Thursday, August 17, 2017

Seeking Master Water Stewards-in-Training

Master Water Stewards identify examples of residential water practices during one of their classes.

Are you looking for an opportunity to get involved protecting water in your community? Consider becoming a Master Water Steward. Now entering its third season, the deadline for the Master Water Stewards program in the District is fast approaching. Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District is seeking four Master Water Steward applicants for the coming year.

Applications are due September 30 and can be found here. Classes will begin on October 10. Contact Sage Passi at 612-598-9163 or by email for more information.

Stewards-in-training will participate in classes both online and in person, tour our watershed and identify projects in the community that will reduce water pollution. As part of the certification process, Master Water Stewards work in pairs to design a capstone project and develop an outreach educational activity or event.

Evan Pugh shares his knowledge about protecting bee habitat
while doing maintenance for rain gardens.

Here is an example of what one of our Master Water Steward teams accomplished this year after completing their training:  

Master Water Stewards, Bill Cranford, Rachel Hanks and Phyllis Webster initiated the Adopt-A-Drain program as their capstone project in the Phalen Heights area of St. Paul this spring. They reached out to over 700 household in their neighborhood in order to identify residents who would commit to clearing leaves, dirt and trash regularly from storm drains near their homes and keep them from polluting nearby Lake Phalen and the Mississippi River downstream.

Rachel Hanks installs an Adopt-a-Drain
sign in her neighborhood.

Rachel says, “It’s gratifying to experience positive results from our efforts to improve water quality. We see clean storm drains as we take our regular walks in the neighborhood. We have engaged with our neighbors and are building a network of people who also desire to keep our local Lake Phalen clean."

Master Water Stewards Program Intro Session at Urban Boatbuilders - September 14

Join Master Water Stewards and Watershed District program staff at Urban Boatbuilders on Thursday, September 14, from 5:30 - 7:00 PM to learn more about this dynamic program. Guests can expect delicious appetizers and a sneak peek at the Urban Boatbuilders workshop, as well as great conversation with the people who know this program best - our stewards. Stewards will be sharing their stories throughout the event. Stop by on your way home from work and stay as long as you’d like. RSVPs appreciated.

The workshop at Urban Boatbuilders

Directions and Parking
Urban Boatbuilders is located at 2288 University Avenue W, St. Paul 55114

From the west:
Urban Boatbuilders warehouse is on University, but set back from the road. Turn right on LaSalle and the building will be on your left. Parking is along the back on Myrtle Street.

From the east:
If coming from the east, you'll pass the address and turn around at Raymond to head east on University and take a right on LaSalle. The building will be on your left. Parking is along the back on Myrtle Street.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Cherishing a Crown Jewel – Tamarack Nature Preserve

By Sage Passi
The July tour at Tamarack Nature Preserve attracted an enthusiastic crowd.
Photo Credit: Dana Boyle
Tamarack Nature Preserve, tucked between Valley Creek Road, Radio Drive and Bielenberg Drive in Woodbury, is one of the few remaining intact tamarack supporting wetlands in the Twin Cities area. There are thousands of acres of tamarack swamps up north, but very few exist this far south. It’s become a favorite hiking destination for neighborhood walkers, birdwatchers, nature lovers and avid plant IDers.

Anna Barker, Washington County Master Gardener and Master
Water Steward, shares her knowledge about plants on the summer tour.

The last public tour the Watershed District co-hosted in the preserve with the city of Woodbury was in 2013. Thanks to the encouragement and work of Tamarack Nature Preserve advocates, Dana Boyle and Stephanie Wang, the wheels began to turn again this spring to host another tour for the public in mid-summer to raise interest and appreciation for this “crown jewel” of wetlands. 

“We are working on a broad community engagement plan to help residents learn about opportunities throughout the year to tour the Preserve, help with trail management (buckthorn and burdock removal and trash cleanups) and become better educated about this amazing treasure in our own backyard,” announced Dana and Stephanie who live in neighborhoods adjacent to the preserve. 

