Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Spotlight on the Casey Lake Neighborhood Rain Garden Project

By Sage Passi and Paige Ahlborg

Emily Thomson and her mother-in-law, Patty Thomson, pose in front of their newly-planted
rain garden on Frederick Ave. in Maplewood.

The Hrabik rain garden (newly planted) captures stormwater from Radatz Avenue.
Sod was later planted around the perimeter next to the curb. The Hrabik site was
ranked number 1in the subwatershed analysis study done in 2011 in terms of the
potential amount of phosphorus that could be removed.
The curb-cut rain garden project in the neighborhood near Casey Lake in North St. Paul and Maplewood is nearly finished except for a few finishing touches. Thirteen out of the fourteen residential rain gardens intended to be built were constructed and planted this fall with funding from the Clean Water Fund. We’re ready to celebrate! Each of the rain gardens was designed to capture street run-off before it drains into nearby storm sewers and downstream. We are happy with the results and look forward to watching how these gardens perform and flourish in coming years.

What does it take to get 14 curb-cut rain gardens installed in a neighborhood?

Location, Location, Location....Then Patience....Patience....Patience

In 2011 the Watershed District began looking for a location to test-drive the process of engaging property-owners in a project to install a group of rain gardens in a priority watershed. We wanted to identify optimal retrofit locations where we could install curb cut bioretention basins in a residential neighborhood to get a good return on our investment in terms of phosphorus removal and a reduction of run-off volume and total suspended solids going into a downstream impaired lake.

Why did we pick this area?

We knew from anecdotal evidence that the people who live in this neighborhood place a high value on the lake in their neighborhood. Casey Lake has local and regional significance. It is an important local water resource surrounded by 140 acres of medium density residential land use and 33 acres of Casey Lake Park.

Casey Lake, July 2011 - Photo by Bill Bartodziej

We anticipated that there could be a threshold of residents who would act as stewards and sign up for a rain garden if asked. The Casey Lake neighborhood is located upstream of an impaired subwatershed. Casey Lake drains into Kohlman Creek that flows into Kohlman Lake, a downstream lake that is impaired for phosphorus that met the criteria for water quality improvement projects that had the potential to draw on Clean Water Funds from the state.

Kohlman Lake is impaired for phosphorus.

What was the first step in the process?

To determine the scope of the project we needed to determine which locations in the neighborhood would be best suited for rain gardens. To accomplish that the District hired Ramsey Conservation District staff with assistance from several other Metro Conservation Districts to conduct a stormwater retrofit assessment in 2011.

 How were potential sites chosen?

Through information gathered during that study, forty- five candidate sites in the Casey Lake neighborhood were selected based on 1) size of drainage area, 2) presence of tree cover and utilities, 3) space to install a rain garden, 4) and ability to intercept street stormwater runoff before reaching a catch basin.  Selected sites were then overlaid in GIS with Ramsey County Soils data to determine which sites were in areas with soils expected to infiltrate well. A rapid site specific performance analysis was completed to determine which of the 45 locations returned the highest value on investment. Rain gardens were ranked from highest to lowest TP removal rate over a 20 year term cost to determine prioritization of installation.

How did we get the neighborhood on board?

In 2012 an initial inquiry letter was sent to gauge the interest level of homeowners at these 45 sites. Five people responded favorably to having a rain garden installed in their yard and over the next year we continued to make further contacts through door knocking, phone calls and additional mailings to increase participation. 

In 2013, the City of North St. Paul worked with the U of MN Resilient Communities Project to partner with students on a range of sustainable initiatives. During this time, a graduate student at the U of MN, Mary Hammes, worked with the City to assess the community's capacity to get involved with clean water issues. She interviewed residents on a variety of topics related to the Kohlman Creek Subwatershed to gain perspective on the community's identity, willingness to engage, and their barriers to doing so. Interest and support for watershed and neighborhood-friendly practices relating to the Casey Lake neighborhood appeared to be growing. 

Through the partnered outreach efforts we eventually had about twenty households who had a high level of interest in being involved in the project. A proposal was submitted to the state for Clean Water grant funds to implement the project in 2013 but ours was not chosen in that round. The Watershed District reapplied for funds for the project in 2014 and we made it through the gate! In early 2014 the Watershed District was awarded $200,000 in Clean Water Funds with additional matching funds from the District’s Best Management Incentive Program for the Casey Lake Neighborhood Stormwater Retrofit Project.  We were on our way!
Excess leaves and sediments are carried from storm drains directly to lakes during rainstorms.

