "milky" liquid the plant excretes. Each flower has three spreading lower petals and two upper petals, all united into a tube at the base. L. siphilitica has blue flowers and is pollinated by bees; whereas L. cardinalis is red and depends upon the ruby-throated hummingbird for its pollination since most insects find it difficult to navigate the long tubular flowers. Occasionally I have run into other forms that are much paler in color. Delving into this a bit further, I discovered that there are indeed other forms including white (f. alba) and pink (f. rosea) so that answers my question as to why I have seen “white” cardinal flowers on occasion.

Cardinal flowers ablaze in Lakeview Lutheran's rain garden.  Note the "white" form (f. alma)
growing in the midst of the others.

So where should you plant it? In the wild I have come upon it on river banks while canoeing along the St. Croix River. It’s happiest growing in wet meadows, stream banks and along lake edges so that explains why it’s also appropriate to rain gardens. But I have been able to successfully establish it in well drained rich loam or sandy loam in drier conditions as well. It seems to adjust to either full sun or shade so this plant seems to be fairly adaptable. Cardinal flower will take two years to bloom, forming a large rosette the first year. Allow the plants to self-sow. They are heavy feeders, so compost or a shot of granular fertilizer when they begin growth is recommended.
As I mentioned in a previous plant story, I like to collect plant lore. The common name and its species name (cardinalis) alludes to the bright red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals. My research unearthed multiple stories from native tribes and European lore that indicates that this plant has often been used in love potions and cures. The Mesquaki were known to use cardinal flower in love ceremonies. They put chopped up roots into the food of quarreling couples to help them reconcile their differences. The Pawnee used the cardinal flower as a love charm. They believed that possession of the plant made them irresistible to the one they loved. But I warn you, according to some sources, fatal overdoses have resulted from the improper use of this plant as a home remedy so I recommend caution on this note.

Consider adding these vividly colored jewels to your garden’s palette and sit back and wait for the hovering hummingbirds. But be vigilant or, like these aerial artists that they attract, the cardinal flowers may surprise you with their own disappearing act!

Marian Seabold's cardinal flowers accent her East St. Paul rain garden.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What is Atlas 14?

Is the flooding that occurred in the spring of 2014 further evidence that weather is changing, our precipitation
models are inaccurate, or a combination of both?

In 2013 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released Atlas 14, Volume 8, a tool that revises rainfall/precipitation frequency estimates. The estimates serve as an update to the U.S. Weather Bureau’s Technical Paper No. 40 (TP-40) published in 1961, which has served as a key document over the years for water planners and hydrologists. The Watershed District, which used TP-40 estimates in the past, is in the process of integrating Atlas 14 projections into its next management plan.

Why the change? What is the significance?

Eleven Midwestern states, including Minnesota, recognized that there was room for improvement with the 1961 TP-40 methodology and new technology to support doing so.  They pooled their funds to update this tool. TP-40 used available rainfall information from far fewer stations than exist today and included the “dust‐bowl” years of the 1930’s.  Using many more rainfall collection stations to record rainfall outside of a major drought period allowed for more accurate modeling of current climate patterns.  The maps below show how reporting locations have increased in Atlas 14.

Left: TP40 Daily Stations across MN.  Right: Atlas 14 Daily Stations.  The number of stations in Minnesota where this rainfall frequency data is collected daily. Map images courtesy of BARR Engineering. 
Left: Rainfall stations that recorded sub-daily precipitation amounts for the TP-40 model.  Right: Sub-daily stations used for the Atlas 14 model.  Green dots show stations that record at 1-hour increments, red dots record at 15-minute increments, and yellow dots record at variable increments based on rainfall volumes.

The average record length used in the tool is now over 50 years and doubles the record use in original studies. The oldest Minnesota rainfall dataset dates back to 1836 (Fort Snelling/Minneapolis St. Paul Airport)!

Rainfall frequency or recurrence intervals in Atlas 14 are provided for 1‐year, 2‐year, 5‐year, 10‐year, 25‐year, 50‐year, and 100‐year events. A new feature in Atlas 14 is an interactive web interface. Here is a link to it:

Another concern that prompted an updating of this tool was the under-projection of rainfall and depths, given the magnitude of more recent storms. Atlas 14 has revealed some significant increases in each state, particularly in the depths for 24-hour/100-year storms (a heavy rainfall that drops X-amount of rain in 24 hours that only occurs once every 100 years). For example, current estimates for 100-year storm depths in a 24 hour period for Minneapolis/St. Paul airport have risen from 6 to 7.5 inches. This represents a 25% increase. See the diagram below for a comparison of TP 40 values versus Atlas 14 estimates in 24 hour/100 year depths for Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District and other locations in the Twin Cities metro area.

[click to enlarge] Left: A map showing the boundary of RWMWD (pre-Grass Lake WMO merger) and the precipitation estimates for a 100-year 24-hour storm according to the old TP-40 estimates (yellow-dotted lines) and the newer Atlas 14 (blue-dotted lines).  Right: The difference in the amount of rainfall estimated in the two models varied throughout the state.  In some places, the two models estimated roughly the same, whereas in others including the Twin Cities they were upwards of 25% different.

Some surprises have also been uncovered with the application of Atlas 14. It has revealed that there are some rather large changes over short distances in terms of the difference in 24-hour/ 100-year depths (inches) across the region. Here are a couple examples: Minneapolis, MN to St. Cloud, MN: 7.9 to 6.1 (1.8” difference) and Worthington, MN to Sioux Falls, SD: 7.8 to 5.9 (1.9” difference).
The updated rainfall depths published in Atlas 14 will be incorporated into Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District’s hydrologic model to calculate more accurate 100-year water surface elevations on lakes and water bodies within the District. The results will be included in the District’s water management plan update and be used for planning future flood risk mitigation efforts and project implementation. Tasks included in the process include verifying and updating watershed divides, updating rainfall depth and distributions and simulating 100 –year events. Analyses of the historical frequency of heavy rainfall events will provide information for engineers and others to help us design and operate infrastructure such as culverts and stormwater runoff ponds as well as potentially assist us in potentially holding future development to higher standards.
Here are some considerations that the District may need to take into account in coming years with the use of Atlas 14:
  • The difference between 10 and 100-year events are greater: existing municipal storm sewer may not be undersized, but flood control could be undersized.
  • Freeboard requirements may need to be adjusted. This refers to the elevation of a building compared to the 100-year flood level of a waterbody. District standards are currently 2ft above the base flood level.  While the standard may remain, the elevation at which a building is considered "high enough" may have to change.
  • Some other possibilities may need to be considered including mitigating impacts due to larger storms and flooding, providing safe overflow routes, larger easements and changes to ordinances, permitting, policies and standards.

Thanks to this effort put together by Midwestern states to update our rainfall modeling, we look forward to using Atlas 14 to improve our methods and practices to do all we can to keep our citizens, their property, and our ecological systems safe.

Credits: Information and graphics for this article provided by Brandon Barnes at BARR Engineering.