Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mystery of the Month: July 2014

By Bill Bartodziej

Ample spring runoff and cool temperatures seemed to favor mat-forming algae.
The net in net-forming algae.
WARNING: Do not release your laundry drain lint traps into local waters or it could become ALIVE! Of course we're joking, but what is this net-forming aquatic stuff? One hint: it's not a plant.

Answer:  It's algae - and lots of it. 

You may have recently noticed a bumper crop of algae, a eukaryote, on District lakes - especially mat-forming algae.   

Surfaced mat-forming algae was a common sight in many of our lakes and ponds this spring and early summer. Algae samples were taken from several lake systems for species identification. We found that the mats were composed of five common species of green algae: Hydrodictyon reticulatum, Pithophora, Rhizoclonium hieroglyphicum, Lyngybya, and Spirogyra. These species are typically found in lakes around the metro area.

So why are certain years worse than others? Some watershed and lake managers speculate that all of the runoff that we had this spring-early summer has fueled these algal blooms. However, we really don’t have the data at this time to support this hypothesis.

We do know that most of us look at these mats as a recreational nuisance and a big eyesore. With some people, these mats trigger the thought of a “dirty lake” even though water quality may actually be stable and within normal levels for nutrients.

In terms of ecology, these mats are likely not causing adverse impacts to our lake systems. Some aquatic invertebrate species actually take advantage of this type of habitat. Ducks forage in the surfaced mats of algae. Small fish hang under the mats and seek shelter and food. 

To start to become an algae geek, you may want to inspect some of their finer qualities up close to start to gain appreciation. Here’s a short video,
www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeUWulMEkV8 that provides a detailed look at one of these algae - Hydrodictyon reticulatum, nicknamed “water-net.” It lives up to its name by having a net-like structure which forms membrane-like colonies.

How could something so elegant be such a nuisance?

Casey Lake now has an abundance of net-forming algae on the surface and a diverse native plant community below.  This condition is still much better, ecologically, than having no aquatic plants and frequent blue-green algal blooms (which is what we had when carp dominated the system a couple years ago).
Most Lake Wabasso residents are looking over surfaced mats of algae today, but high-quality
native plant communities are under the mats.
Some shoreland owners equate this surfaced algae to poor water quality, even though
water quality has significantly increased in this lake system.
From a recreational standpoint, large expanses of algal mats are trouble. They make boat navigation difficult and fishing is extremely challenging around these mats. From a management perspective, recreational considerations might justify control of these mats. For example, fishing access points, the boat launch, boat docks, and the swimming beach area on Lake Phalen are cleared of aquatic plants and surfaced algae.
A thriving native plant buffer on Phalen.  In the background, the surfaced algae sits on top of Eurasian watermilfoil.  Mechanical harvesting will start in early July.  The City of St. Paul and DNR pay for most of the control.
On a positive note as we reach the heart of summer, we have seen surfaced algal mats on the decline in a few lake systems. We will definitely continue to monitor these algal mats on our lakes and report any noticeable changes as we enter the dry-hot period of summer.

A New Threat to our Surface Waters?

By Cliff Aichinger

Water Quality intern, Wyatt, collects a water sample at the Casey Lake inlet.

Many of you have heard or read about the sewage spills or by-pass pumping that occurred in several locations around the Twin Cities on June 19th. One of these sites was in the City of North St. Paul near McKnight and South Avenue.  Is this type of incident a threat to our surface waters?  Yes. Is this a new threat? In recent years, our Metropolitan Environmental Services wastewater system has eliminated almost all wastewater discharges to our surface waters; even to the Mississippi River.  Discharges to our lake(s) and stream(s) used to be common before a metropolitan collection and treatment system.  We have grown comfortable in the knowledge that our sanitary and storm sewer systems are separate and don’t mix.  This is not the case in many large urban areas across the country.  As discussed below, this is preventable and shouldn’t continue to occur.
Due to sewer back-ups in a number of homes, the City of North St. Paul felt it needed to relieve some of the pressure and excess flow in the sewer interceptor line as it runs through the city. This obviously created quite a stir of concern over public safety.  Residents on our Phalen Chain of Lakes and users of the lakes for boating, swimming and fishing were left wondering if it was safe to enter the water.

