New Outreach Collaborative Builds Lasting Partnerships in Anoka County

Investment in water education is vital for the continued health of the environment and people. By building strong new partnerships, the Water Resource Outreach Collaborative (WROC) in Anoka County is doing just that.

The purpose of this shared outreach and engagement partnership is to inform community residents, businesses, staff, and decision-makers about issues affecting local waterbodies and groundwater resources. Through enhancement of existing outreach programming and collaborative development of new programming, WROC engages people in activities and individual behavior changes that will positively impact the health of our surface and groundwater.

Through collaboration, WROC partners are able to maximize the effectiveness of their water outreach. Partners benefit from regular resource sharing, consistent messaging, and reduced duplication of effort. Outreach efficiency is maximized because partners are able to pool their resources to develop professional materials with minimal financial stress on any one organization. Many water health outreach topics are common between partners, so having a centralized group to facilitate delivery of those topics has proven vital. Finally, through increased communication between partners, there is greater cross-coordination and promotion of events, thus extending the reach of individual partner programs.

Since January 2019, Anoka County's Water Resource Outreach Collaborative has created new resources including a Conservation Resource Library and a brochure, display, and animated video on groundwater. In addition, the Collaborative has had a presence at 40 community outreach events throughout the county and facilitated or collaborated with partners to host 22 workshops, presentations, and trainings. Notable activities from the past year include presenting to over 630 5th graders in 7 schools in the county, hosting the best-attended private well and septic system training in with 58 attendees compared to 8-12 attendees in previous years, and hosting two smart salting trainings for 85 road maintenance staff from several previously untrained municipalities including Oak Grove, Columbus, Nowthen, Linwood Township, St. Francis, and Ramsey.

In the future, the Anoka County Water Resource Outreach Collaborative will continue partnering to reach new and diverse audiences with messages of water health and conservation. The WROC partnership is an investment in the future of water education in our area. Prioritizing public education is critical to empowering everyone to act as water stewards and create a healthier world for future generations.

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Cut back on Salt to Protect Minnesota’s Infrastructure, Water Quality, and Aquatic Wildlife

The Twin Cities Metro applies 350,000 tons of road salt every year, but have you ever wondered where it goes when winter ends?

Stormwater and snowmelt carry dissolved road salt into lakes, streams, and groundwater when winter thaws out. Chloride, a major part of road salt compounds, is especially stubborn in water. Once it dissolves, there is no feasible method to remove chloride from water, and stormwater treatment solutions like stormwater ponds and rain gardens are ineffective at removing chloride. Instead, chloride gradually accumulates in our water bodies, harming fish and other aquatic life. The corrosive nature of road salt also contributes between $350 million and $1.2 billion in infrastructure costs each year to the Metro area alone.

What can we do about it?

Here are some helpful tips you can use to make your driveways and sidewalks safer and better for the environment this winter:

Shovel!

Salt is never a substitute for shoveling. Shovel your snow and ice first so that salt is only used for melting ice stuck to the ground.

Salt!

Traditional salt (sodium chloride) does not melt ice when the temperature is below 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a low-temperature alternative such as magnesium chloride or calcium chloride to melt ice at lower temperatures or use sand to add traction. There is no such thing as an "environmentally friendly" salt, so it's best to stick to salt that will work in the given range of temperatures.

Scatter!

Did you know you only need a 12-oz. mug of salt to effectively de-ice a 20-foot driveway or 10 sidewalk squares? When applying salt, aim to leave 2" between grains.

Sweep!

Sweeping up leftover salt and reusing it later is a great way to save money and limit the amount of salt getting into nearby waterways.


 Do you hire a contractor to maintain a sidewalk, driveway, or parking lot? Check out the MPCA's list of Smart Salting certificate holders to find a contractor trained on best practices for winter maintenance: https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/p-tr1-01.xlsx

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Why You Should Mulch Mow Your Leaves this Fall

Mulch mowing is the practice of mowing over leaves or grass clippings so that they become fine enough to reach the topsoil below this grass. This is an environmentally-friendly, time-saving alternative to raking and bagging leaves and grass clippings.

Mulch mowing kits work by using special blades that cut clippings into finer pieces than traditional mower blades. By mulch mowing, you're helping to cut down on pollution and waste by keeping the nutrients stored in the leaves and clippings out of local waterways and landfills. In turn, the mulch you produce helps build organic matter in your soil. It's a win-win!

