Monday, March 14, 2016

A Month in the Life of a Watershed Educator

By Sage Passi

At the beginning of the Governor's Water Summit, a group of protesters expressed their concerns about the Sandpiper oil pipeline, holding signs saying "Love Water Not Oil."

It’s been a wild past few weeks. As they say, “all in the day in the life of” a watershed educator.

Water Summit

I attended the Governor’s Water Summit and joined over 800 people who participated in this event. Gov. Mark Dayton hosted this groundbreaking summit on February  27th to bring Minnesotans from all walks of life together to discuss one of the most pressing issues facing, not just current Minnesota residents, but our children, grandchildren, and future generations: clean water.

The Governor is calling for each of us to develop a “water ethic” and recognize that water use by all of us affects all other Minnesotans who rely on abundant and clean water both now and in the future. While the summit itself was only one day, this is a conversation that will be ongoing during the legislative session and beyond. Gov. Dayton is seeking input from all corners of the state on this issue, and he invites you to share your thoughts by completing this SURVEY.  He plans to hold a Water Action Week in April 2016 to build on the momentum of the summit and to get citizens more engaged in water issues.

Pollinator Outreach, Habitat Restoration, and Research

I’ve participated in several other large events including a Pollinator Town Hall Forum with  State Representative, Rick Hansen from the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Dr. Karen Obehauser, monarch expert from the University of Minnesota , butterfly conservation biologist, Dr. Erik Runquist from the Minnesota Zoo, and native bee specialist, Crystal Boyd from the Minnesota DNR.  I learned at this event that there are now ten cities in Minnesota that have passed pollinator resolutions including Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Maplewood.

I had the opportunity to attend the Wild Ones Conference and hear Heather Holm speak on Native Bees: Their Role as Pollinators of Native Plants and Cultivated Blueberries. Holm's knowledge on native bees and honey bees continues to impress me.  Her book, Pollinators of Native Plants is a great resource and if you haven't heard her speak you can visit her website for a list of upcoming engagements. RWMWD is co-sponsoring an Environmental Forum with Dr. Marla Spivak, the University of Minnesota expert on bees, who will be presenting a talk, Pollinators - Plight and Possibilities, on March 24 at the H.B Fuller campus.  For a printable flyer, click here. 

Protecting pollinators is in the headlines and at the forefront of many educational initiatives this year. Seven fourth grade classes from Farnsworth and L’Etoile du Nord are participating in a pollinator planting project at Fish Creek in May with the help of Maplewood Nature Center and Great River Greening and grant funds from the Xerxes Society.  Watch for a future article about Maplewood's three-year collaboration with Great River Greening.

Our Keller Creek Restoration Project is another large endeavor to create refuge for wildlife and a corridor to enhance habitat for pollinators and migratory birds.  We spent two weeks finalizing our schedule for the 15 classrooms that will be involved in that restoration in May.

Meanwhile, during this past month, trays, plastic lids and huge bags of soil were hauled to schools in my aging Toyota. My own refrigerator was stuffed with dozens of bags of seeds our Natural Resources staff preciously gathered and classes stratified so they could be dropped off every few days for hundreds of kids who were planting them indoors with the help of our Master Gardener teams during the past two weeks. 

Rochelle Robideau, Ramsey County Master Gardener, helps students plant native seeds.

It’s a testimony to the commitment and the capacity of the Master Gardener program that volunteers can help run this seed-starting operation solo in classrooms while Tracy Leavenworth, my school consultant, and I have been busy meeting other educational demands this month. Rochelle Robideau, a Ramsey County Master Gardener School Coordinator, has taken on much of the responsibility for leading these classroom activities with students along with other Master Gardeners in the last couple of years. In the meantime, organizing our mammoth planting and field trip schedule for April and May almost turns into a full-time job for a few weeks in February! Thanks to Ed Shinbach for putting up our posts on Sign-Up Genius to recruit volunteers for our planting projects.

