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.

The LEAP Nomination Deadline is Fast Approaching!

You’ve driven by it...a yard that stands out! For good reasons! A yard that says, “We care about what happens downstream”.

It could be a yard that provides superb habitat for those butterflies, bees and critters that need nesting areas, food and forage.

Or perhaps it’s a property, maybe at a school, church or business that uses good ecological practices to manage stormwater.

Or maybe it’s your neighbor who you’d like to nominate.

We love to recognize the good efforts of citizens in our Watershed.

Time is short! Send us your recommendations for our 2017 Landscape Ecology Award Program NOW. Nominations are due July 15.

Please send us your recommended site(s) by emailing the addresses to Deb Barnes at If you have a contact name, email address or phone number for the property, please include that information.

The Landscape Ecology Awards Program recognizes landowners in the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District, including private residences as well as public and commercial properties that use good management practices to preserve and improve water quality and natural resources.

The District's volunteer LEAP Team manages this program and conducts all judging.

One of several yards in White Bear Lake that won a 2016 LEAP Award.

Connie Taillon accepts the award for the City of White Bear Lake
from LEAP members Dana Larson-Ramsay and Mark Gernes.

Landscape Ecology Awards are given annually at our Recognition Dinner in November. 

Visit the LEAP page on the District's website to see past recipients of the program.

Join us for the Tamarack Nature Preserve Tour

Explore a little known natural area unique to Woodbury and to the Twin Cities metro. 

The City of Woodbury and the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District invite you to join them for a free, guided walking tour of Tamarack Nature Preserve on Wednesday, July 19th from 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Tamarack Nature Preserve has more than 150 acres providing home to plants and trees that are normally found only in northern Minnesota. Learn about the park’s history, geology, unique blend of ecosystems and diversity of plants.

Meet at the Tamarack Nature Preserve parking lot (1825 Tower Drive) at 6:30 pm. Then join the group on a guided walking tour on the boardwalk as plant ecologists answer questions and point out the diversity of unique bog flowers and trees.
Play Tamarack Swamp BINGO and win prizes!

Two tours will be leaving the parking lot 6:40 pm: one tour will be about 30-45 minutes and the other will return to the parking lot by 8:30 pm.

Pre-registration required. Call Deb at 651-792-7959 or email by 4:30 p.m. on July 12. This event is free of charge. Participants of all ages are welcome.
For updates and weather info, visit Tamarack Nature Preserve Tour on Facebook.

A Watershed Educator's Shipboard Experience, Part 2 - The Ship

By Tracy Leavenworth
Last July I had the opportunity to travel aboard the EPA’s Lake Guardian with fourteen other educators as we teamed up with research scientists and the ship’s crew to collect data and study various aspects of the ecology of Lake Superior. Part One of my experience (Ripple Effect, August, 2016) focused on the research conducted on our journey (water quality parameters, zooplankton in the water column and diporeia in the sediment) and how we gathered data.

The Lake Guardian
In Part Two I will focus on the ship itself and the experience of being aboard the ship (research facilities, living quarters, food, crew, pilot house, amenities, etc.). Come along for the tour!

The Lake Guardian is 180 feet long (the length of four school buses placed end-to-end) and sleeps 42 people in its hotel deck. Constructed in 1981 to serve as a supply vessel for offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, the ship was purchased in 1990 by the EPA and converted into a research vessel.

Jacob Petersen, a teacher from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and
a crew member watch as preparations are made to leave port.

The ship’s homeport is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When it returns to Milwaukee to refuel, the process can take an entire day as it can hold up to 79,000 gallons of fuel - that’s six-tanker trucks worth of fuel! The Lake Guardian has two engines, each with 1200 horsepower, and has a cruising speed of 10.8 knots. That is equivalent to 12.4 miles per hour on land.

Layout of the main deck. Notice the labs!

The Lake Guardian is the EPA’s largest research and monitoring vessel, sailing between late March and early October among all five Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie and Ontario) and their connecting channels. Researchers from government agencies and universities use the ship’s facilities to collect and analyze samples of water, aquatic life, sediments and air. The US EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) manages the ship’s operations from their Chicago-based office.

The Lake Guardian in port, from the stern.


Crew member Max, a research technician, works
the controls of the large crane on the aft deck.

The Lake Guardian has a permanent crew of up to fifteen people (the number of additional passengers varies by cruise, depending on how many EPA and visiting scientists are involved with a particular project). The crew and scientists work round-the-clock, adhering to a six-hours-on, twelve-hours-off schedule.


The Bridge

The Bridge is the top deck on the ship where the rescue boats, pilot house and rosette-operating booth are located. The Bridge also provides parking space for crew members' bikes which are useful for getting out and exploring port cities during land side off-duty hours.

Life saving equipment on the Bridge


The Bridge is the best place to be when arriving or leaving port.
Here we are preparing to leave Duluth.

Pilot House

Looking through the door leading to
the Pilot House from the Main Deck

The Pilot House is where the captain and mates operate the ship’s navigational equipment.

