Tuesday, April 15, 2014

2013 in Review

By Cliff Aichinger

Reflections of 2013 as reflected here in a clear Casey Lake. Photo by Bill Bartodziej.

I’m sitting here at my desk contemplating the District accomplishments and recognition over the past year. This is a time of year when we have to complete our annual financial audit and complete annual reports for the state agencies and our granting agencies. It is an appropriate time for self-reflection

As I reviewed what we accomplished last year, I identified significant accomplishments in almost every program area. That makes me feel good about the quality of our staff and our ability to implement and complete valuable and relevant projects and programs.

In the interest of space and time, I will only provide short descriptions of the activities and projects, but I’m glad to provide more detail to any of our more inquisitive readers. I will list these accomplishments by program area.

District Organizational Accomplishments:

  • We completed property acquisition and obtained city approval to expand our site to include the garage on the adjacent parcel. We also purchased 0.75 acres of property to expand our parking lot. Plans have been completed for landscaping and paving this area in 2014.

  • We received approval of a Watershed Management Plan Amendment to incorporate the former Grass Lake Water Management Organization area (part of Roseville and Shoreview) into the RWMWD. This amendment also formally includes this area for coverage by our rules and allows this area to qualify for all District programs.

  • The District was recognized for our accomplishments by receiving three awards last year: I was privileged to receive the Watershed Employee of the Year award from the Board of Water and Soil Resources at the Minnesota Association of Watershed Districts convention in December; the District received the first annual Ray Haik Conservation Award from the Isaac Walton League; and the District received the Grand Award from the American Council of Engineering Consultants, Minnesota Chapter, for the Maplewood Mall Stormwater Retrofit Project.


  • The District began our process of updating our Watershed Management Plan to incorporate information on all the lakes in the former Grass Lake WMO area and to update the information and activities for the entire District. This will include incorporating all our TMDL studies and two Watershed Restoration and Protection (WRAP) studies currently underway. The TMDLs and the WRAP studies are funded by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.


  • We completed the public art project (Mural) at the main (east) entrance to the Maplewood Mall along with the cistern, interactive pumps and signage. This is a very noticeable space that will engage visitors at the Mall to help them learn more about stormwater runoff and its effects on our environment.

  • We engaged a local artist to install an interactive sculpture at the NW entrance to the Mall. This will be installed in the spring of 2014.

  • We held our first District Awards Event in November. This event replaced the former “Volunteer Recognition Event” and provided the District with an enjoyable evening of food and socializing to recognize individuals and organizations for their outstanding partnership, innovation in government, and citizen and youth engagement. We also included two unique awards: one to recognize an individual who has made a long-term commitment to the District and our activities (called the Roger Lake Stewardship Award) and the “Carpie” award to recognize an individual that contributed valuable service while enthusiastically persevering in the face of adversity.

  • We held our 11th annual WaterFest event at Lake Phalen. The 2013 event was bigger and better than ever with more displays, activities, food, fun and youth engagement.

  • We formed a new Citizen Advisory Committee that provides input and advice to District staff and the Board of Managers on our activities, plans, and budget. The Board approved the appointment of 23 individuals from across the District.

Natural Resources:  

  • We evolved our former Carp Research Program activities into a Carp Management Program. Staff, with the continued assistance of the University of Minnesota Fisheries staff, is implementing projects to remove and manage carp populations in our waters. This activity included a program to eliminate carp in Casey Lake and install a carp barrier on Kohlman Creek. Both projects were very successful. In 2013 Casey Lake held no carp, was stocked with panfish for urban fishing and to control future carp recruitment, and had water transparency all the way to the bottom throughout the year.

Left to right: Casey Lake in a clear water state after carp removal.  In addition to carp management, the watershed and the city created a magnificent restored natural buffer in Casey Lake Park.  An aerator was installed to keep game fish alive over the winter.

  • We worked with Ramsey County and Keller Golf Course staff to restore 7 acres of no-play areas to native prairie. Staff will be restoring another 5 acres of land in 2014.
Left to right: A natural buffer around a water hazard on hole #6.  A large irrigation pond will have a diverse edge of native emergent plants.  A new fairway will greet golfers in 2014


  • The District staff is implementing an intensive monitoring program at Maplewood Mall to document the water quality and volume reduction benefits of the Maplewood Mall project.
  • We are completing a research project near Wakefield Lake to look at the benefit of using spent lime to remove phosphorus from stormwater. The test site has generated some very encouraging results and may lead to a full scale project.