District staff was concerned as well and provided monitoring assistance to determine if we had unsafe levels of E. coli in our waters. Unfortunately, we found out that we could not get a quick answer to this question.  Lab analysis of water samples for E. coli takes 36 hours to process.  We sampled every day for one week.  The City and the District gave notice to as many people and information outlets as we could, but this still did not reach everyone.  We took a cautionary position and asked the County to close Gervais Beach, which they did.

As a precaution, Gervais Beach was closed as a result of the upstream sewage by-pass.
We did learn that the wastewater pumped to Kohlman Creek was highly diluted and became more diluted as it flowed toward Kohlman Lake.  As it turned out, the E. coli levels bounced in the creek about a day after the discharge, but the lake readings never exceeded the health advisory levels.

As I told many people, this was a highly unusual situation. In fact, this was the first known sewage discharge or spill since the formation of the District in 1975.  The excess flow in the sewer interceptor was clearly caused by stormwater and groundwater getting into the sewers.  This is called I & I (Infiltration and Inflow). The Metropolitan Environmental Services, operators of our regional sewage treatment system interceptor pipes and treatment plants, have gone to great lengths to try to eliminate I & I by working with the metropolitan cities to repair old leaking pipes and to eliminate sump pump discharges to the sanitary system. This past spring and June rainfall created an unusually high ground water situation that resulted in a great deal of wet and flooded basements.  These conditions resulted in unusually high amounts of basement floor drain flows and illegal sump pump drainage to the sanitary system.  High groundwater also results in more leaking into the sewer pipe through cracks and joints.

Heavy spring rains flooded the District office's rain gardens.
All of this water was able to infiltrate into the ground rather than
flow to the already-swollen Gervais Creek. 
The amount of rainfall we had this past June indicates that there needs to be continued effort to eliminate I & I if we are to prevent future contamination issues in our surface waters.  We have worked too hard to improve our lakes and streams to have this work reversed by a preventable problem.  This calls for individual homeowner action as well as action by our communities to repair and maintain their sanitary pipes and homeowner connections.
One final note, we shouldn’t be quick to criticize the City of North St. Paul.  The sewage load in the sanitary interceptor was not only from North St. Paul, but also cities to the northeast including White Bear Lake, Mahtomedi and others.  The over capacity situation was first experienced in North St. Paul.  They were responding to an immanent public health emergency for their residents.
A great article was written by the Editorial Board at the Minneapolis Star Tribune on July 3.  The link is below.  This article speaks to the issue of preventing these discharges in the future.  It is another great example of the role that we, as residents of our watersheds, play in protecting our water resources.
Here is another link to an article written by the Metropolitan Council about stormwater in our wastewater system and a link to the whole issue of I & I.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Get Your Passport for a Summer Church Raingarden Tour – August 17

By Jenn Radtke, Water Resource Education Assistant, East Metro Water Resource Education Program

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church installed a raingarden last year to capture run-off from
its parking lot.  It's not formally on the tour on August 17th but stop by anyway to take
 a look. The garden (1390 Larpenteur Ave E in St. Paul) is in it's prime!

Ding! Ding! Ding!
In my neighborhood on Sunday mornings I often will hear bells ringing. I’m not even sure where the bells are coming from, but when I hear them I envision a group of folks settling down in rows of wooden pews, opening up a hymnal and preparing to sing an opening song of worship, with stained glass windows in the backdrop. Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques dot the landscape of our communities and provide vital resources for their members and non-members alike. 

Think about it for a moment; a church requires staff and therefore creates jobs in the community, and they support a variety of local businesses for more than just donuts during coffee hour. Some churches have food banks that are open to everyone, and part of their mission might be to volunteer to do service work in the community. The physical space and building that a church uses provides meeting rooms for religious worship and study but also for Boy and Girl Scout troops, AA meetings, and even childbirth education classes. In recent years, many congregations around the East Metro area have been rethinking how they use their physical land in relation to the environment by installing raingardens.

Ramsey County Master Gardeners work with school volunteers to help plant
Redeeming Love Church rain gardens in early June.