Moving from Design to Construction.....Details...Details

Ramsey County Master Gardeners, RWMWD, and Washington
and Ramsey County Conservation District staff review and
discuss planting plans with residents in March 2014.
In early 2014 preliminary designs for the homeowner rain gardens were developed by Ramsey Conservation District and initial planting plans were created and presented to homeowners for their approval. Homeowners were invited to meet on March 25 with District staff, Matt Kumka, landscape architect from Barr, Ramsey and Washington Conservation District staff and six Ramsey County Master Gardeners to further refine the planting designs for their gardens. Site visits further refined the construction plans with the identification of utility issues and other constraints on the site.
An example of a planting plan for a rain garden in the Casey Lake neighborhood.
Chuck Hanna, the contractor (right) and Matt Kumka from BARR
Engineering (left) discuss the process of insulating a water pipe
below one of the rain gardens in North St. Paul during the
construction process.

The project was put out to bid in early summer and construction began in late August and continued into September and October. Chuck Hanna (Outdoor Lab) was chosen as the contractor. Kudos to Chuck and his crew for their hard work, creativity and problem-solving in this project!  

Homeowners and Volunteer Involvement - Many Hands Working Together

Ramsey County Master Gardeners, Barbara LeTournea (with shovel) and Ed Shinbach (kneeling)
assist with the rain garden planting at the Belland residence.

The second Belland rain garden is planted on September 20 with
help from family members and friends.
A day of planting with homeowners was organized on September 20, with watershed staff, twelve Ramsey County Master Gardeners and several other community volunteers assisting homeowners in the planting of their rain gardens.
We had a beautiful day for this planting marathon and an experienced cadre of Master Gardeners who had been waiting in the wings to help ever since the project was first announced in the spring. We paired homeowners with two to three assistants and everyone set to work planting their respective gardens.
Dolores Rivard, Ramsey County Master Gardener, plants
Diervilla lonicera, a native shrub in the Weirzba rain garden.

Here’s an e-mail comment I received from Monica Wierzba after her garden was finished.

“I just wanted to thank you and the Watershed District for having the Rain Garden installed in our yard. I know it will be amazing once it's up and growing! One more thing. I would love to send the two gals a thank you card for helping me plant the garden. Can you please send me their addresses?”

                 - Monica Wierzba, North St. Paul resident

Carla Hibbison, a North St. Paul resident volunteered to help
out on September 20. Carla had several rain gardens installed
in her yard a few years ago through the District's
BMP Incentive program.

Six gardens were completed on September 20 and after a week of rain and various construction delays, the rest of the rain gardens were planted with help from additional Master Gardeners, other volunteers, Washington Conservation District staff and Watershed District staff and interns during the week of October 6. It takes a village!!!

Dominic Cincotta, a resident who lives on Mesabi Avenue in North St. Paul and one of the homeowners in the project, summed up the efforts when his garden was completed by saying,

Dominic Cincotta, a resident who lives on Mesabi Avenue in
North St. Paul "goes to town" planting his rain garden.

“I really enjoyed working with the folks who helped us on our rain garden. I think this project is really going to clean up the stormwater coming down the streets. There’s a lot of water that runs down this street when it rains. Thank you to everyone involved in making this project successful! We are looking forward to seeing the outcomes this spring.”

Mystery of the Month - October 2014

What Happened to the Leaves?!

By Zola Pineles
Keller Golf Course.  Photo by Zola Pineles.

What are a couple things that come to mind when thinking of autumn in Minnesota? Shorter days, colder weather, and leaves changing are some of the most distinct differences in the changing seasons. But what exactly makes those leaves become a fiery red and bright yellow? The answer lies beneath the surface of the leaf and deep into its cells. Starting with chlorophyll in the summer, ending with carotenoids and anthocyanins, the transformation of a leaf is a colorful journey.


Burr Oak.

In the spring and summer months, leaves develop with the purpose of photosynthesizing, or converting sunlight into energy used as food for the entire tree. It’s the green chlorophyll that absorbs all the energy given from the sunlight. When the light reflects from the chlorophyll, we see the leaves as a bright green color. The warm summer months allow chlorophyll to thrive and continue to break down and be regenerated by the leaf. Once fall arrives, there is not enough solar energy for the leaf to continue making chlorophyll. It starts to break down, disappear, and reveal the pigments that have been hiding during the summer.


Silver Maple.

Carotene is a pigment that is made and stored in the same place as chlorophyll. Unlike chlorophyll, carotene is much more stable and persists through the colder fall days. During the summer when chlorophyll is doing most of the work delivering food to the entire tree, carotene acts as an assistant absorber of energy. When fall arrives and chlorophyll starts to disappear, the leaves become a bright yellow due to the carotene remaining. Some examples of trees with yellow fall foliage are cottonwood, paper birch, yellow birch, Kentucky coffee tree, green ash, silver maple, Norway maple, and honey locust. Keep your eyes peeled because all of these trees can be experienced throughout the district!


Red maple.