Capital Improvements:
  • Early last year we had substantial completion of two large contracts; Maplewood Mall and the Maplewood Living Streets Project. These were both multi-year efforts that consumed substantial staff time and District financial resources. They were also generously funded by grants from the State of Minnesota through the Clean Water Fund and grants from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. 

  • Last year we collaborated with the City of Maplewood and MnDOT to incorporate a large water quality improvement project within the Highway 36/61 interchange. We installed improvements in each of the cloverleaf areas to treat runoff from the highways, Menards, and the commercial areas north of Highway 36. This will provide improved runoff water quality for Keller Lake.

As always, we welcome comments on any of our activities and suggestions for improvements or ideas for new programs. I want to thank all of our collaborators, volunteers and funders. Our successful accomplishments are not possible without your continued assistance.

WaterFest is May 31st!

Voyagers Canoes will help you learn to paddle or help others all while enjoying the view.*

Are you putting together your summer calendar of things to do to keep the kids (or yourself) entertained, educated, and involved without busting the bank? Well consider the last Saturday in May booked!

WaterFest 2014
A Free Family Festival
Saturday, May 31st
11 AM – 4 PM (rain or shine)
Phalen Lake Park, St. Paul

Phalen Dr. north of Wheelock Pkwy

"Water Is Life" is the theme of this year's WaterFest. Sponsored by the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, the cities of St. Paul, Maplewood, Little Canada, Roseville, Shoreview, North St. Paul, Oakdale and Landfall, Ramsey County and other partners, WaterFest is a celebration of our clean lakes and offers an opportunity for outdoors, hands-on learning about the water quality, wildlife, and special ecological features of our beautiful watershed.

Join us for a fun-filled day of free activities from 11 AM to 4 PM (including pre-fest activities):
  • Start the day with the Farnsworth Marching Band pre-fest performance (10:30 AM)  
  • Attend the Waterfall Dedication Ceremony at 11 AM. Meet at the bridge by the lake north of the pavilion at 10:45 AM to join the procession to the waterfall
  • Experience the lake with Voyageur canoe and solar pontoon boat rides; stand up paddleboard and fishing lessons; sailing demonstrations; canoes, kayaks and paddleboats for checkout and discounts on bike rentals
  • Participate in a fishing contest with prizes sponsored by Joe’s Sporting Goods and Asian Outdoor Heritage
  • Learn to Geocache and participate in the Geocache Discovery Hunt
  • Enjoy climbing walls, jump castle, archery, art, water games
  • Visit the Eco Arcade and take the Stormwater Goalie challenge. Take your own photo or let us do it for you and post it to our WaterFest Facebook page. 
  • View student artistic, scientific and service project displays
  • Learn about landscaping, shorelines, watersheds and ecosystems from professionals and receive a native plant for your yard
  • View wildlife from in and around the lake
  • See a street sweeper and snowplow demonstrate how cleaner streets keep lakes cleaner
  • View art by local artists
  • Open Mic with emcee Tou Ger Xiong .  To highlight your family-friendly music, dance, spoken word or another talent for 7-10 minutes, sign up for free HERE.
  • Participate in lakeside yoga before (10 AM) and during WaterFest
  • Bring a swimming suit and enjoy swimming and beach activities
  • Take a photo with LEAP Frog
  • Purchase food from vendors around the pavilion
Everyone can play a role in protecting our water resources. At WaterFest 2014 we will help families make the connection between activities in our neighborhoods and the health of local lakes, streams and wetlands. Again this year, the City of Saint Paul is combining their “National Get Outdoors” celebration with WaterFest — so look for many opportunities to celebrate the outdoors and enjoy one of the lakes that makes our area a great place to live!

For more information, call event coordinator Debbie Meister (651-647-6816651-647-6816) or visit the website at

Meet LEAP Frog!

Shoe-free fun included thanks to St. Paul Parks & Recreation.

Fish with superheroes.

See exhibits from RWMWD, schools, cities and other local organizations.

Learn to fish!
Make and take fly fishing lures.

*Photos courtesy of Anita Jader Photography.

Citizen Advisory Commission Kicks-off!

On the evening of March 19th we excitedly gathered our newly-elected Citizen Advisory Commission (CAC) to meet and learn more about each other.

We could not have asked for a better pool of candidates to choose from and a more impressive line-up of members who have been selected for the CAC. Intentional selection criteria were used to make sure every city in the District was represented. We also sought members who could represent the two counties in the district, religious organizations, Conservation Services, and schools. Much to our satisfaction, we attracted a variety of expertise and a broader range of individuals in different career stages than we might have imagined. One new member is a recent college graduate while several people are midstream in their careers. Members include engineers, accountants, hydrologists, naturalists, teachers and several retired professionals.