Raingardens are simply bowl-shaped gardens that are designed to capture and clean storm water that falls during a rainstorm. By capturing and soaking in the water, these raingardens are able to keep dirty storm water from washing down our streets and into storm drains which eventually end up in our local lakes and rivers. Stormwater carries pollution with it, such as garbage, motor oil, pesticides, grass clippings and leaves, which all harm our water resources.

On August 17, 2014, from 12:00noon-4:00pm six local congregations will be hosting a Church Raingarden Tour to show the community how they are managing water on their properties while being good stewards of the land. Information about downloading a “passport” for this event is below.

By installing raingardens, churches are able to add beautiful and welcoming landscaping to their properties, provide habitat for birds and butterflies, reduce stormwater runoff to local lakes and rivers, and educate the public about water conservation. From native raingardens to pervious paver promenades, these beautiful gardens are not to be missed!

You can start at any one of the six churches where you will be able to pick up a passport with descriptions and a map. Churches featured on the tour include:

  • All Saints Lutheran Church, ELCA (8100 Belden Blvd., Cottage Grove, MN 55106)

Left: In order to be good stewards and good neighbors, All Saints constructed a large raingarden of native flowering plants that are known to attract monarch butterflies in later summer. The gardens are maintained by the All Saints "Gang Green Team."  Right: Monarchs are attracted to a blazing star.

  •  Woodbury Community Church ( 2975 Pioneer Dr., Woodbury, MN 55125)
Woodbury Community Church features one large and two small raingardens that capture water from their
roof and parking lot and beautify their property.  Right: The "crew" on planting day.

  • First Presbyterian Church of Stillwater MN (6201 Osgood Ave. N., Stillwater, MN 55082)
First Presbyterian used a need to do good.  When their parking lot needed replacing, they decided to design with water in mind.  Features include a promenade of pervious pavers and multiple large raingardens.  Right: Pervious pavers in the promenade allow water to soak into the ground.

    • St. Peter's United Church of Christ, Stillwater (111 Orleans St E Stillwater, MN 55082)

    Left: St. Peter's UCC built a curb-cut raingarden that filters storm water from the street and a smaller raingarden off their parking lot.  Right: This raingarden captures run-off from the church's parking lot.

    • Cross Lutheran Church of Maplewood, MN (1945 Prosperity Rd. St. Paul, MN 55109)
    Left: Cross Lutheran Church's congregation held a festive multi-generational gathering to plant and celebrate the completion of a large, very colorful rain garden that extends the length of their parking lot.  Right: Cross Lutheran Church's raingarden filters run-off from their parking lot before it reaches a nearby impaired lake.

    • Hope Lutheran Church of St. Paul (1340 Hazel St. N., St. Paul, MN 55119)
    Hope Lutheran transformed a drainage challenge into a blessing on their grounds by installing a dry creek bed and two new lovely rain gardens that capture hillside and roof run-off.  Right: Hope Lutheran's raingarden features shade tolerant plants - columbine, Jacob's ladder, and sensitive fern.

    For more information or to download a passport and map, visit www.mnwcd.org/green-congregations or contact Jenn Radtke at 651.330.8220 x44 or email her at jradtke[at]mnwcd.org.

    Friday, July 11, 2014

    Only Rain Down the Drain

    By Paige Ahlborg

    You wouldn't pour this into a lake or creek, right?
    Storm drains are a direct connection from our streets to our local waters.

    Do you know that only storm water is legally allowed to go into the storm drain? Non-storm water discharge, also known as illicit discharge, causes water pollution by sending pollutants right into creeks, streams, ponds, and lakes. Do you know how to identify these activities so that you can prevent water pollution and help keep our water bodies clean?

    Your street is directly connected to a lake or stream.
    Stormwater (and anything else dumped in the stormdrain)
    is piped into nearby water untreated.  Keep it clean!
    The public storm sewer system is designed to convey only storm water runoff to nearby bodies of water. The runoff does not go through any treatment before it empties into a receiving water. An illicit discharge is the discharge of pollutants or non-storm water materials into the storm sewer system via overland flow, direct dumping, or illicit connections. Illicit connections are pipes or other direct connections that illegally or unknowingly release pollutants or non-storm water materials into a storm sewer system or directly into a body of water. Dumping anything other than storm water into a storm drain allows pollutants to enter lakes and streams causing public health concerns, harm to wildlife, and unpleasant odors or color. Examples of illicit discharges include sanitary wastewater, commercial carwash water, septic tank effluent, inappropriate disposal of yard and pet waste, improper disposal of vehicle and toxic wastes including motor oil, pesticides, and paint.