Check out ACD District Manager, Chris Lord, demonstrating mulch mowing with a riding and push mower.

Soil organic matter is one of the most important indicators of a healthy soil. The chemical and physical properties of organic matter (i.e. dead plant material) help soil retain nutrients and water while reducing weed seed germination.

Talk to your local hardware or gardening store about installing a mulch mowing kit on your lawn mower. Kit are available for both riding and push mowers.

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History and Management of the Rum River

Anoka Dam, October 1897

The Rum River is one of the largest rivers in Anoka County, second only to the mighty Mississippi. It starts at the outlet of Mille Lacs Lake and winds through the landscapes of Mille Lacs, Isanti, and Anoka Counties until it discharges to the Mississippi River in the City of Anoka—but many don't know about the progress this river has made to become one of Minnesota's most outstanding waterways.

To really appreciate the Rum River today, it's good to understand a bit of its history. For many decades, the Rum River served as a large scale aquatic conveyor for lumber. Large white pine, elm, oak, cherry, and maple all floated down the river from central Minnesota forests to build the homes and business of the growing Twin Cities Metro Area. It also conveyed our sewage, agricultural waste, sediment laden runoff, and industrial by-products downstream to the Mississippi River, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

A former Anoka County commissioner who grew up in the area once said that when he was a kid, no one would dare to even fish in the Rum River, much less swim in it. I'm happy to say, over the last 80 years, the fate of the Rum River has been wholly reversed. Today the Rum River is:

Martin's Landing on the Rum River
  • One of 6 Wild and Scenic Rivers and 35 State Water Trails in Minnesota
  • Designated as an Outstanding Resource Value Water
  • An excellent fishery and waterfowl corridor with abundant smallmouth bass and wood duck
  • Key reach for Species in Greatest Conservation Need

This isn't to say that our Rum River is in the clear. In the last 30 years, the population in the area draining to the Rum River has increased by 47%. With that many people came more roads, parking lots, and roof tops that added 74% more stormwater runoff. The increased water volume and speed that came with this extra stormwater caused the river to slice deeper into the landscape and rip apart the riverbanks. When riverbanks collapse into the river, the resulting sediment smothers the fish, amphibians, and reptiles that now call the river home. The Rum River is also increasingly threatened by road salt and nutrient pollution coming from this stormwater.

A Cedar Tree Revetment installed to stabilize a bank on the Rum River.

ACD takes a holistic approach to managing these new challenges to the quality of the Rum River. We are heavily involved with monitoring the chemistry and biological quality of the River; we assist the local Watershed Management Organizations with analysis and planning; and we implement projects with willing landowners to improve water quality and habitat in the river. ACD is also involved with guiding land conservation projects near the Rum River needed to protect habitat and water quality, and we are working diligently with other local organizations to ensure future funding for projects protecting the Rum River.

Over the coming months, we will be posting short blogs to highlight individual projects and programs that ACD has directed for the benefit of the Rum River. Check in soon at www.anokaswcd.org/blog to learn more!

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What we wish we knew: lessons for rain garden implementation

Over the last decade the Anoka Conservation District (ACD) has been involved in the design and construction of over 100 rain gardens in Anoka County. While the overwhelming majority fall closer to the 'ideal' end of the spectrum, we've been party to a few on the 'nasty' end as well. Properly functioning rain gardens often go unnoticed because they blend in with other landscape amenities. In contrast, the small fraction of 'nasty' rain gardens get the public's attention with nasty smells and mosquito problems. Rest assured, we've learned from our mistakes, refined our process, corrected the problematic rain gardens, and can confidently say we're now able to avoid the 'nasties'.

The lessons learned over the years have improved every aspect of rain garden location, design, installation, maintenance, and follow-up. These are our suggestions for other organizations designing and installing rain gardens.

