Sometimes you’ve got to take the bull by the horns, stop wishing someone will fix a problem and start fixing it yourself. Neighbors living on Diamond Lake in Minneapolis were mad about polluted stormwater running off into their lake and so they teamed up with the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District and Hedberg Landscaping to apply for and receive a grant to install dozens of raingardens, porous pavement driveways and rain cisterns to treat the runoff. They’re using grant dollars to help defray costs, but they’re doing the legwork to engage their neighbors and get them signed on to the project. In a television interview, one woman wondered why no one gave her money a few years ago when she lost two trees to Dutch elm disease. Simply put, she probably didn’t ask for the funding, or invest the time and effort to get her neighbors organized around the issue. If you want something done, you have to do, not whine.
So what’s happening in your neck of the woods? Are you frustrated that your local lake is covered in green slime for half the summer? Stop grumbling and don’t waste your time sending an irate letter to the city or your local parks commission. Believe me, I’m sure they already know. Instead, take a look at your own property and think about what changes you could make to reduce the amount of nutrients, sediment and yard waste that run off to the storm sewer and the lake when it rains. Start sweeping grass and leaves out of the street in front of your house, replace unused turf areas with native plants, shrubs or trees, or build a raingarden to collect runoff from your rooftop or driveway. When you’re done, knock on your neighbor’s door and offer to help them build a raingarden too.
Are you wondering why there don’t seem to be as many birds, bees or butterflies as there used to be? There’s no use griping about the new development up the street that cleared out several acres of woods. It’s already built and no amount of wistful thinking will flatten the homes and replace them with trees. Instead, think about ways to make your own land better for birds. Installing a bird feeder will attract seed eating birds, but a better long-term approach is to plant native plants, shrubs and trees that produce seeds and berries as well as supporting the caterpillars and insects that many birds eat. While you’re re-landscaping your yard, talk to neighbors and elected officials in your community about passing ordinances that support low-impact and conservation development for future neighborhoods built.
You are probably complaining about buckthorn too. Guess what? So is everyone else and the buckthorn fairy is already busy pulling and cutting in someone else’s yard. If you want to clear out the buckthorn in your woods, then pull out your hacksaw and a bottle of Garlon or hire one of many local contractors to do the work for you.
When the St. Croix River, a National Wild and Scenic River, was declared impaired in 2008 for having too much phosphorus, resulting in green and brown algal blooms in the summer, a lot of people started pointing fingers wondering who was to blame. The truth is that we all are part of the problem. When it comes to a river like the St. Croix that collects runoff from an 8000 square mile watershed covering two states and 18 counties, non-point source pollution is the problem. The term “non-point” may conjure up the notion that no one is at fault for the pollution, but in reality it means that the problem is everyone’s fault. We’ve got runoff from farm fields, runoff from residential neighborhoods, runoff from construction sites and runoff from commercial areas. We all live in a residence somewhere that was constructed by someone, eat food grown on some farm and buy products at some commercial outlet. It’s high time for us to do something to save the river, not wring our hands as it goes down.
There is a vast array of resources available to the many, the proud and the able who are ready to do something for their land and water resources. WaterShed Partners has a clearinghouse of information about preventing water pollution at http://www.cleanwatermn.org/, including tools for businesses to reduce runoff from their properties and tips for homeowners too. At http://www.bluethumb.org/, find native plant lists, instructions for creating a raingarden or shoreline planting, local retailers and installers, and many times grants. Virtually every watershed district in the east metro area offers cost-share grants to people for projects that reduce water pollution at a home or business, while the conservation districts offer programs for farmers and producers. Visit www.mnwcd.org/cleanwater or http://www.mnwcd.org/ to learn more about these programs. In the end, you might find that there are no grants available and no technician to help you, but that you still really want to plant a native prairie or build a raingarden in your yard. Guess what? Nothing is stopping you. If you want to make it happen, then do.