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 18 local units of government working to keep your water clean. When we last checked in, local watershed management organizations were waging furious battle against a multitude of villains – excess phosphorus, aquatic invasive species, and even…poop. How has our cast of characters fared in 2014?

Northern county residents preparing to battle aquatic invaders.

The year began with much cursing and shivering as the people of Minnesota suffered in the icy grip of winter. By early March, the rage began to boil over. More than 50 hardy locals gathered at the Scandia Community Center with the Comfort Lake – Forest Lake and Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed Districts and laid plans to thwart aquatic invasive species, intent on harming their lakes. Using top secret intelligence gathered by Steve McComas, the Lake Detective, they learned how to identify the invading plants and animals and keep them at bay. Meanwhile, the watershed districts allocated funds to patrol boat launches in the area.

By May, the ice had finally (almost) receded from area lakes and the Rice Creek Watershed District launched a surprise attack against phosphorus in Bald Eagle Lake. The District threw aluminum sulfate (alum) into the water, which quickly bound to unsuspecting phosphorus. Starved of its ally in crime, the lake’s algae began to recede, crying, “Feed me! I’ll die without nutrients!”

One of many sneaky raingardens, disguised as ornamental landscaping.

Elsewhere across the east metro, homeowners wielding shovels and pitchforks laid traps, disguised as ornamental landscaping, to keep nutrients and other pollutants out of local waterways. In Oakdale, Woodbury, Stillwater and Bayport, people gathered at top-secret meetings to learn how to build these “raingarden” traps. Rumors began to spread throughout the summer, however, and soon people were sharing their raingarden design plans with family, friends and neighbors. In July, more than 800 people visited raingardens at the Tangen and Johnson homes as part of the 22nd Annual St. Croix Valley Garden Tour. In August, neighbors gathered around gardens at the Juran and Grabowski homes in Lake Elmo. By September, people living near Lily Lake in Stillwater had called a meeting with representatives from the Middle St. Croix Watershed Management Organization to learn how they could install dozens of their own raingardens and shoreline plantings. In retaliation, excess phosphorus from urban and agricultural runoff teamed up with algae to turn the St. Croix River green.

While area homeowners were waging guerilla warfare against polluted runoff, local government partners began systematically installing raingardens in locales that phosphorus and runoff were known to frequent. Stillwater added bump-outs with raingardens to area streets to slow traffic and capture pollution before it could sneak into the St. Croix River. Over in North St. Paul, the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District built raingardens in more than a dozen yards around Casey Lake where stormwater would be most likely to travel. In a particularly aggressive move, the Brown’s Creek Watershed District installed an underground water quality unit along the new Brown’s Creek Trail, capable of trapping 80% of the sediment and 37% of the total phosphorus from rain runoff before it enters Brown’s Creek.

Central Draw Storage Facility in flood conditions

Phosphorus hasn’t been the only criminal active in the area, however. In response to previous attacks by a greedy thug known as flooding, the South Washington Watershed District built a regional infiltration basin called the Central Draw Storage Facility that is capable of soaking up 1500 acre feet of water that might otherwise flood homes and businesses. This year, the District completed the first phase of a long-term project to eventually connect the Central Draw Storage Facility to the Mississippi River in southern Cottage Grove. Could the end be near for flooding in Woodbury and Cottage Grove?

Closer to the St. Croix River, Valley Branch Watershed District discovered that poop – yes poop – has been secretly sneaking into Kelle’s Creek from failing septic systems in the area. Poop’s partner in crime, e. coli, has been hiding in the stream as well. Could this be retaliation for the District’s clean water projects along Valley Creek?

Will residents of northern Washington County keep aquatic invaders out of their lakes? Can algae survive with so many raingardens in the east metro? How will Valley Branch Watershed District fight back against the poop? Stay tuned to find out. This is Angie Hong, inviting you to join us again in 2015 for As the Water Drop Rolls.