Monitoring Drought Strategically

The majority of the state is currently experiencing drought conditions, including Anoka County. The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) is a map that is updated each Thursday to show the location and intensity of drought across the country. Drought categories show experts' assessments of conditions related to dryness and drought, including observations of how much water is available in streams, lakes, and soils compared to usual for the same time of year.

Each week, drought experts consider how recent precipitation totals across the country compare to their long-term averages. They check variables including temperatures, soil moisture, water levels in streams and lakes, snow cover, and meltwater runoff. Experts also check whether areas are showing drought impacts such as water shortages and business interruptions. To learn more about current drought conditions in Anoka County and other areas of the country visit https://www.drought.gov/states/minnesota/county/anoka

Anoka County
USDM’s five-category system
Current drought statistics for Anoka County
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The Mount Simon-Hinckley Aquifer

The Mount Simon-Hinckley aquifer is one of the deepest and oldest aquifers in the state. It runs from Hinckley, MN to a large swath of south central Minnesota. The aquifer reaches depths of over 1,000 feet in some areas, containing water that is 30,000 years old. Industrial pumping of the aquifer has been banned in the seven county metro area for more than 30 years, and household use is only allowed when there is no other reasonable water alternative. Even with current restrictions, demand on the aquifer is likely to increase in the future due to projected climate conditions.

Many people think of aquifers as large underground lakes, but really an aquifer is more like sand soaked water where water trickles down through the porous space. This trickle of water may be extremely slow and it may take years for water to reach the aquifer. This leads to issues when aquifers are over-pumped and this slower recharge rate is not taken into account. There are already known areas in the Mount Simon Aquifer that are dry, caused by excessive pumping.

The Mount Simon Hinckley aquifer is an especially complicated system because of the diversity of the landscape it covers. These different landscapes have unique water flow as well as varying rock types which influence the water's ability to percolate down. Water within the same aquifer may differ in age by a thousand years depending on when the water reached the aquifer. Age of the water can be an indicator of water supply.

Learn more about how groundwater systems work by watching ACD's "Our Groundwater Connection" informational video.

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Where will this snow go?

As spring snowmelt and rainwater rushes down your street and into the nearest stormwater drain, you may contemplate its ultimate fate and journey along the way.

In a natural landscape, much of this water would evaporate or soak into the ground – destined to support vegetation or join the groundwater below – while the remainder would move downward along the surface to nearby wetlands, lakes, and streams. In developed landscapes, impermeable surfaces such as roofs and pavement prevent water from soaking into the ground while manmade drainage networks rapidly channel it to local waterways.

Anoka County contains many interconnected lakes, wetlands, streams, and rivers that receive and transport stormwater. Unfortunately, many of these have experienced increased pollution, erosion, and flooding as a result. Management practices such as rain gardens, bio-swales, and storm ponds have been established throughout the county to intercept stormwater pipes and ditches, decreasing the pollutant load and total amount of runoff entering our surface waters.

Ultimately, all of Anoka County drains into the Mississippi River – either directly from the land near its banks, or indirectly through its many tributaries (such as Coon, Cedar, and Rice Creeks, and the Sunrise, Rum, and St. Croix Rivers). The path that stormwater takes to these major rivers is unique to each neighborhood, city, and watershed; the figures below show examples of stormwater drainage scenarios common in Anoka County. 

  ACD pursues a variety of projects that reduce the amount of untreated stormwater entering our waterways; learn more about these by viewing our interactive projects map here. You can also help reduce the amount of pollutants entering your neighborhood's stormwater by following the practices listed here.

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Plant this not that

Spring is around the corner and that means it is time to think about what to plant. Ornamental plants are not native to MN and therefor do not provide as quality of a food source to pollinators or wildlife. Some ornamentals have started to spread to natural areas where they can cause ecological harm. Amur maple, Norway maple and Winged burning bush have been common landscaping plants but their spread into natural areas has been detected. That invasive behavior landed them on the MN Noxious Weed List as Specially Regulated Plants. There are many native plants to choose from that are suitable for landscaping. See the Woody Invasives of the Great Lakes Collaborative website's Landscape Alternatives for native plant ideas. Blue Thumbs Plant Finder is a great tool to determine the best native plants for your site conditions. Many MN natives are available at local plant nurseries.

