Monday, August 22, 2016

Aboard the Lake Guardian: A Watershed Educator's Experience - Part 1

By Tracy Leavenworth


I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. It was a sunny day in April and the email I had just opened from Cindy Hagley at Minnesota Sea Grant’s Center for Great Lakes Literacy (CGLL) informed me that I had been accepted in the Shipboard Science Workshop on Lake Superior. From July 9th through July 15th I would be spending a week aboard the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research vessel, Lake Guardian, with fourteen other educators. Our mission: travel through the west arm of Lake Superior conducting research alongside university research biologists and EPA water quality monitoring specialists. It was a dream come true!

The experience with my fellow shipmates (educators, scientists and crew) was unforgettable and invaluable. We collected and studied aquatic organisms living in the sediments and in the water and analyzed water quality to better understand the ecology of Lake Superior. The shipboard science experience allowed my fellow educators and me to gain insights that we will use to inspire our students with new curricula, relevant data and a science network that spans the Great Lakes. 

Our experience also included several stops on land where local scientists met with us to share about the ecology of their region and the environmental challenges they face.

The first part of my shipboard story is told through photos …

The Lake Guardian

180 feet long and sleeps 42, The Lake Guardian was originally an oil rig tender in the Gulf of Mexico. It was purchased by the EPA in 1990 and converted into a research vessel. A worthy reincarnation!

Safety first! Our “frog suits”

Meant to keep a body alive in the frigid Lake Superior waters for at least an hour. Glad this was the only time we wore them (that’s me in the front row with the one-hand wave).

Leaving Duluth
Following an orientation in the Great Lakes Aquarium and our safety training onboard, were off! The lift bridge goes up for us; thats me on the right with my new friend, Quan, a teacher from Wisconsin.

Our first collection site just off of Silver Bay, Minnesota: The rosette.
Data is collected using three tools; first is the rosette which collects water samples at various depths. It also collects water quality data. The rosette is always first in a sampling stop, as it is important to not disturb the water column before collecting water samples. 
In search of the thermocline:
Marine Technician, Max, in the rosette control room. Red is temperature, blue is dissolved oxygen, green is fluorescence, and yellow is beam attenuation.
How much does light scatter when sent through a column of water? The higher the beam attenuation, the more particles there are in the water column.


EPA scientist Glenn Warren explains how to use the water quality monitoring equipment.

Samples collected from the rosette will be tested for conductance, pH, alkalinity, turbidity, chlorophyll A and nitrate.


The zooplankton net

The zooplankton net was our second collection tool.

Research biologist Christy Meredith pours the zooplankton from the collection tube into a Nalgene bottle.

Everyone on the back deck must wear life vests, steel-toed boots and hard hats at all times.

Look at all of those miniature

The PONAR ...
It's purpose?

To grab the top layer of sediment in order to capture the Diporeia that live there. Diporeia are a critical part of Lake Superior’s ecosystem.

Agitating the sediment to collect the Diporeia
Those guys like to burrow! Talk about getting your hands dirty

Pouring the water and the critters away from the muck.
The net that collects the Diporeia allows water to flow through it. Each PONAR sample collected is rinsed, agitated and poured six times. Thats a lot of playing in the dirt!


Research biologist Joel Hoffman
Joel Hoffman is an international Diporeia guru in the biology lab.



I am filled with gratitude for my experience aboard the Lake Guardian. The learning curve was steep, the sleep was minimal, the motion of the boat stayed with me for days afterward, and I loved every bit of it.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Aboard the Lake Guardian: A Watershed Educator’s Experience. It will focus on the experience of being aboard the ship (living quarters, food, crew, pilot house and amenities

Thanks for reading!

Something's Brewing in September

By Sage Passi

Bang Brewing Company in St. Paul, site for the Master Water Stewards happy hour in September.

Come to Bang Brewing Company on September 20 from 5-7 PM when Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, Capitol Region Watershed District and Freshwater Society host a happy hour for people who are curious about the upcoming Master Water Stewards program that begins its second round in the east metro area in October. Join us for light appetizers and a cash bar, hear first-hand stories from 2016 Master Water Stewards and check out the rainwater features on site at the brewery during a tour at 6:00 PM at 2320 Capp Road in St. Paul. RSVPs appreciated.
RWMWD Master Water Stewards explore the rainwater features at Maplewood Mall as a part of their watershed tour this past spring.

Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District launched the Master Water Stewards program in 2016 in partnership with the Freshwater Society. Eight Master Water Stewards were recruited for involvement in the program in RWMWD. In the coming year, new stewards-in-training will participate in twelve classes and a tour where they will learn about local water resources and how to identify sites and projects in their communities that can help reduce water pollution.

As part of the program, Master Water Stewards will work in teams to complete a capstone project. These projects are initiated by Stewards to reduce stormwater run-off. Each project includes education and an in-the-ground practice that allows more water to soak into gardens, grass or other vegetated areas. Once Master Stewards complete the training and capstone projects they will apply their knowledge by continuing to volunteer in their local watershed district in subsequent years.

Master Water Stewards ponder their design recommendations at a rainscaping workshop.
Anna Barker (upper left) and David Rittenhouse (right)

Two RWMWD Master Water Steward teams are currently in the process of meeting with and helping residents decide on planting designs and preparing for the installation of several curb-cut rain gardens in a targeted sub-watershed that drains into Bennett Lake in Roseville. Another team is working with a homeowner who lives on Battle Creek in Woodbury. Here are testimonials from three Master Water Stewards who have participated in the program this year:

“Becoming a Master Water Steward has been the kick in the pants that I needed to get myself out there and help people make informed, sustainable choices. I have way more confidence in my ability to work with others towards building healthier waters and healthier communities.”  
Mary Henke-Haney, 2016 Master Water Steward

“By going through the Master Watershed Stewards program I feel confident and energized to engage my neighbors around water quality issues. I feel prepared to discuss with others about the issues facing our water bodies, and more importantly what we as individuals can do to reduce our negative impacts.”

David Rittenhouse, 2016 Master Water Steward

“The Master Water Steward program has increased my knowledge about water quality issues and what can be done to improve our precious water resources. One of the surprising things I’ve learned is working with smaller groups or individuals makes people more comfortable and willing to ask questions. This interaction encourages people to follow through and make the changes they can. It results in community members committing to act and making changes to improve local water quality.”
Linda Neilson, 2016 Master Water Steward

Together Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District and Capitol Region will be sponsoring up to twenty residents from neighborhoods in Saint Paul and cities throughout the east metro in 2017. These Master Water Stewards will complete the training and implement projects in their respective watershed districts.

Attend an upcoming info session for both watershed districts on September 6 at Capitol Region Watershed District from 5:30 PM - 6:30 PM at 1410 Energy Park Drive #4 in St. Paul or join us for the happy hour on September 20 at Bang Brewing Company. 

To learn more about this training opportunity, visit or contact Sage Passi by email
 or by calling 651-792-7958.

For an online application, click here.

Planting your Yard to Help Nature and Wildlife

By Carole Gernes, Ramsey Conservation District

Avoid invasive species like Miscanthus sacchariflorus (Chinese Silver Grass)! It escapes from ornamental plantings and forms large clumps along disturbed areas, displacing native vegetation.
Photo Credit: Paul Erdman

Fall is a great time for planting! Mindful planting in your yard can help struggling pollinators, birds and native plant communities nearby. 

Help Pollinators by Avoiding Neonics

Alarming articles about disappearing monarch butterflies and bees are all over the media. One way to help pollinators is to avoid buying plants and seeds that are treated with systemic pesticides; sometimes called neonicotinoids or neonics. Stores may have signs saying their garden/vegetable plants are systemic pesticide-free, but still sell treated seeds, flowering plants, shrubs and trees. These pesticides move to tissues of the entire plant, including flowers and may stay in the plant for years. They do not wash off. Pollinators that visit treated flowers may be killed instantly, experience a slow decline in health leading to death or be unable to reproduce. Look for seed companies that offer “untreated seeds” and ask before buying plants. Click HERE for more information on native plants for pollinators.

Don't Plant Invasive Plants
Avoiding planting invasive species will also help pollinators, birds and local natural areas. Invasive plants are non-native plants that can move from your yard to take over native plant communities; like prairies, savannas or woodlands. They replace the diversity of plant life that our birds, pollinators and other wildlife depend on for food and shelter. A variety of plants are important to keep them healthy.

Japanese Knotweed blooms late, but should not be planted for pollinators.
Photo Credit: Carole Gernes, RCCWMA

Even though pollinators will visit a specific invasive flower, a diet from only one kind of nectar or pollen is not healthy. Bird nests are susceptible to predators and they find fewer insects to eat in invasive shrubs.
Three invasive plants to avoid: Dame's Rocket - Queen Ann's Lace - Greater Celandine
Photo Credits: Peter Dziuk (Minnesota Wildflowers) - Carole Gernes (RCCWMA) - Kristin Willette (Volunteer)

Not all invasive plants are illegal; many are still sold in nurseries and online. Do an online search of your prospective plant along with the word “invasive”. One advantage of living in the Midwest is that species move here after being “tested” first on the east and west coasts. Species that are causing problems there may be a preview into our future. 