Anthocyanins are the cause of bright red colors in the fall. Anthocyanins are made in the sap of a leaf during a mixture of sugars and certain proteins. The shade of red that is seen from the outside of the leaf depends on how much acid is in the sap of the leaf. When there is more acid in the sap, the leaf is a brighter red. When the leaf sap has less acid, the leaf is a purple color. Some good examples of trees with plenty of anthocyanins are pin cherry (red), chokecherry (deep purple), smooth and staghorn sumac (bright red), nanny berry (purple – red), sugar maple (red – orange), red maple (deep red), red twig dogwood (red – purple), alternate leaf dogwood or pagoda dogwood (red), and the invasive amur maple (bright red).

Smooth sumac.

Everything in Between

Red maple (showing variable color changes vs. photo above).

Of course yellow and red are not the only colors witnessed during the fall. When a leaf has both carotenoids and anthocyanins present, the leaves will appear orange as seen in the sugar maple, paper birch, white ash, and silver maple.

A leaf that has chlorophyll and carotenoids present will have a very bright green-yellow color as seen in hackberries.


Leaves with both chlorophyll and anthocyanin will produce a brown-tinged color as seen in white, red, and bur oaks.

Red oak.

Whether the Weather

Lake Phalen.

While many trees have the ability to produce incredible fall landscapes, much of the process is highly weather dependent. The best conditions for a colorful fall are those that aid the destruction of chlorophyll. This means cool temperatures, plenty of sun, and dry conditions create the most colorful autumn trees. What does that mean for this year’s leave viewing? Pretty great! Most areas in the district have benefited from the cool temperatures and the high level of rain throughout the summer. Now that you know a little more about leaf transformation, go outside and take a look around!!

Gervais Mill Ponds.

Natural Resources Update - October 2014

By Bill Bartodziej and Simba Blood

Nets staked in front of the outlet on the west side of Markham Pond.

Carp Management - Markham Pond

Markham Pond, a small water body off of County Rd C and Hazlewood St in Maplewood, has been identified as a significant carp nursery in the Phalen Chain of Lakes. Our short-term goal is to eliminate carp in this pond.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have been in contact with DNR, U of MN, and Maplewood discussing the fall drawdown for Markham (17 acres). On September 18th, we opened the valve and started a slow drawdown of the pond. We placed two fine-mesh nets in front of the outlet so that carp are trapped in Markham and do not travel downstream. As we write this, hundreds of adult carp were cautiously swimming around in front of the outlet.

Hundreds of adult carp are attracted to water flowing out of the pond (red arrows).

The north end of Markham with exposed pond bottom.

Although large areas of the Markham Pond bottom are already exposed, we estimate that 13 acres (surface area) of water will remain, with a 1.0’ maximum water depth. Staff will work with Greg Nelson at Barr to look into a pump (1,000 GPM) to further reduce the volume and coverage of water in Markham. As you recall, a pump was tried last winter during the drawdown, but severe cold and ice hampered that operation. Staff remains optimistic that we will be able to substantially reduce the volume through pumping, hopefully, reducing the water level by at least another 0.5’. We believe that getting an early start on this effort will dramatically improve our ability to achieve a more substantial drawdown.

U of MN trap-nets, partially exposed, set into place to capture carp on the west side of Markham Pond.

The U of MN carp research team set fish trap-nets to conduct a carp survey. The objective was to collect carp population data prior to any sort of control effort. After 24-hrs, the nets were pulled. Each net trapped over 250 young-of-the-year carp, ranging in size from 4-6 inches. These were the highest carp densities (in the nets) that the U of MN team has seen in our watershed. This finding very much reinforces the fact that Markham is a real threat to the Phalen Chain, in terms of water quality and ecology.

We are in contact with Dr. Jim Cotner at the U of MN to partner on a federal permit to use carbon dioxide to control carp in the remaining pockets of water after pumping. Our target is to have less than 3 acres of water remaining when the treatment takes place. Permit approval, in part, determines the timing of the treatment, whether it will happen in the fall or early winter. DNR fisheries will also be involved with this effort.

 We will be closely monitoring Markham during the drawdown operation and continue to report all significant findings.

Keller Golf Course

A newly-hatched turtle heads for fresh water.

Last week at the golf course, Paul and his crew had a very interesting observation. A group of juvenile snapping turtles were making their way from a prairie area (that we began to restore last year) to the Hole #15 pond. They traveled over #14 green into the fairway, and down into the pond buffer (several hundred feet). The female snapper apparently made a nest somewhere in the young prairie. This is a great example of how these natural areas are connected, and the upland prairie areas do have an influence on the pond and wetland ecosystems in the Phalen Corridor. It is very possible that one or more of these turtles will find their way into the Phalen Chain of Lakes.

Hole #15 pond.

Fall Harvest

By Simba Blood

Bloom, pod, open, disperse. Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) moves through reproductive phases.

Seeds are labeled with name, site, and initials of staff who
collected it.