Marj Ebensteiner, RWMWD Board Member and CAC liaison opened the meeting with an introduction and a warm welcome. After new member introductions, Cliff Aichinger, RWMWD Administrator, took the reins to give an orientation to the District including history, projects, priorities, and programs. The group then heard from Debbie Meister, our WaterFest Coordinator and District consultant about the upcoming WaterFest program and how we hope CAC members can be involved. CAC Members, if you can help out but need information on how to sign up, please contact Debbie at 651.647.6816651.647.6816. Other readers who want to help out can volunteer through our WaterFest web page linked HERE.

As the CAC becomes integrated into our decision making process, members will continue to learn more about specific program areas from individual RWMWD staff members at future meetings. We anticipate that the unique perspective of each CAC member combined with a better understanding of the District will bring valuable insight.

Welcome new members! We look forward to working with you in the coming months.

Fish Kills Become Evident as Brutal Winter Ends

Snail Lake was hit hard this year by winter kill.
By Bill Bartodziej

Dead carp visible from the shore
of Gervais Mill Ponds in Little Canada.
We had a combination of factors come together this winter to result in low oxygen levels in our area lakes. Early ice formation was quickly covered by a hefty blanket of snow that finally started to melt in March. Ice sheets on our lakes basically form a barrier between water and air, and gas exchange becomes very limited. In addition, the thick layer of snow limits light that reaches plants in the lake water. Without much light, plants can’t photosynthesize and give off oxygen. As the winter wears on, oxygen is used up by a variety of animals in our lakes and levels can become critically low. Shallow lakes are more prone to this sort of natural disturbance.

Snail is one lake in our watershed where a fish kill has been reported. We suspect that other shallower lakes may also have experienced fish kills. We will have a better idea of the magnitude of the problem once the ice melts. Inevitably, a certain number of fish will float to the surface and wash up on shore.

TJ DeBates, the East Metro Fisheries Manager for DNR, plans on surveying area lakes that have been hit hard by winter kill. “We will use this data to better understand the impact on the game fish populations. Spring stocking will be ramped up to mitigate for the loss to our fisheries.”

The District and the City of Maplewood are Finalists for the 2014 Environmental Initiative Awards

Maplewood Mall's main entrance with multiple retrofit stormwater practices integrated with art.

The District Maplewood Mall Volume Reduction Retrofit Project and the Maplewood Living Streets Project are finalists for the Environmental Initiative (EI) Awards. Environmental Initiative is a nonprofit organization that builds partnerships to develop collaborative solutions to environmental problems. The organization:
  • plans and hosts events for environmental leaders from businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies to share information, network, and learn from one another.  
  • facilitates environmental policy conversations between diverse stakeholders. 
  • takes action and implements on the ground environmental projects to improve our air, land, and water.
Maplewood Living Streets Project narrowed streets and
added rain gardens, sidewalks, native plants and more.
Each year EI sponsors an award process to honor collaborative environmental projects from across Minnesota. These awards recognize individuals, companies, organizations and local governments for their accomplishments in six different categories; community action, energy and climate, environmental education, food stewardship, natural resources and sustainable business. The Maplewood Mall Project is a finalist in the Natural Resources category and the Living Streets Project is a finalist in the Community Action category.
Nominations are solicited in February of each year. All nominations are reviewed by a panel of 18 judges. The panel selects 3 finalists in each category. All finalists are recognized and a winner is announced at the award event May 22.
It is an honor to be nominated for this prestigious award and be recognized by Minnesota government entities and the business community.



Monday, April 14, 2014

Mystery of the Month - April

There are definitely some essential tools of the trade for our Water Quality team's variable work. There are at least three visible in the photo above (hint: the grey device is not a GPS). Think you know?

Answers: A Sonde, the Multi-parameter Display System that translates data from the Sonde, and a Jon boat! If you answered hats, motors, water, sunglasses, sunscreen and nearby personal floatation devices, you are also correct, but let's talk a little more about the technical side of things!

RWMWD monitors many different sites and bodies of water throughout our District. 

Lakes, streams, ponds, rain gardens, tree trenches and green roofs are just a few of things we monitor. Depending on the site, there are a whole bunch of different parameters we try to look at to help determine what is going on. It could be something as simple as finding the depth of water in a rain garden throughout a storm event or as complex as figuring out concentrations of dissolved oxygen, conductivity or heavy metals in storm water to name a few. 

A wide variety of District projects, studies, and sites requires a wide variety of equipment and instrumentation. Below is a brief summary of some of the equipment the Water Quality program uses around the District.