    You may not always catch an illicit discharge as it is happening. Other things to look for include makeshift pipes or hoses that lead to a storm drain or water body, unusual odors accompanying any discharge, water flowing during dry times of the year, dead or distressed fish, plants, or other wildlife.

    You can reduce pollution entering the storm sewer by:
    • never dumping anything into a storm drain
    • taking your used oil to your local waste oil recycling site
    • disposing household hazardous wastes properly
    • bringing yard waste to your local compost site
    • discarding pet waste in a garbage can
    • washing your car on your lawn to allow excess water, chemicals, and dirt to be filtered through the grass
    • and dechlorinating pool water before draining 

    Additional information on disposal sites can be found at the Ramsey County Public Health website. http://www.co.ramsey.mn.us/PH/

    Certain types of water discharges are not considered illicit. These include water line flushing, air conditioning condensation, irrigation water, water from crawl space pumps, lawn watering, individual residential car washing, dechlorinated swimming pool discharges, and street wash water, discharges or flow from firefighting and other discharges that are necessary to protect public health and safety.

    If you see anything that could be considered an illicit discharge, call RWMWD at 651-792-7950. If it is a potentially hazardous spill, call the State Duty Officer at 651-649-5451.

    Whether there is a stencil there or not, the same is true.
    If you would like to help stencil to remind others, go to www.fmr.org.

    Nominations Sought For Watershed Excellence Awards 2014

    By Sage Passi

    Sherry Brooks received the 2013 Youth Engagement Award for her work with Farnsworth School.

    Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District is now accepting nominations for our 2014 Watershed Excellence Awards. The awards recognize individuals, organizations, government entities, businesses and agencies that have demonstrated outstanding achievements in water resources management, watershed stewardship and civic engagement. The purpose of this award program is to increase visibility and honor the accomplishments of exceptional “leaders” who participate in activities in a variety of contexts and levels of involvement within the district. The award ceremony will be held in late November.

    This year our Citizen Advisory Committee will be involved in supporting the review of nominations and helping select a design concept that will be used to create an artistic award to be given to each recipient. We have contacted several local artists to solicit design concepts and will be choosing one for reproduction.

    Last year's Watershed Excellence Award that was presented to each recipient.

    Please note that we are not limited to the six award categories listed below, although we will only be giving out a maximum of six awards each year. If you have a suggestion for another category and want to nominate someone in that category, please feel free to do so. We welcome and will consider these kinds of creative suggestions! 
    Nominations can be sent to Sage Passi, Watershed Education Specialist at sage.passi@rwmwd.org or by mail to Sage Passi, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, 2665 Noel Drive, Little Canada, MN, 55117. The nomination deadline is August 21. Please include the name of the nominee, the award category, your own name and contact information and a brief description of the nominee’s contribution or accomplishment in one of the following categories:

    Innovation in Government Award - Recognizes and celebrates excellence by a government agency in implementing innovative policies, programs or projects to protect and improve water quality within Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District.

    Outstanding Partner Award Recognizes an individual, group or business that effectively collaborates with Ramsey-Washington metro Watershed District to achieve exceptional results in water resources management and stewardship.

    Roger Lake Stewardship Excellence Award Recognizes an individual who has, during his or her lifetime, played a significant and long-term role in watershed management and demonstrated leadership in natural resources stewardship.

    Citizen Engagement Award Recognizes an individual or organization that effectively facilitated citizen participation efforts to improve and protect water quality.

    Youth Engagement Award Recognizes a teacher, youth organizer or organization that has demonstrated exceptional commitment and capacity to engage youth in watershed education and stewardship initiatives.

    The “Carpie” Award – Recognizes an individual(s) who have persevered very enthusiastically through the most trying of conditions while engaging in watershed and natural resource management in Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District. Please note: the title of this award may have a new “nickname” each year dependent upon on the type of activity involved. For example, the “Buckie” award for outstanding work in buckthorn removal.

    Click here for a summary of our 2013 winners.