Master Water Stewards lend a helping hand to local lakes and streams

Everyone has pet peeves. It drives me crazy when people throw bottles and cans away in the garbage – especially when the recycling container is literally right there. I also hate finding dirty socks on my kitchen counter. Or when I have to perform evasive maneuvers to avoid getting trampled by people looking at their phones while walking.

For Stephanie Wang, it was a raingarden at a popular city park in Woodbury that should have made her happy, but instead drove her to frustration. “Each time I visited the park, I unnecessarily pointed out to my better-half how sediment build-up and overgrown plantings blocked the garden inlet.  Instead of draining, water pooled across the lot taking several parking spots out of service,” said Wang. In the past, she would have complained but done nothing. This summer, however, Wang felt empowered to contact her local watershed district and the city to plan a volunteer raingarden clean-up event. In just two hours, she and the volunteers were able to clear-out sweet clover, ragweed, silt and roots from the perimeter of the raingarden and resolve the drainage issue.

raingarden clean up woodbury
Master Water Steward Stephanie Wang recruited her friends to help weed a raingarden at a park in Woodbury this summer.

Stephanie Wang is one of a growing number of citizens around the Twin Cities area who have gotten trained and certified as volunteer Master Water Stewards. The program was created by the nonprofit Freshwater, as a way to engage citizens in helping to protect our Minnesota water. Participants receive 50 hours of training on-line and in-person, in addition to completing a capstone project to become certified. Afterwards, they volunteer 25-50 hours per year in their communities to support local watershed work. Since 2013, 342 people have become certified as Master Water Stewards in Minnesota.

Wang has been a Master Water Steward for the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District since 2016. Early on, she and fellow steward Anna Barker helped to install a residential raingarden at a home on Battle Creek Lake and developed educational programming for young children in conjunction with the Woodbury Puppet Wagon. This year, the pair organized a raingarden clean-up event at an area church, developed a STEM program about water for the R.H. Stafford Library, and provided volunteer support for numerous community events.

Trinity raingarden cleanup
Stephanie (lower right) and Anna Barker (second from left in pink) organized a volunteer event to maintain raingardens at Trinity Presbyterian.

In 2017, Washington Conservation District (WCD) received a Clean Water Fund grant from the MN Board of Water and Soil Resources to recruit and train 20 stewards in Washington County. The grant enabled the WCD to develop new curriculum focused on rural water issues and provided matching funds for stewards to install clean water projects in their communities.

Over the past two years, Washington County’s Master Water Stewards have worked to educate the public and engage their neighbors in a variety of projects. They have organized raingarden clean-up events, joined Citizen Advisory Committees, stenciled storm drains, pulled buckthorn, and planted trees. Like Wang, the stewards are looking toward pet peeves in their communities and developing solutions instead of complaints.

This November, Water Stewards in the St. Croix Valley gathered to share ideas and gain inspiration from one another.

As the snow began to fall this winter, Stephanie Wang reflected on a productive year of water work. “I am grateful to be a part of this incredible community,” she wrote. “Isn’t it wonderful that a network of individuals would willingly contribute their expertise, energy, and encouragement to maintain a rain garden that a majority of us did not even know about prior to this year?”

Stephanie Wang teaches local students
Stephanie Wang teaches local students during a field trip to the Tamarack Nature Preserve.

To learn more about the Master Water Stewards program, visit Freshwater is currently recruiting stewards to participate in a special water conservation focused program, beginning in fall of 2020.