Brown’s Creek Watershed District Receives Two National Awards in 2020

A tiny, little fish with rainbow stripes swims at the bottom of the Brown’s Creek gorge, far below the parade of bicycles, runners and Segways that traverse the trail above. Though these rainbow darters are only 2-3 inches long, they are actually related to our beloved walleye. Their presence is a sign of a high quality stream because they do not tolerate most forms of water pollution or habitat alteration. That they exist, is a testament to more than two decades of stream protection and restoration efforts, led by the Brown’s Creek Watershed District (BCWD).

Rainbow darter. Image from Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

This fall, the Brown’s Creek Watershed District will receive, not just one, but TWO national awards for long-term work to protect Brown’s Creek, one of only a handful of designated trout streams in the Twin Cities metro area.

The first award, presented by the American Water Resources Association, recognizes BCWD for outstanding teamwork on complex water resources efforts. The annual Integrated Water Resources Management Award was created in 1964 and will be presented to Brown’s Creek Watershed District during the 2020 AWRA Virtual Annual Water Resources Conference in November.

Brown’s Creek, as it flows through Oak Glen Golf Course. The BCWD has worked with dozens of government partners and private landowners, such as the golf club, to improve water quality in Brown’s Creek.

The Water Environment Federation will also honor the BWCD this year with its Water Quality Improvement Award, which is presented to a program that best demonstrates “significant, lasting and measurable excellence in water quality improvement or in prevention of water quality degradation in a region, basin, or water body.”

Stillwater high school students sample invertebrates in Browns Creek. Populations of fish and insects are flourishing in the creek thanks to restoration efforts.

Brown’s Creek Watershed District is a special-purpose, local unit of government, established in 1997 to address flooding concerns and protect the health of area lakes and streams. The district encompasses 29.9 square miles of land in central Washington County, including portions of Grant, Hugo, Lake Elmo, May Twp, Oak Park Heights, Stillwater and Stillwater Twp. The organization is led by a five-member board of managers, who are appointed by the county commissioners, and contracts with Emmons & Olivier Resources, Inc. and Washington Conservation District for engineering, education, water monitoring, and other technical support. Karen Kill has served as administrator of Brown’s Creek Watershed District for more than 15 years.

Karen Kill has served as administrator of the Brown’s Creek Watershed District for more than 15 years. In this photo, she holds an adult trout found swimming happily in Brown’s Creek near the Oak Glen Golf Course. (Photo credit MN DNR)

Brown’s Creek was added to the federal list of impaired waters in 2002 after populations of trout and aquatic insects began to plummet. Since then, the watershed district has implemented dozens of projects to reduce runoff pollution, improve habitat along the stream corridor, and maintain the cool water temperatures needed by trout and the insects that they eat. Thanks to these efforts, recent surveys conducted by the Minnesota DNR have found adult and juvenile brown trout – evidence that the trout are once again surviving and naturally reproducing in the creek – as well as rainbow darters and other aquatic species that are indicative of good water quality.

Stream improvement efforts led by the watershed district include:

  • Ongoing analysis and management of groundwater resources that provide baseflow and regulate temperatures in Brown’s Creek; advanced hydrologic, hydraulic and thermal modeling to predict changes to the watershed as development occurs; and interagency coordination to collect robust, long-term data about the stream.
  • Dozens of physical projects with public and private land owners designed to reduce runoff pollution, including: underground cooling trenches, iron enhanced sand filters, stormwater reuse systems, low-flow release structures in upstream wetlands, streambank buffer plantings, and community raingardens.
  • Re-routing part of the stream back to its original location of 100 years ago
  • A robust education and outreach program that utilizes a shared educator to reduce costs, as well the local expertise of a Citizens Advisory Committee; and
  • An enhanced regulatory program that streamlines stormwater management rules to encompass state and local standards, as well as special controls to protect the unique cold-water habitat in Brown’s Creek.
Stream improvement projects have helped fish and other aquatic life in Brown’s Creek to make a come-back over the past 18 years.

To learn more about the Brown’s Creek Watershed District, visit www.BCWD.org.