Last year Dana created an online field guide that highlights the diverse plant life abounding in the Preserve. Click here for the guide

The sensitive fern, found along the boardwalk in the Preserve, Onoclea sensibilis,
gets its species name from how quickly the leaves die back after the first frost.
 Photo credit: Dana Boyle

Bog aurum, also known as water arum or wild calla, is prolific in the Preserve.
Photo Credit: Sage Passi
This summer, Dana and her colleagues created a crowd-sourced “project” for the Tamarack Nature Preserve on the iNaturalist app to complete their capstone requirements for the Master Naturalist program. This interactive field guide is for people of all ages and interest levels to gain an appreciation for nature, specifically this Minnesota wetland, and to collaborate in order to become part of a community of friends of the Preserve.

 Broadleaf Arrowhead in bloom in the Preserve
Photo Credit: Dana Boyle

The guide currently features plants that are found in the fen (a bog trail) and on its perimeter (a woodland trail). It will also include birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Anyone who visits the area is invited to add their observations to this project. Over time they will have a record of phenology and see when and where these observations are most likely to be found. Here is a link.

Left to right: Dana Boyle, Kevin Burshten, Amy Howard, Kristin Seaman and Stephanie Wang trek through the Preserve. 

In preparation for the summer tour, Dana and Stephanie organized a reconnaissance walk in May with Woodbury Assistant Park Supervisors, Amy Howard and Kevin Burshten and Woodbury’s Environmental Resources Specialist Kristin Seaman to look for long and short-term solutions that would address trail issues in the park.

A reoccurring challenge in the preserve is a stretch of the path on the north side of the preserve that becomes very muddy and impassable in the spring and summer. They were also scouting for locations where invasive species could be removed by volunteers.

A stretch of the path in the Preserve that is hard to cross during parts of the year.
As a short term solution Woodbury park staff built a temporary boardwalk over the areas that typically flood so that the upcoming tour participants and others using the park could pass on the north side of the trail between the two main boardwalks.

A temporary boardwalk helps hikers
pass over muddy areas of the trail.

Both Dana and Stephanie have also organized several ad hoc invasive plant removal activities and are planning an educational event in August with a Woodbury Pack 60 Webelos Cub Scout Den who will be cutting back burdock on the north stretch of the trail between the boardwalks and touring the preserve.

Researching Tamarack Swamp’s recent past

Stephanie wanted to learn more about the history of the preserve so she approached Steve Kernik, a retired environmental planner for the City of Woodbury who provided this historical background about the area. 

"The Tamarack Swamp used to be an unbroken system starting at the back of City Hall and flowing downhill all the way to Battle Creek Lake. Over the years it got severed by Valley Creek Road, Bielenberg Drive, I-494 and Weir Drive. Valley Creek Road impacted the upper part of the swamp behind City Hall because the culverts under the road were set too high, which resulted in permanent high water that changed the character to a normal swamp.

About ten years ago a lift station was installed (mainly for stormwater management purposes) which keeps the fluctuations down, but the damage is done. From Valley Creek Road to Bielenberg Drive the swamp is fairly flat, dropping only a few feet. West of Bielenberg Drive it drops quite quickly, about 30 feet from Bielenberg to I-494. So the swamp west of Bielenberg is somewhat drier than the east side just because of topography."

Studies Completed in the Preserve

"There have been a number of studies done on the swamp, some of them dating back to the late 1970's or early 1980's. The really early ones aren't very detailed but the last one (or ones), done by the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District are the most valuable. A detailed study of the vegetation of the swamp was done in 1999 that includes a map that shows the major ecosystems that are present.” 

