Thursday, February 23, 2017

Farewell to Bob Johnson

Bob Johnson and Pam Skinner

February marked a significant change for the District. Robert 'Bob' Johnson, the longest-serving manager on our board, resigned. Bob started with the Board in 1986 and has been an important contributor to the many significant projects the District has undertaken over the decades.

Bob's service was recently recognized with the presentation of the Roger Lake Stewardship Excellence Award in November of 2016. You can read more about the award and Bob's history with the District in
this post on the Ripple Effect blog.

While Bob is preparing to move to be closer to own family, he will be greatly missed by his RWMWD 'family'. Thank you for your many years of commitment to public safety and water quality!

Ode to the Bog in Winter

By Dana Boyle
Photo credit: Dana Boyle
Dana Boyle is a resident who lives near Tamarack Nature Preserve in Woodbury. She has published a beautiful field guide to help visitors identify the diverse flora of the area. To see this guide, click here. To read more about Dana and Tamarack Nature Preserve, read Eyes on a Natural Treasure: Tamarack Nature Preserve. She leads tours, teaches groups, writes, takes photos, shares her knowledge and is an advocate for protecting the quality of this "gem" in our watershed.
She recently shared this poem with us about the passing seasons in the bog and the unique qualities of the plants in the Preserve. Dana encourages everyone to explore its' year round splendor.
Ode to the Bog in Winter
i see you as you are
dry golden stalks
broken, tattered
blowing wildly in the icy wind
the water at your base still flows
but it is frozen in patches
dark and foreboding
the footprints of creatures crisscross the snowy path
crows and owls hover in desolate trees
the only evidence that life is active on the bog now
darkness descends and for the time being
you are laid open with nothing covering you
in the frigid grip of winter

Photo credit: Dana Boyle

i see you as you have been
you were — not that long ago — green, pliant and alive with activity
birds singing around you and settling on your branches
calla lilies, cinnamon ferns, marsh marigolds bursting with color
while your spring-fed waters meandered toward the mighty Mississippi.
along the edges, in the woods, trillium unfurled as anemones fluttered into bloom
on the marsh, turtleheads took their sweet time to show off those funky white blossoms
and duckweed provided food for shy turtles, paddling waterfowl and other visitors
on hot, sunny days, snakes basked lazily on the wooden boardwalk
kids and dogs toggled between curious and scared, despite their being harmless and shy
by the time that dragonflies ushered in the late summer
you felt as full to bursting as a new mother’s breasts,
mushrooms populated the forest at the edge of your marsh
jewelweed blossomed in bright eye-popping shades of yellow and orange
leaves turned golden — even those on the tamarack trees — and fell to earth
the season turned

Photo credit: Dana Boyle

i see you as you will be
in March, when the pussywillows bravely reveal their plush, silvery buds
in April when tender fiddleheads arise from the crispy, matted undergrowth of dead cattails
in May, when red-winged blackbirds and migrating songbirds declare their arrival
and cheerful yellow marigolds make a bold statement that the flowers are back too
in June, when warmth returns enough for the snakes to take their places out in the open
and native plants — like mad-dog skullcap — offer their healing powers


Photo credit: Dana Boyle

who bears you up through the dark times?
what gives you the strength to withstand this harsh moment?
do the roots of each plant grow stronger by connecting to one another?
what happens beneath the surface that provides you with energy and direction?

even without these answers
seeing how you withstand winter’s threatening hand
and knowing that you will once again — as always — surge boldly to life
it is enough to believe that renewal is part of our universal nature
that hope is real
and that a larger force of Goodness is at work

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Need a Winter Boost? Come to Phalen Freeze Fest!

By Sage Passi

When I visited with Urban Roots interns, they were busy building puppets for this year’s Phalen Freeze Fest, the East side's annual celebration of winter!

Urban Roots meets at space provided by First Lutheran Church, on the East Side of St. Paul at 463 Maria Avenue.
Daniel Polnau works on a puppet for Phalen
Freeze Fest.