In the midst of all this fervor, I had to seriously stop and reflect last weekend when I received the very sad news that one of our very dedicated Master Gardeners, Andy Holewa, had died unexpectedly a few days before. I’m still taking that news in and much of what I do each day brings me back to the realization that it is the precious uniqueness of each individual who contributes to the wellbeing and protection of our watershed that support and insures the viability of our community and its resources. 

To read more about Andy Holewa, click HERE.


Andy Holewa and kids examine seeds before a planting.

Aquatic Invasive Species Education

On a chilly afternoon in late February Tracy and I met up with Tina Wolbers, one of the DNR’s two AIS Prevention Planners. Debbie Meister, our WaterFest consultant had reserved some displays for Waterfest through Tina. Tina led us by flashlight into the DNR Building’s cold, dark exhibit hall at the State Fair Grounds to give us a sneak preview of their aquatic invasive species displays that we plan to bring to WaterFest on June 4. 

I wanted to get a jump start on preparing the volunteers who would be stationed at that exhibit on June 4.

The DNR’s Aquatic Invasive Species display illustrates how to inspect watercraft for zebra mussels and other invasive species.
We've invited two DNR conservation officers, Larry Hanson and Julie Siems with their zebra mussel-sniffing dogs to WaterFest this year to be a part of our Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) station. The dogs assist the conservation officers with boat launch inspections.  More than 100 Minnesota lakes, rivers, and wetlands are already infested with zebra mussels, which clog water intake pipes, cut swimmers' feet and disrupt natural ecosystems.  Eight new lakes were found to have zebra mussels in 2015.

Finalizing Clean Water School Grant Projects

During the last week of February, Matt Kumka, our Barr consultant, and I made the rounds to finalize the Clean Water School rain garden projects, along with the top decision makers - the principals and District 622 and 623 facility staff. We were seeking their approval on the 99% completed rain garden plans for the large-scale projects that will be constructed during the summers of 2016 and 2017. As I sat down with the business manager of School District 622, Randy Anderson, to get his sign off on these projects, I couldn’t help reflecting that reaching this point in this two-year process was a “watershed moment” if there ever was one in my years of working with schools.

Matt Kumka, Barr Engineering, Mike Boland and Mark Renstrom from District 622
and Randee Edmundson, CAC, discuss the design for Harmony Learning Center's rain garden.

In the midst of that meeting, I learned from Randy that the school district intends to pass a pollinator resolution. This was music to my ears and resonated with the "buzz" about protecting our pollinators going on at my Blue Thumb meetings and the Wild Ones Conference.

Coordinating Volunteers for the Phalen Freeze

In the busy month of February, we also had the big mid-winter celebration - Phalen Freeze Fest on February 20th!  We had a great turnout of volunteers from Harding High Earth Club, Johnson and Harding High ROTC, Urban Roots, and many other organizations.

Winter Maker was no match for Shingebiss this year at Phalen Freeze Fest with the
warmer-than-normal temperatures.

To read more about Phalen Freeze, click HERE.

Cities Step Up

In late February I joined a meeting with a city HUD official from Woodbury, Paige Ahlborg, our BMP and Project Manager, Woodbury Park and City staff and Washington Conservation District staff to support a shoreline project at Carver Lake. Afterwards we walked the shoreline of Carver Lake with Woodbury’s park staff to see where the city intends to rebuild boardwalks and address erosion issues with HUD grant money and cost-share funds from the Watershed District. This conversation has opened doors to potentially partnering on further cost share projects near the shoreline and some collaborative educational activities at the lake.

In the past couple of months I've been working with Cities to organize a Level 2 Smart Salting training to help city public works and street superintendents assess and make good decisions about their salt use on city streets. Thanks to Fortin Consulting and Ramsey Conservation District for helping me get this training on the calendar for the end of April.

Master Water Stewards Get Proactive

On a Tuesday evening two weeks ago I dined with our new Master Water Stewards at Pippin’s Restaurant in Roseville and listened to them chat about some of their life experiences in their careers and education as a way to get acquainted and build teamwork. Six out of the seven present at the dinner said they were going to their caucuses the next week and wouldn’t be at our scheduled Master Water Stewards training session on March. It seemed fitting since we would be starting our unit on Community Engagement at the end of March!