Avoid

Choose Instead

Amur Maple

Mountain maple, pagoda dogwood, high bush cranberry, fireberry hawthorn

Norway Maple

Red maple, sugar maple, hackberry, basswood

Winged Burning Bush

Leatherwood, pagoda dogwood, nannyberry, wolfberry

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It’s time to start native seeds for your pollinator garden!

There is so much magic and joy in starting wildflowers from seeds. This is a good time to start that process for many native plants so that they are ready in the spring. Many native plants' seed stays dormant until there are good conditions in the wild. As a gardener, you can create these conditions to break dormancy for seed germination. Many native seeds need cold moist stratification to germinate. This can be done outdoors if seed is planted in the fall and overwintered. If you want to start them indoors in containers then pre-treatment stratification is needed. Stratify by placing seeds in a damp paper towel, coffee filter, or sand and into a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator (33-40 °F). Native plant's seeds range from needing 10 to 120 days of cold stratification. Once seeds have been stratified for the number of recommended days, plant seeds in a soil medium. Keep soil moist until seeds sprout and send up their first leaves. Water as needed and allow the soil to begin to dry out between watering. The magic continues as plants continue to grow!

Learn more about individual native plant seed pre-treatment and germination strategies in the Prairie Moon Nursery 2022 Cultural Guide and Germination Guide and the Tallgrass Prairie Center's Native Seed Production Manual.

If you aren't ready to start a new seed starting hobby, this is also a good time to start designing and planning a pollinator garden. Many local plant vendors have their plant catalogues ready for you to view. Be sure that plants you purchase are free of neonicotinoids, which are very toxic to pollinators.

See BWSR's Lawns to Legumes page for garden design templates and list of local native plant vendors. 

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Think Spring!!

Spring is just around the corner so get your tree order in today. The District offers a wide variety of native stock, including black cherry trees, mixed oak trees, maple trees, and pine trees. The trees and shrubs are sold as bare root seedlings or transplants, ranging from 8" to 24" in height. They may be purchased in bundles of ten for $19.00, or twenty-five for $38, not including tax. Native prairie seed and tree aides are also available. You do not need to be an Anoka County Resident to order. The pick-up is at the ACD Office at the end of April, 1318 McKay Drive NE, Ham Lake, MN 55304.  

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2021 ACD TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE SUMMARY

ACD staff provide technical assistance for a wide variety of projects each year. Many of the requests for assistance come directly from landowners interested in improving natural resources or addressing concerns on their properties. Technical assistance is also provided for projects in collaboration with county, city, and watershed entity partners. The table to the right summarizes 2021 technical assistance provided by ACD staff.

Assistance begins with a site consultation. Consultations typically include a conversation with the landowner, desktop review of the site using GIS mapping software and available data sets, and a site visit to discuss options. If the landowner is interested in pursuing a project, ACD can provide design and installation oversight services. Maintenance guidance is also provided for previously installed projects.

Additional information about active projects and those previously completed is available on ACD's project tracking map.

https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Shortlist/index.html?appid=d1e76c3d808743c1b149bde24c990894 

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HydroClim Minnesota

"HydroClim Minnesota" is a new electronic newsletter put out monthly by MNDNR Climatologist Pete Boulay. ACD has partnered with Pete for years to manage a network of precipitation volunteers throughout Anoka County.

"HydroClim Minnesota" summarizes weather conditions and other weather events occurring throughout the state and the resulting impact on water resources. By subscribing to the newsletter you can learn exciting facts such as, a storm event occurring on December 15, 2021 was not only the warmest day ever recorded in the month of December but it also involved Minnesota's first documented tornado for the month of December!

To learn more fun facts about weather in your state visit https://mndnr.gov/hydroclim. 

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Start Thinking Spring Conservation!

Current subzero temperatures can make warmer months seem far away, but winter is a great time to begin planning for spring and summer conservation projects at your home. Whether you want to create an oasis for pollinators and other native wildlife or install features that improve local water quality, there are many great informational resources to help you get started.

Create a native vegetation planting plan and control invasive species

Establishing areas of diverse native vegetation and managing invasive plant species produces multiple environmental benefits, including the provision of food and habitat resources for native wildlife and the improvement of local soil and water health, particularly for areas adjacent to rivers, lakes, and wetlands. Sourcing native plants and landscaping services from local experts is the best way to ensure your efforts maximize ecological benefits in your area. 