Local puppeteer Daniel Polnau, who is well known for his involvement in Heart of the Beast and Bare Bones productions, in addition to his own projects, is guiding these youth in designing and building large-scale puppets and props to dramatize the Ojibwe legend of Shingebiss, a brave little duck that stands up to the Winter Maker spirit. 

This year Urban Roots interns are taking full creative control over the puppet performance and are having a blast coming up with ideas – from choreographing a dance for hibernating animals to finding ways to incorporate music into the performance. 

The puppet show is one of many of the fun activities being offered at Lake Phalen to embrace winter, get out doors and have fun!

Phalen Freeze Fest is a free outdoor family event that will be held on Saturday, February 11, from 2:00 - 6:00 PM at the Phalen Lakeside Activity Center, 1530 Phalen Boulevard in Saint Paul. The puppet performance will take place on the ice at 4:00 PM. 

Here’s your opportunity to try out ice fishing, snow shoeing, kick-sledding, boot hockey, fire building, taking a Story Walk and building a snow fort. Hopefully there will be some snow!

Don’t miss your chance to roast marshmallows or hot dogs over a fire or stop by the food truck!

Warm up in the boathouse with a cup of hot chocolate and read some books.

Or, check out the Low Salt Diet activity table for young kids and parents.

To learn more click HERE.

Partners for this annual event include the City of St. Paul, St. Paul Parks and Recreation, St. Paul Natural Resources, Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, Wilderness Inquiry, Tips Outdoors, St. Paul Public Library, Polar Devils and Ramsey County with support from Clean Water Land and Legacy Funds.

Urban Roots is an organization on the East Side of St. Paul that has operated their food and environmental programs on the East Side of Saint Paul since 1996, engaging thousands of youth in education, training and work projects that provide service to the community, develop young leaders and improve health and the environment. Their mission is to build vibrant and healthy communities through food, conservation and youth development. They offer youth ages 14-21 from Saint Paul’s East Side paid internships in three program areas: Market Garden, Conservation and Cooking and Wellness.

In the summer some of their youth teams work on rain garden construction, habitat restoration and invasive removal. Market Garden youth interns plant, maintain and harvest small-scale crop production within their urban gardens. The organization promotes entrepreneurship by teaching youth interns to manage gardens and crops for distribution to community supported agriculture (CSA), Farmers Market, Roots for the Home Team, food shelves, restaurants and small-batch food preservation for seasonal sales. Program participants are also involved in creating sales and marketing materials for the Farmer’s Market and other retail outlets. 

 Thank you, Urban Roots!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Mystery-of-the-Month - January

By Dave Vlasin

Erosion control measures are necessary even in underground tunnels.

What's been happening thirty feet underground this winter?

If you recall, last April we updated you on our Beltline Maintenance and Repair Project. We told you how District and Barr Engineering staff walked and inspected over 38,000 feet of the Beltline and Battle Creek Storm Water Tunnels. To read last year's article, click here.


Barr and District staff gathered information and took notes during the 2014-2015 Beltline inspection.

After the initial inspection, Barr employees used what’s called NASSCO (Nation Association of Sewer Service Companies) to put a severity grade on each defect, ranging from 1-5, with 5 being the most severe. These “grades” were averaged over a segment of tunnel which then gave us a better idea of areas that may need more attention. This resulted in roughly 10,000 linear feet of tunnel that RWMWD needs to repair.

Avoiding a waterfall in the tunnel.

After a bidding process, PCi Roads, LLC won the contract. PCi has two years to complete the project and were eager to get started on January 1st. They will continue to work all winter, as long as the cold weather allows. Next winter they will finish any remaining work. 

This type of work is best done in the winter months since everything is frozen and the risk of getting flooded out of the storm water tunnel is greatly reduced. 

PCi has currently prepped about 500 feet and are getting ready to begin filling cracks and complete surface repairs. 