Captain John Mallard at the controls in the Pilot House

A chart in the Pilot House


Aft Deck

Looking down from the Main Deck to the
Aft Deck during a sampling stop

The Aft Deck is the platform at the back of the ship from which various scientific tools are deployed. Life vests, hard hats and steel toed boots must be worn by anyone on the Aft Deck.
There are several winches, including a large hydraulic "A-frame" winch, located at the stern. This winch has a maximum capacity of 30,000 pounds. This is the equipment from which the benthic sled, multi-corer, bow corer, etc. are deployed.

Collecting zooplankton samples at night from the Aft Deck

A smaller winch is used to deploy the PONAR and the zooplankton nets from the starboard side of the aft deck. If the captain needs to use the engine during a sampling session, he is careful to only employ the engine on the opposite side of the ship from where the sampling is taking place to reduce effects on the samples collected.

Rosette Operating Deck

Looking down on the Rosette Operating Deck from the Bridge

Looking toward the Rosette Operating Deck from above the Aft
Deck.  The Rosette Operating Booth can be seen above the deck.

The Rosette Operating Deck is the working deck where the Rosette is stored and from which it is deployed.

Several people are required to guide this expensive
water quality monitoring equipment as the winch
and crane lift it off of and back onto the deck.

Rosette Operating Booth

The Rosette Operating Booth is a tiny room on the bridge
from which a crew member operates the Rosette.

Working with the crew mate in charge of the winch holding the
Rosette, the Rosette Operator sees on the monitors when the Rosette
reaches depths where samples are desired. The Rosette Operator
can remotely close any number of the twelve sampling containers
that form the outer circle of the Rosette.

Depths of interest for collections tend to be the surface waters (the epilimnion), the frigid depths (the hypolimnion) and the transition between the two called the thermocline (as well as where the transitions occur between these three layers). The thermocline shifts within each lake at various times during the year. These shifts are of particular interest to scientists.

Biology Lab

The Biology Lab is generally used to study phytoplankton, zooplankton and benthos (bottom dwelling organisms). The bio lab contains a fume hood, canopy hood, deionized water system, vacuum, refrigerator, freezer, phone, eyewash, incubator and a high efficiency particulate air filter.

Educators and scientists process samples and record zooplankton data in the Bio Lab.

Chemistry Lab

The Chemistry Lab is where the diporeia research took place on our cruise. However, it is most often used for contaminant extractions from various media. The Chem Lab contains two fume hoods, a canopy hood, deionized water system, vacuum, refrigerator, incubator, phone, eyewash and three high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters.

The Chemistry Lab

Wet Lab

The Wet Lab contains an array of safety and laboratory equipment including life preservers, hard hats, steel toe boots and rain pants, as well as computers, work benches, a fume hood and a sink and eye wash. 
As educators, we spent much of our time in the Wet Lab working on reports, participating in lessons and listening to presentations by professors from local universities who came aboard the ship while we were in port.

Educators working on the Shrinking Cup activity in the Wet Lab

This area of the Wet Lab, also known as Dr. Glenn Warren’s
hang out, is where samples collected from the Rosette are
analyzed for various water quality parameters.

Hotel Deck

Shhhh! Quiet rules here. There are often people sleeping in their
dormitories at every time of day.
The ship’s passengers are divided among the sixteen cabins on board that come furnished with a bunk bed, desk, locker space and access to either a private or shared bathroom. Round-the-clock work schedules make it important to keep noise to a minimum at all times while on the hotel deck to respect individuals who may be sleeping when off-duty.

I shared a cabin with two other women, and our cabin connected to another three-person cabin through a shared bathroom in between. Bunks were surprisingly comfortable and the purring of the engine provided great white noise for lulling us to sleep, although not everyone appreciated this.


A full-time galley staff prepares meals each day. There are many delicious and healthy choices offered at every meal.

Everyone's favorite place on the ship! Officers, crew and scientific
personnel all eat together at set meal times.

Workout Room

Looking down the steps to the Workout Room

The Workout Room is accessible from the main deck, a place to unwind and get some exercise! Some crew members use their musical equipment here too.


A place for crew and scientists to relax when off-duty, furnished with a table and chairs, couches, a stereo, satellite TV and DVD player. Don’t tell anyone, but there are also lots of treats and chocolates in the cupboards.


Everyone must be working!


Spending a week aboard the Lake Guardian was an unforgettable experience. We pulled sediment from over 300 meters down in one of the deepest sites in Lake Superior, we hypothesized how much our Styrofoam cups would shrink when submerged at depth with the Rosette, we survived a storm, our eyes got a workout counting zooplankton and most of the time we remembered to be quiet on the hotel deck.

The computer in the Wet Lab tracking the Guardian's course
shows the ship in the vicinity of the Apostle Islands.

We were treated to a beautiful sunset over Madeline Island.

The research was fascinating, the food was delicious, the crew, scientists and educators were wonderful and Lake Superior was beautiful. Kudos to the Center for Great Lake Literacy and their partners for creating such an outstanding program!


Captain John is a seasoned and capable pilot, as well as a very likable and amiable guy.

THANK YOU, Captain John!