This map delineates the location of different plant communities in the Preserve and its walking paths.
(Click on map for larger image.)
Kernik continued his recollections. "One of the interesting findings of that study was that all of the tamarack trees in the swamp are about the same age. They all got their start during the drought years of the 1930's. The assumption is that conditions were good for the tamaracks to germinate at that time, and as water started to rise in subsequent years, the trees were able to grow new roots just at the water line, which allowed the trees to survive in the deeper water. The problem is that young tamaracks can't germinate in the high water conditions.
One of the tamaracks that towers above the Preserve.

The District did a study of the high water which determined that it was caused by high groundwater, not surface water inputs. They examined what it would take to lower the groundwater through drain tile but determined that the damage caused by installing the tile would basically destroy the areas that we would be trying to save. So the high groundwater is just a fact of life. 

The other factor affecting the Tamarack Swamp is water quality. Tamaracks and the associated ecosystem usually exist in very low nutrient waters. It's not that they can't handle higher nutrient loads, it's just that other plants begin to outcompete them when nutrient levels rise. So this has affected the presence of other species moving in to the swamp."

To decrease stormwater runoff impacts the Watershed District installed two treatments systems in 1999 to capture sediment and contaminants entering the wetland. In 2003 the District designed a series of swales and basins, located along Valley Creek Road in Woodbury to treat stormwater before it enters the Preserve. 

The treatment systems on the edge of Tamarack Nature Preserve are pond-like with a brick bottom porous enough to allow some water infiltration, but hard enough to support a bobcat for sediment removal.

Rallying the Community

As summer approached, efforts to publicize the summer tour escalated. To initially get the word out about the tour and raise interest in the Preserve, Dana had a table at WaterFest. Many people stopped by as she worked on a painting of one of flowering plants that grace the boardwalk in the summer – the marsh cinquefoil.

Dana used painting at WaterFest to draw attention to one of the beautiful wildflowers growing in the Preserve.

Dana's completed painting of marsh cinquefoil

The tour was advertised broadly through many different organizations, social media networks, the city’s email lists and with posters in key gathering points near the Preserve (Caribou, YMCA and library), and along the trail access points. By mid-July, 150 people had reserved a spot on the tour and phone calls were still coming in right until the end! Clearly, interest in learning about this gem in our watershed is strong!

The crowd was intrigued with the variety of plants in the Preserve.

On the day of the tour, a thunderstorm threatened to cancel the event. But by six o’clock the weather had settled down and a group of eighty-five people in a range of ages showed up, from seniors to families with younger children from the surrounding neighborhood to Master Naturalists-in-training who were drawn from across the metro area to come to learn from Jason Husveth, plant ecologist of Critical Connections and his team of experts.

For nearly two hours Jason captivated tour participants with his explanations of the ecological and geological changes on the land, impacts of development on the water flow and all sorts of fascinating details about the diverse array of plants that inhabit this unique preserve. Meanwhile, in other areas of the park, two other tour groups, including an “express” version for parents with younger kids and for those who wanted a shorter tour. A second plant ecologist, Doug Mensing, kept participants engaged and inquisitive about the unique characteristics of the preserve and its diverse plants.

Jason Husveth, Critical Connections plant ecologist and tour leader, shares his knowledge about marsh marigold that blooms earlier in the season.

These are great ingredients for continuing to expand Woodbury’s engagement and protection of this valuable resource - people who are curious and excited about learning, a parks department that is responsive, and the kind of teamwork that lends a vibrant approach to crafting more opportunities for the community to appreciate the complex beauty and intricacies of nature “in the city”.

How Can Minnesota Reach its 25 by 25 Water Goal?

By Sage Passi

Join us in a conversation this September about what can be done at the local level to help Minnesota reach its 25 by 25 water quality goal.

Early this year Governor Dayton announced a new “25 by 25” Water Quality Goal, which would spur collaboration and action to improve Minnesota’s water quality 25 percent by 2025. Without additional action, the quality of Minnesota’s waters is expected to improve only 6 to 8 percent by 2034. Governor Dayton’s proposal would not add new regulations, but would instead drive public engagement and partnerships to address Minnesota’s water quality challenges.