To help you get an idea of what it's actually like to be making repairs in the tunnel, here are some pictures of work that's currently being done thirty feet underground.

PCi prepping the Beaver Lake Branch in January of 2017.

PCi employees working on the Beaver Lake Branch.

PCi cleaning and injecting material into cracks in the tunnel.

Before the spring rains kick us out, we hope to get at least a couple thousand feet completed. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Let's Keep it Clean - Reduce Your Salt Use

By Sage Passi
Master Water Steward Joe Knaeble takes on excess salt use in his neighborhood.
Photo credit:

We are working with Watershed Partners to “get this watershed message out about winter salt use. Follow this link to their feature story, The Iceman Cometh—Sidewalk Salt Pollutes Our Lakes and Streams, on their website about Joe Knaeble, a Master Water Steward, who has swept more than 270 pounds of excess deicing chemicals from his neighborhood over the past two winters.
“Our snow removal and salting practices need to be re-examined in order to strike a balance between public safety and protecting our groundwater,” says Knaeble, adding that, "protecting groundwater is also a public safety issue".

Knaeble, a Master Water Steward, decided to develop a flyer about putting sidewalks and driveways on a “low-salt diet” and hit the pavement of the commercial corridors in the Wedge neighborhood in Minneapolis. Ultimately, he spoke with 40-50 store employees, learning how they deal with snow and ice. You can follow what happened next in his story by going to the link above.


Watershed Partner’s Minnesota Water Let’s Keep It Clean Website

The Let’s Keep It Clean website, unveiled in December 2106, is a a great place to check out stories about local people who are taking action to protect their local lakes and streams.

Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, a member of Watershed Partners, is partnering with this consortium of educators from cities, watershed and watershed management organizations, agencies and other community partners to support this media outreach and call to action. Seventy public, private and non-profit organizations in the Minneapolis and Saint Paul metro area are working together to inspire people to protect water quality in their watershed.

Founded in 1996, the Metro Watershed Partners is a project of Hamline University in Saint Paul. RWMWD has been a member of Watershed Partners since its inception.

Every month a new story will be contributed by different Watershed Partners that will feature community actions that residents can take to address water quality issues. As time goes on you will find more resources and information on this new website.

What kind of stories can you anticipate?

The Watershed District’s parking lot provides a teaching opportunity
to learn about pervious and impervious surfaces. ESL students test
the pervious pavers that allow water to soak into the ground.

In early November, I connected with Maddy Wegner, Training and Innovation Director for Youthrive and a local writer. Maddy agreed to help us cover a story about a group of Harmony Learning Center’s Adult ESL students who helped plant our recently installed Clean Water Legacy funded rain garden at their school.

I worked with Randee Edmundson, teacher and Citizen Advisory Commission member, and Liddy Rich, their ESL teacher, to prepare students for a tour. We led them on a bus trip to visit BMP (Best Management Projects) in the Kolhman Creek subwatershed, including Casey Lake neighborhood rain gardens, Maplewood Mall and downstream at the Watershed District office. On this tour we followed the water to lakes downstream and learned about approaches to infiltrating stormwater runoff. Maddy Wegner interviewed the participants on their journey and Scott Andre, a freelance photographer, took photographs.

To read about the Watershed District’s work with Harmony ESL students follow this link on Watershed Partner's Let Keep it Clean website.
Harmony Adult ESL students tour the rain gardens at Maplewood Mall.
Back to the topic of reducing salt use…….
One heaping coffee mug is enough to clear a 20-foot driveway
or 10 sidewalk squares (250 square feet).

Photo credit:
This winter has been an especially challenging season with its freezing rains and widely fluctuating temperature changes. Many people are grappling with the issue of salt use. I can tell by the interest shown on one of recent posts on social media when we linked to Joe Knaeble’s story on the Watershed Partners' website. Our Watershed Facebook page received 778 hits when we linked to this stewardship story.