Failed rain garden that doesn't drain between rain events

Design

  • For a standard rain garden, the water table should be at least five feet below the bottom of the garden. This will require an eight-foot-deep soil boring during the design process because the bottom of the garden is often two to three feet below the original ground elevation. Rain gardens with shallower water tables are feasible, but require an underdrain to function properly.
  • Soils should have high infiltration rates, generally one to three inches per hour. Rain gardens can be built in soils with lower infiltration rates, but may require an underdrain or a ponding depth shallower than 12".
  • If an underdrain is needed, install a control mechanism that allows variable draw down rates and levels. This provides a mechanism to capitalize on natural infiltration that may increase as the deep root structure of the native plant community matures and creates pathways for infiltration.
  • Water must be able to get into the garden consistently, predictably, and without causing erosion. The curb-cut should be sized to safely pass sufficient water volumes.
  • Utilizing a retaining wall along the back of the garden can improve the aesthetic appeal and allow the garden to store more water. Rain garden side slopes should be no steeper than 3:1. Therefore, for every foot of wall height, three feet of rain garden bottom is gained. In many cases this simple addition more than doubles the size of the garden.
  • Consider using a pretreatment chamber. A pretreatment chamber functions like a filter, capturing floatables like leaves, trash, seeds, and sediment to ensure rain gardens are able to properly receive water and dry between storms
Rain garden mid-construction, with a retaining wall and intact curb
Location
  • Rain gardens should be sited where they will capture runoff from a sizeable contributing drainage area that would otherwise make it into a priority water resource.
  • They should treat stormwater that isn't already routed to a stormwater pond or other installation for stormwater management.
  • They should be strategically located on properties where they will quickly fill during storms and quickly drain between storms.
  • They need to be located where they won't interfere with utility lines. Utility companies have minimum cover requirements over lines that may not be met following rain garden excavation. While some utilities like cable lines can be moved or lowered for a relatively low expense, others like gas and electrical lines can be cost-prohibitive to relocate when they conflict with the proposed rain garden location.
  • If a rain garden is installed in an area where the road routinely floods over the curbs, water will flow into the rain garden over the sides and cause erosion. It will also result in deeper water than intended, which will take longer to drain out.
  • If a rain garden receives water from a large neighborhood with non-natural runoff sources like irrigation systems or sump pump discharge, the rain garden may never have the chance to drain completely.
Rain garden pretreatment chamber

Installation

  • Curb-cut rain gardens are one of the few conservation practices where landowners volunteer to use their property to treat runoff from other properties. The landowner volunteering contributes relatively little to the problem and benefits relatively little from the solution. They also commonly assume maintenance responsibility for 10 years. For these reasons, local government should consider covering 100% of the construction costs.
  • Avoid equipment traffic within the garden.
  • Check soil infiltration rates. If they are under the design specification, loosen soil throughout the
  • garden with a four-foot auger.
  • Plant gardens in the spring and early summer, not in the fall.
  • Lay no more than three inches of mulch.
  • If possible, consider leaving the curb intact until the plants are established and then complete the curb-cut. Minimally, when installing a curb-cut rain garden as a retrofit, leave the curb intact until the basin is completed. This ensures the basin is stable and ready to receive runoff as soon as the curb-cut and apron are installed.
  • Install informative temporary signage during construction and permanent signage upon project completion that explains the value and function of the rain garden.
Ideal rain garden

Maintenance

This is a list of suggestions that can be provided to a homeowner after installation:

  • Get your neighborhood involved! If your neighborhood has several rain gardens, try to schedule a periodic neighborhood cleanup day.
  • Mulch will break down and should be refreshed every couple years.
  • Stay on top of weeding. Err on the side of pulling too much.
  • Homeowners should not be afraid to experiment with the plants in their rain garden. Try using native plants to encourage pollinator presence!
  • Pretreatment chambers should be cleaned out after each rain event. This should take no more than a few minutes.
  • Remove excess leaves in the fall. Having a few leaves is great for catching sediment and creating critter habitat, but too many leaves will create mats and slow down water infiltration.
  • Regularly remove sediment that makes it past the pretreatment chamber.
Community rain garden cleanup in Anoka county

Follow-Up

  • The sponsoring local government should connect annually with homeowners to remind them of maintenance needs, expectations, and flexibility.
  • Make sure homeowners know who to call if they experience problems.
  • Consider providing a maintenance program to help with plant replenishment or other incentive to keep gardens well maintained.
  • After the 10-year life of the garden, consider a refresh. Hire professionals to remove all plants, mulch, and accumulated sediment and debris, and power wash the retaining wall and pretreatment chamber. Then, add new mulch and replant, salvaging mature plants whenever possible. This relatively inexpensive investment can buy another 10 years of function.

When done right, rain gardens are an effective and beautiful method for combating pollution in lakes and streams, replenishing groundwater, and creating pollinator habitat. However, not every property or every homeowner is ideally suited to have a rain garden. While professionals at ACD can assess whether or not a property is a viable candidate, only the homeowner can decide if they are up to the task of maintaining a rain garden.

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