Ramsey Washington Metro Watershed District, along with Conservation Minnesota, Capitol Region Watershed District, Ramsey Conservation District and Rice Creek Watershed District, is hosting a community water meeting on September 12 to discuss local water health and hear your ideas for improving and protecting our water resources in Ramsey County. We invite you to join this discussion! Water meetings like this are part of Conservation Minnesota’s effort to include local communities in responding to the Governor’s proposed water pollution reduction initiative.

This summer and early fall, the Governor’s office is holding ten regional town hall meetings across the state to gather input on what it could take to realize this goal. Townhall meetings in the metro area are scheduled for late September and early October in Minneapolis, Burnsville and Stillwater. Dates and locations for these town halls are listed HERE.

“All Minnesotans have a stake in water that’s safe for drinking, swimming and fishing,” says Governor Dayton. “These town hall meetings will further the important conversations already happening across Minnesota around water quality. Together we can develop strategies and solutions that work for all of our communities.”

We are hosting a local meeting to ensure that those who cannot attend the Governor’s meetings or who want extra time to talk through their ideas have the chance to do so.


Join us and
share your ideas!

Ramsey County Community
Water Meeting

Tuesday, September 12
6:30 - 8:30 PM
Autumn Grove Park
395 Lydia Ave W, Roseville

To ensure we have enough space and refreshments, please RSVP by emailing Julie Drennen or call 612-767-1569. This is an open meeting, so you’re welcome to invite all who you think would be interested. 

This event is sponsored by:

The Final Stages of our Church Grant

By Paige Ahlborg

Lakeview Lutheran Church was our first completed project through the Clean Water Land & Legacy Grant.

In 2013, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District received a community partners grant through the Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment. We used this grant to partner with six churches to install over fifteen rain gardens on their properties. These churches were in Maplewood, Roseville and St. Paul. A complete listing can be found on our website. This grant was met with such success that we applied for and received a second grant in 2015 to work with six additional churches. 

In 2016, rain gardens were installed at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Parkview United Church of Christ in White Bear Lake and Christ United Methodist Church in Maplewood. In 2017, rain gardens were installed at North Presbyterian Church in North St. Paul and Trinity Presbyterian Church in Woodbury. The final rain garden is set to be installed at North Heights Church in Roseville this fall.

Rain garden at North Presbyterian Church in North St. Paul

This grant targeted faith organizations in priority sub-watersheds with impaired waters (those not meeting state water quality standards) or waters that are at-risk of becoming impaired. The water bodies protected through this phase of the grant include Kohlman Lake, Battle Creek and Lake Owasso. Rain gardens were installed to help lessen the amount of stormwater runoff coming from large parking lots and rooftops. By capturing the stormwater, the rain gardens help reduce the amount of phosphorus and other pollution that reaches these important water bodies.

These beautiful rain gardens not only help improve water quality, they also provide increased pollinator habitat, increased aesthetic value to the property and provide an ongoing education opportunity to the congregation. 

Rain garden at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Woodbury

For the first two years following rain garden installation, RWMWD covers maintenance costs on these projects. Church maintenance staff and volunteers are invited to be involved with the maintenance during that time to learn how to maintain their gardens. 

After our maintenance contract expires, RWMWD staff work closely with church staff to help them fully know what is needed to keep their rain gardens looking and functioning as intended.  

RWMWD has worked with many churches over the years and will continue to do so into the future under our cost share program. These grants target churches that may not otherwise known about our goals for water quality improvement. We are grateful to have received the grant and grateful to have worked with these organizations on a common goal.

More information can be found on our website at

Thursday, July 6, 2017

School Retrofits: Allowing the Flow to Happen

By Sage Passi

What’s the area of our driveway in front of Central Park? These students took on this math challenge to determine the drainage area for their future rain garden.