Lesson Learned: One person’s actions can “snowball" and have positive effects downstream!
“Be an influencer!” says Joe Knaeble. “We need to dive into this (salt) issue, from above and below. After all, The resource at stake is dear to all of us.”

It’s not easy making decisions about how to treat our roads, parking lots and sidewalks in the wintertime. The use of salt is a challenging issue because of safety, liability and environmental factors. But we can make wiser choices about how we address these challenges.

Here are some basic recommended approaches to winter maintenance that can minimize our impact on local waterways:

  • Remove snow early, when it’s still easy to shovel. Use a scraper to remove packed snow.
  • Shovel often; and, if you can’t shovel, hire someone who can.
  • Only use salt on ice, not snow.
  • Don’t use sodium chloride when it is colder than 15°F—it won’t work. Magnesium chloride and calcium chloride work at colder temperatures (-10° and -20° respectively)
  • One pound of salt (one heaping coffee mug) is enough to clear a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares (250 sq. ft.)
  • Sweep up and reuse left-over salt.
  • When it is too cold for salt, use grit or sand to create friction instead. You can sweep up and reuse these materials.

Salt left on the sidewalk means you've used too much.
Photo credit:

I recently drove to Northfield to offer some assistance to my 67-year-old sister who fell and broke her kneecap while walking to her car during an especially dangerous ice storm. While cruising along Interstate 35W South, I contemplated my options at my own house and thought about the challenges residents and winter maintenance staff at city and county levels schools, businesses and other entities face when having to consider how to address this issue. It’s not simple. With increasingly unpredictable changes in weather patterns it’s certainly getting trickier.

There are thousands of miles of streets and highways in Minnesota, along with parking lots and sidewalks that must be maintained to provide safe conditions throughout the winter. Winter maintenance of these surfaces currently relies heavily on the use of salt and solutions of salt, primarily sodium chloride, to prevent ice build-up and remove ice where it has formed

Winter maintenance staff supervisors throughout our Watershed District and others in the metro area have been taking a closer look at their salt use and looking for ways to reduce their consumption in order to lessen the detrimental effects on local lakes.

Connie Fortin assists maintenance staff from Ramsey County and
cities in our Watershed District in learning how to work with the

Winter Maintenance Assessment Tool (WMAt)

Watershed districts and watershed management organizations in the metro area and others have been working with the MPCA and Fortin Consulting to offer Smart Salt Level 2 trainings that introduce city and county staff to the Winter Maintenance Assessment tool (WMAt) to identify Best Management Practices to effectively manage salt use to protect our water resources in a responsible and strategic approach. The WMAt is a web-based tool that can be used to assist public and private winter maintenance organizations in determining where opportunities exist to improve practices that result in reductions in salt use and track progress. RWMWD is planning another training this spring so that others can reflect on their approaches this winter and plan for the future.

Woodbury students prepare for water quality monitoring
at Battle Creek Lake by practicing a dissolved oxygen test.

While preparing Woodbury Elementary School’s students for a winter field trip to Battle Creek Lake this winter with our water quality monitoring staff, I was asked a very pointed question by one of the kids, 

“How does salt hurt our lakes?”
A few years ago I prepared a “Live Slide Show” for students to present to each other that introduced the subject of salt's impact on lakes. Playing different roles like a biologist, Pollution Control Agency specialist, snowplow driver, homeowner and a highway department official gave them an opportunity to consider salt use from different vantage points. The lesson culminated in a survey they took to their parents to review their salt use at their own homes. 

