Thursday, January 28, 2016

RWMWD Master Water Stewards Program has Launched

By Sage Passi
2016 Master Water Stewards converge at the
Minnesota History Center for a kick-off event.

It was a “watershed” moment. January 19 marked the launching night for the 2016 Master Water Stewards Program in the East Metro area facilitated by the Freshwater Society, in partnership with several Watershed Districts. The excitement at this event was palpable. Sixty-eight Master Water Stewards gathered at the Minnesota History Center to initiate their year-long involvement in this program that includes online and in person training over the next six months, the creation of capstone and community outreach projects and on-going volunteering for Watershed Districts in coming years. The expansion of the program from Minnehaha Watershed District to the East Metro area comes after a three-year pilot in the western suburbs.

Peggy Knapp addressed the Master Water Stewards.
Her own
life story pictures behind her were used
 to explain the ice breaker.

Peggy Knapp, Director of Programs for the Freshwater Society, is a dynamic and compelling leader who has dedicated a great deal of creativity and expertise to building this program for the past four years along with support from many resource people around the community. She drew the volunteers into a lively ice-breaker activity. The buzz in the room grew as Master Water Stewards were offered their first “official” opportunity to interact and meet each other.

Mary Hammes, A Master Water Steward facilitator,
passes out new journals to the Stewards

Blank journals were passed out. The assignment: Illustrate your life story in pictures on one page in five minutes or less (without words). Once that was completed, each participant received someone else’s journal (given to them anonymously). 

Interpreting the pictographs became an interesting challenge.

The next step: Figure out whose journal you have and interpret their life story by looking at their pictures. To conclude this activity each “artist” told their partner their own version of their life story pictured in the journal.

Master Water Steward cohort facilitator Tara Hanlon-Nevins hears
her partner’s version of her life story as interpreted through his “eyes”.
The activity continued until everyone had their journal story told by their partner and interpreted it themselves. It was a creative way to model and introduce the skill of getting to know people that Master Water Stewards will need to apply in their role as citizen activists. Volunteers loved the experience!

Bonding between Master Stewards has already begun!

The evening continued with an introduction to the elements of the program and a preview of the on-line website that will be the “scene” for learning and action for the rest of the year. 

The program's technical support person, Alex Van Loh,
is a Green Corps member for Freshwater Society this year

I asked one of the Master Water Stewards to offer a few reflections after the event.

“I can see the classes will be informative and fun. I am looking forward to getting to know everyone and becoming a Master Water Steward. The momentum from last night was great. I hope it stays at that level. It was energizing! I want the quality of our local lakes like Bennett Lake where I live to improve. My dog wants to swim in it!” - Linda Neilson

Linda Neilson, Master Steward (front right) To her left are Hallie
Finucane and Idelle Peterson. Tina Carstens, District Administrator
(under the light) also participated in the event.

What are the Goals of the Master Water Steward program?

The Master Water Stewards program focuses on the empowerment and engagement of the community to address local water pollution and increase public awareness, education and action on water quality issues. Coupled with that is the implementation of stormwater infiltration projects in local watersheds. Freshwater Society’s long-term goal is to expand this program to a state level. Spreading it metro-wide is the next step in that bigger vision.

A City of Eagan team gets acquainted

How Will the Program Operate?

Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, Capitol Region Watershed District and Rice Creek Watershed District are teaming together as a cohort to host the training sessions that will rotate between their Watershed District offices and in the field. Two trained Master Water Stewards, Mary Hammes and Tara Hanlon-Nevins will co-facilitate these classes that begin February 2 and continue bi-weekly until mid-summer.

What Will the Training Include?

Master Water Stewards will participate in an online course. Taped by experts and viewed ahead of time by participants, these lessons will focus on topics that include hydrology, climate change, water quality, rain garden design and construction. After watching the presentations, Master Water Stewards will send in their questions and get them answered during the in-person classes.

They will be given assignments to complete online and in the field prior to class. Then their class time can be spent in interactive activities and talking with local watershed professionals and specialists.

Master Water Stewards will tour their watersheds, design and construct infiltration projects and develop a stormwater capstone project with Watershed District support. Their capstone project will include a community outreach project.

What Can Master Water Stewards Offer?

Master Water Stewards gather for the introduction on January 19.