Within a day of the caucuses, I received an email from one of the Master Water Stewards, who attached a resolution that she had brought to a vote at her local caucus. It's an example of what a courageous, energized, and empowered person can do to get the attention of their community and raise energy for the cause of water!  More power to you, Anna B! I’d like to share your resolution with our Ripple audience.

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By Anna Barker
Master Water Steward and Master Gardener

“. . . perhaps from the Algonquian . . .CAUCUS: 1. U.S. meeting of party members, esp. in the Senate, to decide policy; 2. Often derogatory, a) meeting of a group within a larger organization or party; b) such a group. The Oxford Dictionary of Current English.

“Political skill is about managing the emotions of other people.”  

In this vein of thinking, I got into the swim of things on Tuesday March 1, 2016 for my local party caucus at Woodbury High School. Attendance this night was 1000+ over the anticipated number of 2000, which was the record-breaker in 2008. After wading through the winding lines of folks peering at fuzzy maps posted on cafeteria windows to find their caucus room, I made my way to the far end of the building and joined some of my neighbors in what felt very natural to me: an English teacher’s classroom.

I voted for my preferred presidential candidate and checked in with our caucus chair about what I had to do to write a Resolution. He directed me to prepared copies of the RESOLUTION FORM. Check. I filled in the blanks and checked the required boxes, then checked in with my neighbors nearby, making introductions for those who didn’t know one another. Smile. So far, so good.

The next piece of work was to actually create my Resolution. Never did this before. Learning as I go. Thought: “If I can do this, maybe lots of others are doing it, too.” Nope. When it came time to present and take questions from the Precinct 5 attendees (by this time, around 100!), only one other person had a Resolution to share, and that was from a representative of Common Cause, MN. Mine was based on facts I’d gotten earlier in the day when I was doing my prep work from the League of Conservation Voters and “the water guru” from Governor Dayton’s Office (fresh off the Water Summit in St. Paul held “first come, first in for attending” on Saturday, February 27,), with about 1,000 present.

A plea for “relevance and action.” 



And then: Follow up the next day.

Per my Senate District 53 local level rep, Deb, after I called the number that my contact at the Gov. Office suggested: “… attend the Convention Committee meeting at Jerry’s Foods on March 10th and make sure that your Resolution moves forward to go to the State Convention.”

OK then. Yes, I will.

I thanked Deb, and she thanked me for my follow up.

My response: (and you can quote me!) “You’re welcome. If you don’t follow up, you don’t get results.” She agreed.

Here’s my Resolution:

“Based on the Proclamation from the Safe Drinking Water Week of May 3-9, 2015, which stated the following:

WHEREAS: Minnesotans depend on an adequate supply of safe drinking water for their health, quality of life, and economic viability; and

WHEREAS: PROTECTING the source of rivers, lakes, and underground supplies of water is the first step in ensuring safe water; and

WHEREAS: Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are threats to sustained safe water supplies and an issue that public water systems are addressing with a variety of strategies; and

WHEREAS: All Minnesotans rely on safe drinking water from public water systems in their homes, schools, and places of work and play,

Therefore: we, the residents of Precinct 5 in the City of Woodbury in the Great State of Minnesota, do hereby resolve to support public education efforts and outreach on behalf of Safe and Clean Water.”

Done. Presented. Unanimously approved, and I got applause!


So, onward! Next steps have been taken. More will follow.

Follow up IS key. Doors remain un-open to access the Button Pushers who “know what I don’t know” about what needs to happen in order to get actions of relevance brought to the public’s attention. In order to have positive, creative results that make a difference for the residents of both the City of Woodbury and the entire great state of Minnesota, we need to “be a WE” and connect our emotions to those also on the Team of Rivals so that the results of our efforts will be beneficial to ALL.

Yours in peace and service,
Anna Barker

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I need a long winter’s nap and it’s almost spring! No such luck!

Eeegads! It’s been a crazy-busy month. Thanks to the individuals and communities who have stepped up to the plate to take action in support of our lakes and water resources.

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