Here are some facts incorporated in the “Live Slide Show”:

  • Continuous levels of chloride concentration (as low as 250 mg/L) which is the equivalent of one teaspoon per five gallons have been known to harm aquatic life.
  • There are numerous reports of increased terrestrial bird deaths due to road salt.
  • Road salt can be toxic to plants, hindering their ability to absorb water and nutrients and reducing shoot and root growth.
  • Chlorides sink to the bottom of a lake and may interfere with the lake’s seasonal turnover of its layers, reducing dissolved oxygen levels at the bottom.
  • The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Groundwater Report found that thirty percent of the wells in the Metro have chloride concentrations that exceed the state standard. Seventy-five percent of Minnesotans rely on groundwater for their drinking water. High amounts of salt in groundwater cause drinking water to taste salty. The cost to remove salt from drinking water using reverse osmosis would be expensive.
  • Chlorides have been shown to decrease the biodiversity in wetlands, altering the development of wood frogs, decreasing the number and types of fish available and increasing mortality rates of organisms that rely on an aquatic system.

On the boardwalk at Battle Creek Lake students will witness our water quality monitoring staff collecting water through a hole augured in the lake and demonstrating different water quality tests and methods they use to collect samples that are sent to a lab for further analysis, including conductivity, which is a measurement associated with chlorides. Students will have an opportunity to monitor some of the lake's perimeters themselves using probes, dissolved oxygen kits and a clarity tube. 
Their nearest lake, Battle Creek Lake, is one of thirty-seven lakes in the metro area that has been declared impaired for chlorides.
For a list of lakes impaired for chlorides in the Twin Cities area.
Here is a video that illustrates this monitoring process on 74 lakes in the seven county metro area that the MPCA is coordinating to get a better handle on the impacts of salt on our local water bodies.

What else can one individual do besides lowering their salt diet?

Think about how fast you drive? The amount of salt maintenance crews need to use is impacted by the speeds we drive on our freeways and roads.

I’ve been really slowing down while walking and driving. I'm trying to be more careful and taking fewer risks since my sister’s recent fall. My “not too long ago” memories of breaking my wrist when falling on ice a few years back have made me more cautious. I’d like to avoid a repeat performance or similar accident.

A few years ago, before my own fall, I resorted to putting salt on my sidewalk at the base of my front steps and across my upper sidewalk. Earlier in the fall, I had hired someone to depress a channel in the sidewalk to direct gutter run-off in this area into my yard and garden edge when I replaced some of my sidewalk. I had to replace the first section of concrete slab in my sidewalk at the base of my front steps that had settled. I was tired of the pool of water that turned to ice at this juncture, making walking across it hazardous. So first, I tried this “engineering approach". Despite this strategy, a thin, but slick, layer of ice still occasional formed there. So, I resorted to applying some salt to the icy patch.

“Wrong!” I declared to myself when my recently added native plantings of Canada Anemone and other wildflower, as well as some of my turf grass next to the sidewalk, died in the spring as a result of this addition of chlorides. Lesson learned...I never went back to using salt.

Grit provides a good option for alleviating slippery
sidewalks and steps. It can be swept up easily before
it goes into the storm drain and downstream.
So then what?

I invested in a bag of grit, which I have since been liberally spreading on any icy patches across my sidewalk and down my steps. It seems to be working. I know this will require sweeping up in the spring, but it is a lot less detrimental than using salt since the Mississippi River is only a couple blocks from my house. Plus it’s much less likely to get tracked into my house.

Early last winter while I was out of town, my friends, who were looking after my house while I was gone, bought a bag of sand and sprinkled it extensively all over my sidewalk after a big snowstorm. I swept up sand all over my house from the living to my bedroom and hallways all through the summer and had to keep that up all summer along my sidewalk. I can just imagine what ended up in the street too and headed to the river. 

Never again! 

I know that some people have large driveways and long sections of sidewalks that have to be maintained. I’m not sure if grit is cost effective in those scenarios. And, what about parking lots? What should maintenance staff at schools, churches and those taking care of other public property or business do when we get an ice storm or ice accumulation?  

Come to One of Our Level 2 Salt Trainings

During a recent Master Water Steward training session, a Master Water Steward posed the idea of designing her educational capstone to engage her neighbors in digging trenches and lowering the boulevards to capture the snow melt from their sidewalks.