Things have a way of eventually coming together. Our efforts over the past four years have involved the search for schools that are open and willing to be models for stormwater retrofits in their community. We’ve identified teachers who like hands on learning. We’ve connected with partners who are interested in working with schools – Maplewood Nature Center, EMWREP and Ramsey County Master Gardeners. Master Water Stewards have been assisting us with our field activities to help students understand the elements built into rain gardens and how they function.

We’ve gotten acquainted with kids who are curious and open to trying new things.

An auger is not something kids use every day!

We've been equipping students with tools that help them understand the “whys” and “hows”.

Woodbury fourth graders interpret a map of their school grounds to see where run-off comes from impervious surfaces and travels to their future rain garden site.

Along the way we’ve been lucky to engage with scientists and teachers who have the desire to meet each other on the playing field. 

As we close in on implementing the culminating steps of our state grant, “Engaging Schools in Retrofit BMPS”, the excitement has been building. It’s no longer just a vision. It’s concrete, it’s real and we are doing it!

Central Park Elementary, Roseville Area Middle School and Woodbury Elementary Schools are in the spotlight this year.

As summer moves along, retrofit rain gardens are being constructed on their school grounds. When I drove over to Central Park Elementary in Roseville one afternoon in late June, I saw the contractors wetting the concrete to cut the inlet for the new rain garden with a circular saw. I stopped to watch, mesmerized and in awe. This step, while just one small action in the process, was symbolic to me, representing the accomplishments of cutting through resistance, opening up to change, and allowing the flow to happen!

Cutting the curb for the rain garden inlet at Central Park Elementary

The construction of these rain gardens takes anywhere from a week to two weeks, depending on their size. The Central Park Elementary rain garden was able to secure “center stage". As the buses entered the driveway in front of the school, they lined up next to it. We couldn’t ask for a better front row seat for students attending summer school to watch the construction unfold.

Rain garden construction at Central Park Elementary in Roseville

As work continues, a limestone wall emerges that will frame the back of the rain garden.

Bonding with Local Water Bodies

In preparation for the installation of these three rain gardens, we felt strongly that it was essential to connect our youth audience with the lakes and streams we are trying to protect. In early March Woodbury Elementary students traveled by bus to Battle Creek Lake to study its water quality. Roseville Area Middle School students came to our office site in late May to trace the flow of their stormwater to Gervais Creek that flows below our office windows and look at how our rain gardens function. 

We set up two half-day field trips in early May for Central Park students to visit their downstream lake with time built in to explore, play and conduct research. The morning became a blend of structured and less structured opportunities to invite inquiry, wonder and foster curiosity.

Central Park fifth graders explore Lake Owasso’s shoreline on their spring trip to learn about water quality in their watershed.

A baby snapping turtle appeared at the beach.

We knew many of the students at Central Park Elementary were more familiar with nearby Lake McCarrons, so we decided to blend a field trip to both Lake Owasso and Lake McCarrons. This became an opportunity to illustrate the concept of watersheds by using maps before the trip to illustrate that water on the land has many paths to nearby lakes, but still ends up downstream in a larger watershed – The Mississippi River. We pointed out the watershed divide between Capitol Region and Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed Districts and explained that while their school’s run-off ends up in Lake Owasso, if they live in other areas near the school, it flows to Lake McCarrons. 

Central Park Water Flow

Team-Teaching Strengthens Our Approach

We invited our water quality intern to assist us on the field trip. Lyndsey Provos demonstrated the use of the monitoring equipment she uses on various lakes in the watershed. Prior to her position with RWMWD, she spent time in graduate school working on data collection on Lake McCarrons, so she was familiar with the conditions on that lake. 

Lyndsey Provos, the District’s water quality intern, introduces Central Park fifth graders to the Sonde which she used to help them collect data about Lake Owasso.

What water quality parameters can we measure with the Sonde?

The RWMWD has assigned a water quality classification of “At Risk” to Lake Owasso based on recent water quality data at or near the MPCA and RWMWD nutrient water quality standards.

