Monday, September 14, 2015

Snapshots from our District Tour

By Sage Passi
The annual District Tour stops at Keller Creek to view the progress of
the restoration and the renovation of the portages next to the weir.

All aboard! Staff, Board of Managers and Citizen Advisory Commission (CAC) members boarded a charter bus in late August to embark on a whirlwind of storytelling on wheels. This annual tour provides an opportunity for us to get out and see projects that are completed or in motion, review highlights of the year and get perspective on different initiatives around our watershed. Our five stops included Kohlman Lake, PCU Pond in North St. Paul, Keller Creek, Rosetown American Legion and Bennett Lake.

Here are a few highlights from our stops!

Kohlman Lake - Where the Action Is

The shoreline of Kohlman Lake

Kohlman Lake is never far from our thoughts. A lot of the work we do as a Watershed District has focused on this lake over the years. BMP projects upstream, carp seining, aquatic plant management and alum treatment are some of the key management tools the District has been implementing to improve water quality for this lake over the years.

As we circled around to the backyard of Anita and Scott Jader’s lakeshore property, our eyes settled on a configuration of pole contraptions extending out of the water near the shore. “Box nets”, announced Bill Bartodziej, our biologist. Then Scott chimed in with, "fifty-nine carp caught this morning.” 

Box net traps set up at Kohlman Lake

These box-shaped nets are baited with dried cracked corn to train carp to aggregate in the nets. This process is being used as on-going management tool for reducing carp biomass in the Keller-Gervais-Kohlman system of lakes. Carp feed at night and the nets are restocked with corn each day. When most of the corn is consumed each night for a couple of weeks, Carp Solutions, LLC, the team that has been hired to help us with on-going carp control, can feel confident that they will likely trap a large enough number of carp to return and lower the nets. The team arrives at the lake about four in the morning, sneak up to the traps, pull the ropes to lower the weights which triggers the sides of the nets to pull up, trapping the carp. Then the carp are counted, their lengths measured and then removed and taken to a compost site at Ramsey County Corrections.

Aquatic plant harvester on Kohlman Lake (left) and Coontail "harvested" from Kohlman Lake (right).

Next Bill shifted our attention to the middle of the lake where an aquatic plant harvester was cutting swaths through the thick mats of aquatic plants that rest on the surface of Kohlman Lake. This harvesting has been going on for the past two months. Mechanical challenges have extended the length of this harvesting. “The most troublesome plant this year has been the native one called “coontail,” acknowledged Bill.

“Residents on the lake are saying that this is the worst year ever, in terms of “weed” or aquatic plant growth. This plant forms surface mats that are quickly colonized by filamentous algae. These big floating mats can cause problems for fisherman and boaters. At one point this summer around fifty percent of the lake surface area was covered with coontail and filamentous algae.”

Coontail doesn’t have roots so it takes nutrients out of the water column. The improvement in water quality, especially water transparency over the years, is likely causing the increase in cover of the coontail/algae mats. Bill explained that this is a really common response seen in shallow urban lakes.

Bill said that a recent transparency reading in Kohlman was 7.5 feet, which is very good for a shallow lake in the Twin Cities metro area.

“With the alum treatment, carp control, and watershed projects like Maplewood Mall, we have seen an increase in water clarity over the last few years. The down-side is that aquatic plants are now growing at troublesome levels.”

Over 225,000 pounds (wet weight) of plant material was harvested and removed from the lake this summer. Through analyzing the plant tissue for phosphorus (P), Bill estimates that around 32 pounds of phosphorus has been removed from the lake system. Factoring in the costs of harvesting, that amounts to a cost of an estimated $500 per pound of phosphorus removed. Compared to the cost of commonly used watershed BMPS, like rain gardens, this is very economical. But there are other considerations to keep in mind as well, so this winter the District will be studying the phosphorus budget of Kohlman Lake to figure out if phosphorus removal from harvesting is substantial in the big scheme of things. If it is, then he says the District may want to consider harvesting as an in-lake phosphorus management tool, in addition to a way to improve recreation and aesthetics. More data and analysis from this study will be forthcoming over the winter months.

Postal Credit Union Pond - A lesson about flood control and Atlas 14

Brad Lindeman, District Engineer, shares history about
the Postal Credit Union Pond in North St. Paul.

Our two guides for this stop on our tour were Brad Lindeman, District Engineer, and Brandon Barnes, a civil engineer consultant who also works for Barr Engineering.

Brandon Barnes, Barr Engineer, explains the
application of the Atlas 14 model

at PCU Pond.
Brad shared the history of this large pond and the reasons why it was built. The Postal Credit Union Pond (formerly known as Target Pond) is a flood protection and stormwater treatment basin in North St. Paul that was completed back in 1995.

