As the Water Drop Rolls

This portion of As the Water Drop Rolls has been brought to you today by the East Metro Water Resource Education Program, a partnership of 17 local units of government working to keep your water clean.

We begin on a cold winter’s day in early 2010. Moody Lake, in southern Chisago County, is living up to its name and nearby in northern Washington County, Bone Lake too has a case of the not-so-blues. “Help us!” they cry, as gangs of rough fish and a glut of phosphorous smother the lakes with smelly, green algae. “Never fear!” responds the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake Watershed District as it handily removes 23,000 lbs of carp from Bone Lake and 3,600 small bullhead from Moody Lake. “Next year we will use our time and money to help the people living around you to plant their shorelines with attractive gardens and restore habitat for birds and wildlife.”

Further down the road, the Rice Creek Watershed District is waging a furious battle to save Hardwood Creek from certain doom. Low dissolved oxygen is suffocating the creek and loads of sediment washing into the water threaten Hardwood with a dirt nap. “Moo,” utters a nearby cow that Rice Creek Watershed and the Washington Conservation District hope to soon provide with a stable stream crossing and a fresh source of water. As the water drop rolls, it will soon travel a meandering pathway down Hardwood Creek, with less mud and more fish along the way.

For a breath of fresh air, we turn to Square Lake, the reigning queen of the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed. Long envied for her crystal clear water, the lake uses her beauty and charm to convince Washington County Parks and the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed District to build raingardens, porous pavement, a rock swale and native plantings to block a pesky suitor known locally as Polluted Runoff. Not known for modesty, Square Lake flaunts her achievement with a giant blue sign.

Meanwhile, the cool kids at Stillwater Country Club enjoy renovated landscaping while looking down over a healthier Brown’s Creek. The local brown trout, though still somewhat bitter about being excluded from last year’s golf championship, toast bubbly to the country club and the Brown’s Creek Watershed District for installing several bioretention areas that will keep 48 tons of sediment a year out of the creek. “If they keep it up,” burbles one fish, “We might start calling this place Blue Creek.”

Nearby in Valley Creek, the brook, brown, rainbow, and tiger trout are spawning like crazy in 4700 feet of restored stream. Having successfully wooed the Valley Branch Watershed District and local property owners two years ago, the fish are now breathing easy with 24 tons less of sediment in the water. During their annual landscaping tour, the trout marvel at the small boulder weirs that guide the flow of water toward the center of the creek, root wads that stabilize outer bends in the creek and create scour holes for the trout, and newly planted habitat buffers along the streams banks.

Volunteers in Lake St. Croix Beach form a rescue to team to save the St. Croix River - pictured in front of their newly built raingarden

Events really start to heat up when summer rolls around. The beaches on the St. Croix River are jumping and people out on the water are wearing next to nothing. That is, until one woman dives into the river and emerges covered in green. “Help!” she shouts to passers by, “This algae is out of control!” “Save me too!” calls the St. Croix River, “All of this excess phosphorus is making me sick.” The Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization quickly mobilizes to secure $45,000 in funding to help Lakeland and Lake St. Croix Beach stabilize 900 feet of eroding shoreline to keep 7.5 tons of sediment out of the river each year. “But,” the Middle St. Croix WMO says, “We’ll need help from our neighbors to save the St. Croix.”

On the other end of town, Kohlman Lake is being held hostage by the deadly twosome phosphorus and sediment. While shoppers at the Maplewood Mall take a break inside from the heat, mall owners and the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District launch a surprise attack to eliminate 90% of the sediment and 60% of the phosphorus runoff from the mall’s rooftop and parking lots before it can reach Kohlman Lake. After building several parking lot raingardens, Ramsey-Washington Metro WD and the mall take a break for the winter and vow to continue the fight next year.

As the year comes to an end, the east metro area is tormented by an unrelenting blizzard. Local streams and groundwater aquifers fear for their safety as hundreds of trucks take to the streets with tons of rock salt on board. Having attended workshops offered by the East Metro Water partners, however, many of the drivers know how to fight the snow and ice without using too much salt. With help from the South Washington Watershed District, Cottage Grove retrofits it trucks with GPS and pavement temperature sensors to reduce salt use by 15-20%. Still worried, the lakes, streams and aquifers beg people to remember that salt doesn’t work when it is colder than 15ºF.

Will the water drop ever find its true love? Will the East Metro partners succeed in their attempts to save the St. Croix River? Stay tuned to find out. This is Angie Hong, inviting you to join us again in 2011 for As the Water Drop Rolls.