Jordan Wein, a fish specialist with Carp Solutions, met classes at Lake Owasso on both days to expand the story of water quality to include what is living in the lake. He is beginning a population study of carp in Lake Owasso and Bennett Lake. He brought some samples of equipment including a trap net and his radio tracking devices to show students the tools he is using in his research with the Watershed District.

Jordan highlights the oxygen level needs of different fish using the dissolved oxygen kit the students will use to measure the levels in Lake Owasso and Lake. Water quality is a driving force in our rain garden projects.

Teaming up with Lindsay Schwantes, Community Outreach Coordinator for Capitol Region Watershed, provided great support. She introduced a number of fun activities to the day’s mix including a game, 'Sharks and Minnows' that she adapted into an action packed exercise in the park next to Lake McCarrons. Students took on roles as sediment, hydrologists and rain gardens. Hydrologists tried to tag as many 'Sediments' as possible as they ran from one end line to the other. If students playing the roles of 'Sediment' were tagged, they became rain gardens who remained stationary but could still reach out to try to tag any 'Sediments' as they passed by.

“1, 2, 3, RUNOFF!”

Lindsay also engaged student in the use of the enviroscape to illustrate how run-off impacts downstream waters.

Lindsay Schwantes introduces the fifth graders to the enviroscape.

Classes walked around the perimeter of the lake, tracing its route through a storm drain, then underground, then flowing out into a marshy area adjacent to the beach before it heads underground again and travels through the Trout Brook Interceptor to the Mississippi River.

This stop prompted many questions and observations about both the water’s route to and from the lake and the quality of the water as it leaves the lake.

We are optimistic that our field trips were food for thought and will inspire students to come back to wonder and wander by the lakes again. When they return to school in the fall and have the opportunity to plant their rain gardens, we hope that they can make the connection between seeing these new additions on their school grounds and the memorable experiences they had while exploring their nearby lakes through new eyes.

Want to Get Off the Sidelines and Make Real Change?

Rachel Hanks, 2016 Master Water Steward, and Sarah Goodspeed, program facilitator, explore
the plantings in Cross Lutheran Church’s rain garden across from Wakefield Lake in Maplewood.

You don’t have to be an expert. We’ll show you the way.

The Master Water Stewards program offers a great opportunity for you to work on environmental problems in your community and join a local network of energized leaders.

Rusty Schmidt, Landscape Ecologist and author of the Blue Thumb
Guide to Rain Gardens, provides consultation at the RainScaping
workshop held each year for Master Water Stewards.

Hallie Finucane and Linda Neilson showcase their Master Water
Steward capstone project and provide educational materials at a
local film showing sponsored by Wild Ones and RWMWD.
Master Water Stewards is a program that certifies and supports community leaders to install pollution prevention projects that educate community members, reduce pollutants from stormwater runoff, and allow more water to soak into the ground before running into storm sewer systems.

Anna Barker assists a Woodbury resident, Mitzi, with a rain garden
installation to prevent hillside erosion into Battle Creek.

The program is a partnership between the Freshwater Society and participating cities, watershed districts, watershed management organizations and non-profits. RWMWD is now seeking candidates for the upcoming year’s Master Water Stewards program in our watershed district. The program is slated to begin October 10.  Please contact Sage Passi at 612-598-9163 or email Sage for more information about becoming a Master Water Steward for Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District. Applications are due by September 30. You can download an application here. 

Qualified applicants must:
  • Be a resident in a sponsoring Watershed District
  • Attend an information session. Date and location in August TBA.
  • Complete application process (application due by September 30).
  • Complete all class sessions in the Maser Water Steward Certification process
  • Be willing to serve as a community resource for environmental and watershed information
  • Complete a capstone project
Apply Today!

Phyllis Webster and her Master Water Stewards cohorts are introduced
to a fun teaching tool that illustrates the concept of watersheds
during one of the classes.