Located on Watershed District and North St. Paul public lands, this nine-acre site holds back water from Kohlman Creek (County Ditch 18) to protect White Bear Avenue from flooding, and also serves as a wildlife park amenity to area residents.

Without the project, District hydrologic models estimated that White Bear Avenue would be overtopped by flood waters, resulting in street and utility damage and flooding damage to a number of adjacent businesses. The project provided needed additional storage volume within an existing basin.

Brandon explained that the District is currently reviewing the results of an updated hydrologic/hydraulic model called Atlas 14 and identifying flood-prone areas within each city. The new Atlas 14 model factors in much more data than previous models and it updates under-projected levels of rainfall and depths, given the magnitude of recent storms.  

PCU Pond protects White Bear Avenue
and adjacent businesses from flooding.

For more information, you can read an earlier article "What is Atlas 14?"

Overlooking the pond as we listened to Brad and Brandon, many questions surfaced from the group, affirming that this location was a good choice for the group to visualize applications of the Atlas 14 tool. The discussion looked at past and future land use and began to imagine the projected impacts suggested by the new data.

Aerial view of PCU Pond

Brandon provided a draft map that reflects potential changes to the flood levels in PCU Pond using data from the new Atlas 14 model. We started to imagine possible impacts on surrounding areas if we factored in updated Atlas 14 calculations. He told us that staff will be reviewing each of the areas of concern in the District and identifying and prioritizing areas that should be considered for future feasibility studies and improvement projects to reduce the risk of flooding. These areas will be prioritized based on several criteria including comments provided by the cities, magnitude of flooding, and number of impacted structures, as well as other factors.

This stop provided a lot of pause for thought and reflection!

Keller Creek - Reflections on the Restoration

Dana Larsen-Ramsay inspects the summer's growth of emergent plants
that were planted along Keller Creek's shoreline by the CAC and LEAP Teams.

We took a break from pondering heavy subjects like climate change and flooding and stopped to enjoy a box supper in one of the Golf View Park pavilions in Keller Park, just off Highway 61 in Maplewood.

After our break, we headed down the hill to learn more about the Keller Creek restoration in progress. We stopped to admire the June emergent planting done by CAC and LEAP team members along the creek’s edge. Healthy stands of arrowhead, bulrush and various sedges adorn the shoreline.

Katie Keefer, CAC member, follows along Keller Creek during the tour.

We then strolled along the prairie and wet meadow plantings completed by hundreds of students with help from District staff, interns and Ramsey County Master Gardeners.

Bill Bartodziej described the process that has been unfolding in this restoration project this year and what will be coming next. This is a four-year project and year one has just been completed.

We converged at one of the newly renovated portages near the weir.

Everyone was impressed and wished we had a canoe with us to try it out!

Citizen Advisory Commission member, Dana Larsen-Ramsay, shared some ideas about the CAC’s vision of a Water Trail project to encourage the community to explore the connected trail of water bodies in the Phalen Chain of Lakes that includes this creek. We eyed the west bank of the creek and Bill pointed out the test plots for next year’s phase of the restoration. We look forward to coming back again next year to see how it is progressing.


Reflections on Keller Creek after one season of restoration.


Rosetown American Legion - Retrofitting for Clean Water

We climbed back up the hill to the bus and headed to our next stop at the Rosetown American Legion parking lot where Paige Ahlborg, Watershed Project Manager, and Matt Kumka outlined the process of capturing stormwater from this commercial site.  This is one of three commercial site retrofit projects constructed this year and scheduled to be planted this fall. The stop also highlighted retrofit efforts currently underway at schools, churches, and several other commercial sites around the District. Construction at these sites is proposed to begin summer of 2016. 

A new (and yet-unplanted) rain garden
at the Rosetown American Legion.


Bennett Lake - New Kid on the Block

Bennett Lake in Roseville.

The tour then drove to the western side of our Watershed District where a discussion awaited us about this latest addition to our watershed and what may unfold for future projects in the Bennett Lake sub-watershed. Erin Anderson-Wenz from Barr Engineering updated the group on the water quality and Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) status for Bennett Lake and the other lakes in RWMWD.  Stay tuned for more information on Bennett as the story unfolds.

Those will have to be the subject for a summer tour down the road!

But as for tonight, what a delightful evening we’ve had!  

District BMP Inspections - What are we Looking for?

By Kendra Fallon, District Inspector Intern

Kendra Fallon, District Inspector Intern

Over this summer, while working for the Watershed District as an inspector intern, I have looked at a lot of Best Management Practices (BMPs). Roughly six hundred and twenty five, to be more precise! I didn’t make it to all of the BMPs in the District this summer, but I’d like to explain how inspections work and give some perspective on the current condition of the District’s BMPs.