Our new Master Water Stewards bring a mixed set of skills and perspectives, have diverse ages and experiences, can build momentum, create unique strategies that insure successful projects and help us make behavior change and community empowerment a reality.

Master Water Stewards have something no one else can offer: their unique connections to their own community. The people they know, the credibility they have, being a local resident and their capacity to influence their community contacts is invaluable. We look forward to supporting their efforts and building on the connections they make within their communities to protect local lakes and water resources.

Who are our volunteers and what experiences and skills do they bring to the program?

Mary Hammes, cohort facilitator for our three watershed district teams,
did a graduate research project study in the Casey Lake neighborhood
for North St. Paul's Resilient Communities Project.

Here’s the “short” list:
  • Several Master Gardeners who have coordinated school gardens, led community watershed projects, designed and built rain gardens, taught about tree care and done habitat restoration
  • A scientist who has given presentations at Science, Environment, Toxicology and Chemistry Symposiums (SETAC) and facilitated meetings with the EPA and taught short term courses at the University of Minnesota Extension on soil
  • A retired chemical engineer with a longtime interest in environmental issues
  • A summer naturalist at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center with extensive facilitation skills with youth and college students in team-based learning
  • Individuals who have worked with Parks and Recreation programs, Nature Centers and volunteered with their churches
  • Several volunteers with knowledge about native bees
  • A Toast Master and other individuals with extensive public speaking experience
  • A volunteer who has run professional development workshops and led workshops for college students through Water Education for Educators (Project WET)

We asked our new team several questions. Here are their responses:

Stephanie Wang, Woodbury 
Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District Citizen Advisory Commission

Why are you interested in becoming a Master Water Steward?
After leaving a 17-year career at 3M, I looked for opportunities to become more “green”, such as installing a rain garden and then serving on my city’s Environmental Advisory Commission and the Watershed District’s Citizen Advisory Commission. Becoming a Master Water Steward will enable me to take the next step in becoming more proactive, especially through the capstone project.

What changes are you hoping to affect in your community?
Raise Awareness: In my community examples of BMPs exist at city-owned properties, churches and even neighborhoods. I would like to expand on the work of others to increase the awareness of these projects, especially for those neighborhoods, home owner associations or property management where installation of BMPs could have the most impact. I would like to simplify the process for those interested parties so that installations are viewed as a success long after the planting is finished.

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Anna Barker, Woodbury
Retired formal and informal educator for 40 years and Washington County Master Gardener

Why are you interested in becoming a Master Water Steward?
My becoming a Master Water Steward will activate the much-needed process for our great state to have a Best Practices for Water (PW) Model to replicate and disseminate for individuals and their communities. I look forward to pioneering the effort as a Citizen Catalyst and bridge the public and private sectors with a network of volunteers and professionals who coordinate across disciplines.

What changes are you hoping to affect in your community?
Woodbury and the East Metro area of the Twin Cities are ready to have a bridge and models for behavior change that encourage them to see that they have the citizen power to join together and co-create new infrastructures that both inspire and require what is necessary to eliminate the environmental problems that exist in our community. I am ready to leverage the capacity I have to be a positive example and conduit for helping to effect these changes.

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Brian Bohman, Shoreview

Graduate student in the Water Resources Science, M.S. Program at the University of Minnesota

Why are you interested in becoming a Master Water Steward?
I am fascinated with water. Water holds a role of key importance in all aspects of my life: personal, recreational, academic and professional. I want to give back to my community in order to protect and improve local water resources for the benefit of future generations. I want to explore the potential broader impacts of my academic experience, develop relevant professional skills and give back to my community to protect and improve the quality of our local water resources.

What changes are you hoping to affect in your community?
My primary aim is to raise awareness, passion and appreciation for our water resources. I have found that my fascination with water has deepened as I have learned more and experienced more. Through active engagement, my level of concern and willingness to address local water quality issues has increased significantly. Exposure and education opens the pathway for concern and engagement. I want to focus on exposure and education as a Master Water Steward to allow for future concern and engagement to develop within the community at large.