Orpheus Mini - This is a pressure transducer used to monitor water levels at our office site as well at water levels in the tree trenches at Maplewood Mall. There are really two parts to this piece of equipment: 1 – the pressure transducer that actually sits in the water itself and 2- the data logger which is the “brains” and is where all the programing is done. The data logger stores the information gathered from the pressure transducer.
Thalimedes - This is a weight, bobber, and pulley system used to measure water levels in rain gardens. It helps calculate how fast rain gardens drain. These units are generally placed in a protected metal or PVC tube that lets water in. As the rain garden fills with water it will raise the yellow float. That level is then recorded in the data logger. As the water soaks into the ground, the yellow float will lower. The amount it goes down over time is an important indicator of how 'healthy' a rain garden is.

ISCO 6700 series samplers

These are the District's water quality storm samplers of choice. These samplers are very reliable and can have a variety of sensors that can be “plugged” in depending on what we want to measure on the site. Generally, RWMWD uses two types of sensors: 1- 750 Area Velocity modules and 2- 730 Bubblers modules. Those two modules are the next items on our list.

750 Area Velocity modules – The District uses this type of probe/sensor in all of its monitored storm water pipes. This probe measures the average velocity in the stream flow though ‘patented’ Doppler technology. There is also a pressure transducer that can measure the depth of water. The ISCO 6700 series sampler then calculates the flow based on pipe size, water level and water velocity.

730 Bubblers modules – RWMWD uses a bubbler set-up in steams, holding ponds or in areas that always hold some level of water. Within the 730, there is an internal air compressor that forces air through a ‘bubble line’ (think aquarium hose) that is placed and anchored in the water. By measuring the pressure needed to force air bubbles out of the line, the ISCO 6700 sampler can calculate the water level.
Secchi Disk – This tool measures water clarity in lakes and ponds. This is done by lowering the secchi disk into the water column until it cannot be seen. We then raise the secchi disk so it can just barely be seen in the water. That depth is then recorded and a measurement of water clarity has been taken.

Transparency Tube – Using the same basic principal as the secchi disk, this device is used to measure water clarity in streams/creeks. First, staff takes a sample of water and fills a 1-meter clear tube with a small secchi disk attached to a string sitting at the bottom. Then, looking down into the tube, the string is pulled up until we are able to see the secchi within the tube. Some models (like the one pictured) has a fixed secchi at the bottom and the water is released through a tube until the secchi is visible. The numbers on the outside of the tube are then used to record the clarity.

Van-Dorn – The Van-Dorn is the ideal piece of equipment for obtaining water samples within the water column of deeper lakes. These devices are able to collect a water sample at whatever depth we need by using a trap-door-like system. We specifically use the Van-Dorn to grab our lake and pond bottom samples as well as samples directly above and below the thermocline (the depth at which the warmer and cooler waters meet).

0-2m Composite Rod – This hollow PVC tube is exactly two meters long and is used to take samples of the top 2 meters of water in our lakes and ponds. The tube is lowered into the water vertically, capped off at the top, then quickly brought out of the water and into a container. This works on the same principle as when you put your thumb over a straw to move your beverage from a glass to another location. Parents with kids and people who are former kids have likely experimented with this physics principle.

YSI 600XLM Sonde - The Sonde is arguably the most important piece of equipment that the Water Quality Program has (and the most expensive). There is a wide variety of sensors that can be installed for nearly instantaneous reading and results. They include: dissolved oxygen, temperature, conductivity, specific conductivity, salinity, depth, pH, and total dissolved solids just to name a few.  

YSI 650 MDS (Multi-parameter Display System) - This is the display and data logger for the 600XLM Sonde. Here we are able to program sites and store many points of data from multiple lakes and multiple locations.

Jon Boat – This boat is used for all lake sampling, aquatic plant (macrophyte) surveys, shoreline surveys, and installation of staff gauges and lake level stations. We use a jon boat for anything done on the larger bodies of water in the District.

Canoe – Our canoe is used for all pond samplings or any sampling that requires being on a body of water that our jon boat cannot be used.

Write in the Rain Notebooks - These special notebooks are made for folks like us who tend to be working outside more if it does rain. They allow staff to write notes, measurements, or data results in almost any condition.

If you can imagine, this list contains just a few of the many tools that our Water Quality staff use to monitor our lakes, ponds, streams, rain gardens, Best Management Practices (BMPs) and more. We're glad to have Eric, Dave, and Wyatt, our summer intern, on staff to manage and maintain all of this equipment and data!