There are a variety of types of BMPs in the District, from rain gardens to rain barrels, pervious pavers to native habitats, even the occasional green roof or wet pond. A majority are either rain gardens or infiltration/filtration basins. The BMPs get separated into two categories - permits or Incentive Program BMPs. Our permit program is required when grading or filling activity involves more than one acre of land, or when working with a wetland or floodplain. Our Incentive Program offers financial, educational and technical assistance to public or private landowners implementing BMPs on their property. BMPs that are constructed through our BMP Incentive Program are inspected annually.


An internal grading scale is used when doing inspections, to provide an easy and quick way for staff to see how BMPs are doing when looking through the database. Each BMP is given an A, B, C, or F grade depending on the level of maintenance it needs. We use our online inspections forms to help decide what grade a BMP should receive.

Our inspection forms consist of three sections: general information, questions and photos. The first step is to input general information which includes time and date of the inspection, weather, and rainfall in the last 48 hours among others. There is also a “Maintenance Required” section where the inspector writes in any maintenance that needs to be done to improve the BMP.

The second step is to go through a set of checklist questions about the BMP. These include questions that are specific to the type of BMP you are inspecting; obviously you are going to have different maintenance concerns if you are looking at pervious pavers than if you are looking at an infiltration basin.

Rain Garden Inspection Checklist Questions
We hope to be able to answer 'no' to all questions, indicating no immediate maintenance is required. These questions are specifically for rain gardens. Different questions exist for other types of BMPs.

Finally there is a section to add photos if desired. This can be done out in the field, or added back in the office on the computer. The inspection forms can be edited on the computer after they have been created, to check spelling or add any other comments that were thought of after the inspection.


An 'A' grade simply means that no immediate maintenance is required. The owner of the BMP should just continue their routine maintenance as needed.

A 'B' grade indicates that minimal maintenance is required. I was taught to think of minimal maintenance as “an afternoon’s workload.” Some of the most common minimal maintenance needs we see are weed removal, sediment accumulation removal, inlet/outlet cleaning, and adding or replacing mulch.

Examples of common maintenance issues
Top: Sediment accumulation in inlet grate that needs to be removed.
Left: Exposed soil needs to be covered with 2-3" of mulch.
Right: Inlet grate needs to be cleared of weeds and debris.

A 'C' grade indicates that more extensive maintenance is needed, or “more than an afternoon’s workload.” This would pertain to a BMP that has multiple maintenance issues to fix, need for replanting a rain garden, or fixing major soil erosion.

Examples of BMPs that would receive 'C' grades:

Rain garden with no vegetation

Shoreline restoration with exposed soil leading directly into a pond.

An 'F' grade is given to BMPs that aren’t functioning properly; this most commonly means that the BMP is holding water 48 hours or more after the last rain event. Below is an example of a rain garden that would receive an 'F' grade.

This rain garden had standing water longer than 48 hours after the last rain event.
The presence of cattails suggests it holds water on water on a regular basis.

The next step for a failing BMP normally depends on the regularity of the ponding. If it is something that has recently become an issue but wasn’t in the past the solution might be as simple as removing any sediment accumulation on the bottom of the rain garden. If the BMP has been ponding for a longer period of time (years), it might require removing the vegetation and reworking the soil for better infiltration.

Current Standing of District's BMPs 

A breakdown of the District’s BMPs by grade is provided below. It should be noted that most of the failing BMPs are getting reworked either this summer or next summer.

Incentive Program
 (~250 Inspected)
(~375 Inspected)
A’s or B’s
<1% (2 failing)
4% (17 failing)

This slight difference in grade distribution between incentive program and permit didn’t surprise me too much, just because incentive program BMPs are owned by people that applied to get them, while permit BMPs are required and might not receive quite as much love and care. Another thing to consider is that ownership of permit BMP properties might change, and the new owners might not be aware that they are in charge of the maintenance for the BMP, or that it exists at all.

Overall, the District’s BMPs are looking good! The simplest way to keep your BMP at an A or a B is to do routine maintenance throughout the year, rather than letting it go and letting problems snowball into an even larger headache. Making sure to pull weeds when they are small, replacing or moving mulch to cover areas where it has grown thin, and removing any sediment accumulation from your BMP are some easy maintenance fixes to keep in mind year round to keep your BMP looking its best.

Master Water Stewards Program Expands to our Watershed

Join Master Water Stewards

The Master Water Stewards Program needs you!
Attend an info session and find out how YOU can work for clean water!