As the season turns cooler and daylight decreases, many of our native flowers reach the culmination of all their efforts; those gorgeous summer blooms are now the repository of a potential new generation.

This time of year, in between fall weed control and preparing sites for next year's restoration efforts, the NR staff spends some time collecting these seeds to use in new restorations or enhancing diversity in previously restored areas.

Collecting and cleaning seed
is a big job.

A REALLY big job!
There are some guidelines we follow in this collection. We want to be sure of the origin of the plants we use, so we collect almost exclusively from areas we have restored. There are a very few large remnant stands of native plants in the District that we also have permission to harvest from. Recently, our own office site has become an excellent source of seeds for our new projects. And I have to confess I collect blazing star from my mother's yard since her plants came from a nursery we also use.

Another consideration is how much we collect. Ideally, we harvest no more than 1/4 of the seeds from any stand. Although these are perennial plants there is always the potential for some mortality; we want to ensure there are enough seeds left for the population to remain vigorous and even expand. More importantly, one of the major reasons for restoring landscapes is to provide habitat. We don't want to deprive seed eating birds of a valuable food source. It's easier to keep in mind when you can see flocks of finches feeding on the seed heads from the office window!

Alright, as promised, quiz time.
 See if you can name the seeds above without looking at the answers below.


Top left to right: Sprengles sedge, geranium, columbine. 
Bottom left to right: Purple cone flower, blue flag iris, butterfly milkweed (acceptable answer: swamp milkweed)

Office Parking Lot Expansion

By Cliff Aichinger

Left: Before the parking lot expansion (after a large rain).  Right: The Watershed District's parking lot expansion is completed.  The retrofit was done to accommodate additional visitor parking, provide access to our new garage (left building in both images above), and assist in infiltration.

Our parking lot expansion project is finally completed. I realize that this project has been an inconvenience over the summer by limiting our available parking. However, we now have 12 additional parking stalls and we can now accommodate most visitors to our meetings and events. This project also allows us access from our entrance to the garage we purchased from the former Norm’s Tire property.

The expansion added two large rainwater gardens in place of the former one and a much smaller drainage swale on the west side of our original parking lot.

A view of the two new rain gardens adjacent to the District parking lots during construction (foreground and far background by construction cones).  Note the sand trench running through the middle of the garden.
The rain garden at the top of this photo takes run-off from Noel Drive.  Any overflow from this garden is directed into the second rain garden (lower part of the photo) through a slit drain.  This trench also captures run-off from the upper parking lot and directs it into the lower rain garden.

We also added a section of porous pavers that demonstrates the new PaveDrain product. This product allows for large storm event infiltration of stormwater runoff. 

Left: PaveDrain, a type of porous paver, being installed during the expansion project. Right: PaveDrain porous pavers infiltrate run-off in the transitional area between the upper and lower parking lots.

The remainder of the new parking lot is conventional asphalt pavement. However, we designed the drainage so we still will be infiltrating almost all runoff on our property. This is accomplished by routing the runoff from the new asphalt into the rain gardens and into the base rock under our current pervious asphalt parking lot.

The rain gardens include 3 kinds of sedges, several native grasses (little bluestem, blue grama and prairie dropseed), common rush, blue flag iris and a variety of shrubs and trees on the berms. 

The new rain gardens are planted in native grasses, sedges, shrubs, and trees.

We, unfortunately, had to remove a large number of mature red twig dogwood and small oak trees in the expansion project, but we added 12 red twigged dogwood, 16 low bush honeysuckle bushes, 36 black chokecherry, and 16 new trees. The tree grove in the central rain garden is dedicated to Roger E. Lake, our former and long-time Board President. The grove was generously co-sponsored by the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts.

Left: Trees and shrubs grown by Ramsey County Community Correctional Nursery are installed by District staff Simba Blood and Natural Resources Intern, Zola.
Right: Tree grove dedicated to Roger E. Lake, former and long-time Board President.

District staff completed the planting of the rain gardens in early fall.

Carole, Eric, Sage, and Bill (left to right) and other staff finished planting the berm and rain garden.

If you have visited our office during recent rain storm events, you may have noticed that the porous asphalt is no longer very porous. Since 2005, organic material, tracked dirt and debris have clogged portions of our lot. Within the next couple weeks we are going to have a contractor do a special cleaning to restore the porous nature of the asphalt and extend the useful life of the pavement. This is a new process and we are hopeful that it will dramatically improve the pavement infiltration rates. Even though we have decreased infiltration into our parking lot, we still have had only 5-6 events since 2005 where we have had stormwater overflow to Gervais Creek. Our facility continues to demonstrate that a commercial/institutional developed site can be designed to contain and infiltrate stormwater on-site. We also take a significant amount of stormwater off Noel drive into our rain gardens.