Avoid planting “wildflowers in a can” seed mixes. If you are interested in planting native wildflowers, buy from a native plant nursery within 200 miles of your planting site. More invasive yard plant information may be found HERE, or at the Cooperative Weed Management Facebook Page HERE. Dig a little deeper to help nature. It’s worth the extra effort!

Check HERE for plants you should avoid planting your yard.

Stormwater Myths and Facts

By Joey Handtmann

Rain gardens can be a wonderful way to spruce up your yard and fight stormwater pollution.

Stormwater runoff is a serious source of pollution for rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. During every rainfall or snow melt, water picks up pollution on its way to the nearest storm sewer grate. Due to the serious damage caused to water bodies from stormwater pollution, it is important to dispel these common myths: 

Myth: Stormwater drains to treatment plants.
The vast majority of stormwater (and the pollutants it carries­) discharges directly into lakes, rivers, streams, creeks and ponds.
Myth: The pollutants in stormwater are not typically harmful.
As stormwater flows down roads and lawns, it picks up sediment loaded with nutrients, spilled oil and paint, herbicides and pesticides, grass clippings and leaves. All these end up directly deposited into a body of water.
Extra nutrients from plant debris and soil overload streams and lakes, feeding algae which in turn depletes the dissolved oxygen in the water when it decomposes. Due to low oxygen levels fish die, the surface water is covered with green algal goop and the smell of dead fish hits you fifty feet before seeing the water.
Construction runoff can be a major contributor to stormwater pollution.

Myth: Stormwater flows only to local streams.
Stormwater can make its way to any water body by traveling to the ocean via the Mississippi River starting here in Minnesota.

Sediment and pollution laden water is deposited from the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico.
Photo Credit: NASA

Myth: Stormwater is mainly an urban problem and industries are the greatest source of water pollution.

Agricultural fields and pastures are a huge contributor to stormwater pollution due to herbicide, fertilizer, nutrient and sediment runoff.
Pollution can be classified into two categories: point source and nonpoint source. Point source pollution can be tracked to a single identifiable source, like a pipe leading directly from a manufacturing plant into a stream. Nonpoint source pollution comes from a diffuse source, like stormwater runoff over a large area.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (PCA), agricultural nonpoint source pollution is the leading source of water quality impacts on rivers and streams, the third largest source for lakes and the second largest source to wetlands.
Strict restrictions have been put in place to regulate point source pollution since passing the 1977 Clean Water Act, but creating and enacting policy for nonpoint source pollution has been more difficult.

The confluence of the St. Croix River (left) and Mississippi River (right) south of the Twin Cities, after the Minnesota River flows into the Mississippi.
Photo Credit: Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

Myth: The state should take care of all stormwater pollution.
The state only manages a portion of land. While the state often sets guidelines and policies to improve stormwater quality, it is up to individuals, home-owners, businesses, farmers and commercial operations to step up and become local leaders in water quality.

Myth: Stormwater pollution will eventually go away.

Pollutants carried in stormwater may wash away, but the sources still remain a problem. You wouldn’t throw your trash over your neighbor’s fence and declare that pollution is over. Everyone has a responsibility to ensure that pollutants are properly disposed of and not picked up by stormwater. Make sure that your car is not leaking oil, and properly clean up any chemical spills.  Dilution is not the solution to pollution. 
Myth: No real solutions exist to solve our stormwater problem.

Fact: Plenty of solutions exist to combat stormwater pollution.
  • Local governments may implement various stormwater management policies and rules.
  • Rain gardens and infiltration basins can be installed in yards and next to parking lots.
  • Rain barrels can be placed under gutters.
  • Driveways can be converted to permeable pavers.
  • Lawns can be converted to native plantings to soak up more rainwater.

Fact: Residents can make virtually no-cost changes in their daily routines to help.
  • Sweep up or "mow-in" grass clipping to keep them out of streets.
  • Clean up dog poop in your yard, even if its not near a lake.
  • Avoid dumping any substance besides rainwater down a storm drain.
  • Use less salt in the winter.

These practices, big and small, all help manage stormwater where it lands, which is far more effective and less expensive than cleaning up polluted water bodies.