By directly involving the residents within a watershed district, the Master Water Stewards program takes one of Minnesota's most valuable assets, its people, and equips them with the knowledge and skills to help improve water quality at the grassroots level.

The Freshwater Society is just completing its three-year Master Water Stewards pilot program with Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. This partnership supports community leaders to install pollution prevention projects that educate community members, reduce pollutants from urban runoff, and allow more water to soak into the ground before running into storm sewers.

But this is just the beginning. With the successful participation of the residents and neighborhoods from Minnehaha Falls to Lake Minnetonka, the program will be expanding in 2016 to other watershed districts in the metro area including Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed, Rice Creek Watershed District, Capitol Region Watershed District, Nine Mile Creek Watershed District and Riley-Purgatory-Bluff Creek Watershed District.
The future goal is to reach all 46 watershed districts in the state of Minnesota.


Work for Clean Water

Are you concerned about keeping nearby lakes and streams clean?

Polluted runoff is the greatest threat to healthy water in Minnesota. Everything on city streets flows to our lakes, creeks and the Mississippi River: pet waste, salt, litter, sediment and plant nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen.

But you can help.

Master Water Stewards will provide training for you to work with other community members In Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District to prevent pollution.

The Master Gardener program has provided a template
for the Master Water Stewards training process.

Modeled after the successful Master Gardener program, the Master Water Stewards Program was created to provide training and support for community members to help solve water resource problems in partnership with local experts and agencies. Volunteer community leaders will participate in a program of courses and projects.

Master Water Stewards will learn about environmental policy, stormwater management, hydrology, aquatic invasive species and much more. Courses begin January 19, 2016, and will be held every other Tuesday from 6-8 pm through July 12. After the coursework, leaders will volunteer fifty hours for the first year on clean water projects and twenty-five hours in future years. RWMWD will cover the cost of the training.
To sign up for the info session, call Sage at 651-792-7958 or email her at

Master Water Stewards is presented by Freshwater Society and sponsored by Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District. 
Stewards are:
  • Community leaders
  • Advocates for clean water
  • Educators who teach about clean water
  • Sources of accurate information on urban water issues
  • Knowledgeable, informed volunteers

    Stewards do:

    • Help neighbors have a positive impact on water quality
    • Help neighbors understand how water flows across their property
    • Act as liaisons between neighbors or community members and landscape designers, other landscape professionals, and local watershed personnel
    • Conduct education and outreach campaigns
    • Act as education and outreach volunteers for agencies and other organizations
    • Work across cultural, political, economic and other social boundaries to achieve clean water goals

    How Are Stewards Trained and Certified?

    Master Water Stewards become certified by participating in training, both in the classroom and out in the community. The courses are led by experts in the fields of hydrology, stormwater best management practices, water policy, community-based social marketing, and rain garden assessment and installation. At the end of the training period, groups of students will work with RWMWD to plan and implement a project that reduces stormwater run-off and a community outreach event. To maintain certification stewards volunteer 50 hours in the first year after training and 25 hours in subsequent years. They also attend eight hours of continuing education classes per year.

    What are some examples of Master Water Stewards projects?
    Master Water Stewards work with a variety of different groups, including residents,
    schools, churches and businesses to help improve water quality in their neighborhood.
    Master Water Stewards not only work with private residents, but also engage schools, churches, businesses, and any organization looking for ways to reduce stormwater runoff from their property.
    In Minnehaha Watershed District, Master Water Stewards Joan Freese and Laurie Bruno installed a large rain garden at the Lutheran Church of Christ the Redeemer on Penn Avenue in Minneapolis. This 400-square foot rain garden was installed to capture runoff from the church’s parking lot. Joan and Laurie also conducted several outreach efforts including a creek walk, a walk-through showing where their rain garden would be, a lesson on how to care for storm drains and a presentation at the church’s adult education hour. For their final event, they had a table at the church's annual block party where they gave out educational materials and free leaf bags.

    Master Water Stewards Joan Freese and Laurie Bruno help a Minneapolis church
    install a rain garden and offer education at its annual block party.

    Brett Eidem, Cost Share Grant Administrator for Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, says that one of the largest projects he's seen from Master Water Stewards to date has been at a townhome association, where they will be retrofitting its paved common area. Terry Hammink, Master Water Steward and townhome association resident, has headed up the effort to reduce the townhomes polluted runoff by 99% by capturing and treating over 387,000 gallons of water a year onsite. The retrofit will have a major impact on the quantity and quality of water reaching Minnehaha Creek, Lake Nokomis and the Mississippi River.

    Join Master Water Stewards and become a part of an empowered team of leaders across the Metro Area helping to improve water quality! Get started by calling Sage at 651-792-7958.

    Please spread the word!