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Idelle Peterson, Roseville
Retired Chemical Engineer, former Master Gardener and Master Naturalist in Missouri

Why are you interested in becoming a Master Water Steward?
I have time to volunteer since I am retired and I like to contribute to my community. As a retired chemical engineer and former single-family residence owner, I can bring some technical knowledge and experience to the program. Park View Terrace (PVT) Condominium Association, where I live, received a Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District grant for a large rain garden which was put in during 2015. The successful maintenance of PVT's rain garden is very important to me so that it can be an inspiration to the community and function to improve water quality and benefit the environment. I enjoy interacting with people, so I think I can be an asset to the program.

What changes are you hoping to affect in your community?
Improvement in water quality, especially in Bennett Lake located just across County Road C from where I live in Central Park. Beautiful landscaping with minimal use of fertilizer and pesticides. Community awareness of the need for water quality stewardship.


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Linda Neilson, Roseville
Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District Citizen Advisory Commission, Ramsey County Master Gardener

Why are you interested in becoming a Master Water Steward?
I enjoy working with others and welcome the opportunity to learn more about improving water quality and sharing that knowledge with other members of the community.

What changes are you hoping to affect in your community?
Greater citizen awareness that the actions they take do affect water quality and that every individual can make a difference. It can be as simple as being a responsible dog owner and picking up dog feces and disposing of them properly or keeping leaves, grass clippings and fertilizers out of the street so they do not flow into the storm sewer and directly into water bodies. I would love to see people become motivated to take action-big or small. Helping build a rain garden in a public area or putting one into their own yard: redirecting downspouts so rainwater flows into a garden or on the grass rather than down a sidewalk or driveway.

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Hallie Finucane, Roseville
Attorney, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District Citizen Advisory Commission

Why are you interested in becoming a Master Water Steward?

I have always been concerned about the use, pollution and waste of our precious water resources. The training offered by the Master Water Steward program would provide information that can be used as an outreach or educational tool with community members. I would like to learn more so that I can work with my neighbors and community members, especially in Roseville, to make a positive impact on the water in our watershed district.

What changes are you hoping to affect in your community?
The importance of small changes in activities or methods that can make big changes so that we are better protecting our water. I would like to hold informational sessions to pass on information that could raise awareness.

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Evan Pugh, Roseville
Former Fulbright scholar in Morocco and prospective graduate student

Why are you interested in becoming a Master Water Steward
Having returned to Minnesota after a long absence, I am excited to find public interest in watershed protection to be at an all-time high. I am eager to join the grassroots push for increased protection of Minnesota’s ecosystems. I have contributed to various one-time habitat restoration projects around the metro area, but I am looking for a more substantial program to which I can contribute. I am very drawn to the Master Water Steward Program because it uniquely promotes a long-term, high-quality training methodology and ambitious goal to increase understanding of water stewardship on a communal scale.

I intend to enter a graduate program in the natural and agricultural sciences at the University of Minnesota by 2018. However, I have not yet decided on my specialization. As with my past experiences, I know that the field and classroom experience that the Master Water Steward Program provides will help me refine my long-term scientific interests and decide on a graduate degree.

What changes are you hoping to affect in your community?
My street runs along the gradient of a hill, with me and my neighbors inhabiting the bottom. Rainwater moves unobstructed down this hill, and we often experience flooding as a consequence. I would like to collaborate with my neighbors to develop a network of rain gardens along this hill that will systematically increase water infiltration and retention. As communal stakeholders, I hope to get my neighbors to become jointly invested in this enterprise and learn about water conservation in the process.


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Rochelle Robideau, St. Paul
Gardener and Landscaper, Hillcrest Golf Course, Ramsey County Master Gardener School Program Coordinator

Why are you interested in becoming a Master Water Steward
First of all, all living organisms require water in order to live. Although, we may have an abundance of this natural resource in Minnesota compared to other states, we should step up and take a guardianship role in order to insure this resource's quality is not degraded. We must be ahead of the game in preventing unforeseen problems. Coming from a background in environmental effects and fate (water and soil), I recognize how important it is to keep abreast of water quality issues. Educating the public correctly is key to obtaining the sustainability of this resource and its surrounding environment.

What changes are you hoping to affect in your community?
Educate the community that there needs to be a change in the current practices in order to achieve sustainability. I would like to see the community readily accept alternatives. A simple change could be as easy as the use of rain barrels.

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Please stay tuned to hear more about this program as it unfolds and learn about the up-and-coming accomplishments of these motivated Master Water Stewards!

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