At a recent Blue Thumb meeting I heard about Metro Bloom’s Blooming Boulevards project in the Harrison neighborhood in Minneapolis. In the summer of 2016, Metro Blooms and their  partners began installing native plants along boulevards around Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Harrison neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Sheltonn Johnson of Northside Economic Opportunity Network learns a
quick way to excavate boulevards in the Harrison Blooming Boulevards project.

Photo credit: Metro Blooms

Ash trees had already been removed from the boulevards, following the city’s plan to address emerald ash borer. By excavating the boulevards after the trees’ removal, the heavily compacted soil was loosened and swales were created where there used to be berms. This allowed water to collect in the boulevard, instead of running off and should benefit the trees that will be planted in the spring. This may also alleviate some ice conditions that arise on adjacent sidewalks.

For more information visit Metro Blooms Blooming Boulevards.

So what will YOUR first step be?

Take a look at your own salt diet and see what you can do to help our local water bodies and “keep it clean”. Then team up with others to find ways to work together to take further steps like Joe Knaeble, the “Ice Man”, did in his own neighborhood. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hello Pollinator Friends!

We hope you are all doing well, and enjoying these winter months! To get you started thinking about spring, we'd like to highlight some helpful pollinator resources and some pollinator-related events.


Since many of you are in the process of planning restoration projects for the coming season, you may be interested in this new Xerces document focused on
Wildflower Establishment using Organic Site Prep Methods. These guidelines benefited greatly from the field trials that were completed on many of our Midwest farms. We hope this document is useful and timely. 

The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation is an international nonprofit organization that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats.

Xerces has also recently released an updated report on the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on bees.
This link has the full report, as well as an executive summary and other resources.

Best Practices for Pollinators in the Real World: Summit for MN counties, municipalities, leaders
March 9, 8:00 AM - Noon

Dakota Lodge, 1200 Stasson Lane, West St. Paul

Governor Dayton’s 2016 Executive Order to restore pollinator health will affect local, county and state land management practices. This summit will provide resources and innovative ideas for leaders in developing best practices. Xerces Society’s Sarah Foltz Jordan will be presenting on the resource concerns of Minnesota pollinators, including a spotlight on two at-risk species, the rusty patched bumble bee and monarch. Other talks will focus on pesticide impacts, restoration strategies, integrated pest management, invasive weed control, ecological function of native plants, and more.
Click here for more details and to register. This workshop is filling up fast!

Minnesota Environmental Congress

February 3, 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Continuing Education and Conference Center
University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus - 890 Buford Avenue, St. Paul, 55108

This day-long event will include sessions on Minnesota’s toughest environmental issues—including pollinator health. Come make your voice heard!
Click here for more details and to register. There is a waiting list for this free event.

Wild Ones Annual Conference: Designing with Nature
February 18, 9:00 AM - 4:30 PM

Anderson Student Center - University of St. Thomas, St. Paul Campus

This day-long conference includes a keynote by Doug Tallamy, entomologist and author of Bringing Nature Home. Stop by the Xerces booth for new resources on native nectar plants for monarchs and other guidance.
Click here for more details and to register.

Minnesota Bee Symposium
February 25

Environmental Institute at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College, Cloquet, MN

This symposium is mostly focused on honey bee keeping; join Pamela Herou of Xerces to learn about the diversity of native bees in Minnesota, their role in pollination, and how to support them in our landscapes. Registration details coming soon.


The Buzz on Bees (and other Pollinators): A Panel of Local Experts
March 2, 6:00 - 7:30 PM 

Wedge Table, 2412 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis

Join Xerces’ Sarah Foltz Jordan and other local pollinator experts to hear more about issues affecting our local pollinators and ways you can get engaged to help them.  Click here for more details and to register.

Pine County Master Gardeners Horticulture Day
Saturday, March 25, 8:00 AM - 2:00 PM
Pine City High School

Xerces Society’s Pamela Herou will be leading a break-out session on our local native bees and their habitat needs. Click here for more details and to register.

Advance Registration Tickets $21 or $25 after March 21 or day of event