 Address lawn care needs sustainably

The ways in which we mow, irrigate, and chemically treat our yards can lead to unintended impacts in nearby aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. This year, consider developing a lawn care regime that strategically targets nutrient and pesticide needs and reduces the need for irrigation.

Participate in community surveys and attend educational events

Winter is a great time to explore environmental topics that pique your interest and inspire you to become involved in backyard conservation efforts. Many of Minnesota's environmental and conservation organizations provide free or low-cost educational opportunities such as webinars and workshops. You can also become involved in natural resource surveys such as those for wildlife, weather, and water quality, which greatly improve our understanding of conservation needs across the state. 

Financial and Technical Assistance

Because environmental benefits produced through conservation practices typically extend beyond the bounds of your property, conservation projects such as lakeshore restorations, riverbank stabilizations, and best management practices for urban or agricultural stormwater runoff may qualify for financial or technical assistance. Seeking out and applying for these opportunities early will help you get a strong head start on spring and summer projects.

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Climate Runaway

A few days ago I was out conducting field work and met a landowner who had recently made the move to Minnesota from California. When I asked what prompted the change of scenery he replied climate change. We got to talking and I was troubled to hear his story.

A few decades ago this gentleman built his families dream home, nestled away in the Sierra Mountains of northern California. This was the property where they planned to retire. They constructed the home having a strong understanding of wild fires in the area and the natural role fires play within the ecosystem. Once construction was complete conditions only worsened. Every year would bring a longer and more severe fire season, slowly becoming more and more unmanageable. The home would be encased in smoke for months at a time, making it unsafe to go outside. Private insurers stopped providing fire insurance due to the increased demand and unprecedented payouts.

New levels of stress were introduced from constantly worrying about losing the home or much worse a family member or friend. What was supposed to be paradise now felt more like a prison. Eventually they reached a personal breaking point and decided to sell the home. Even this aspect was now incredibly difficult and resulted in a large financial loss.

This conversation stuck with me as his experiences were a firsthand account of the realities of climate change. In the future more citizens will have to relocate due to extreme weather conditions such as fires, hurricanes, excessive rainfall and drought. Minnesota could become a northern climate safe haven. The issue of climate change is something we are going to have to try and tackle together as a country. By working together and combining our individual efforts we still have the ability to shift the direction of things and help ensure a healthy planet for future generations. 

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Best Native Trees for our Changing Climate

Climate change has many impacts on the natural environment and there are many ways we can help reduce climate change. There is yet another way to help with the impacts of climate change. Planting a diversity of trees that are predicted to thrive in a changing climate will help the landscape adapt and become more resilient.

Minnesota's climate is changing. Average temperatures have increased 1 - 3 ◦F statewide with the greatest temperature increases in the winter. Total precipitation has increased with more intense rainfalls. Despite the increase in total precipitation, there have been more days between precipitation events, which increases the potential for drought. The US National Climate Assessment predicts that these trends will continue in Minnesota. By the end of the century, Minnesota will likely have the summer climate of Nebraska and Kansas (Figure 1). Plant communities and habitat types will change along with the changing climate. Most tree species northward range are predicted to shift about 300 miles by the end of the century (McKenney et al. 2007). The change in tree cover alters the understory and the habitat for wildlife. One way to help the landscape adapt and become more resilient is to plant a diversity of trees and include species from more southern areas.

US Forest Service climate change models predict these trees are likely to thrive in a changing climate in the Metro region:

Tree Species

Habitat

American elm *

Average – Moist soil, floodplains, deciduous forest, swamps

Basswood

Deciduous forests, woodland edges

Black Oak

Savanna

Black Walnut

Mixed forest, Savannas, banks

Bur Oak

Forest to open prairie

Cottonwood

Lowland forests along along lakes and streams, floodplains

Hackberry

Average – Moist soil, Hardwood forest, floodplains, river bank

Shagbark hickory

Upland dry forest

Silver maple

Floodplain forest, riverbanks

White Oak

Upland dry forest

* disease resistant needed


Consider the habitat, moisture, soil, and sun conditions when selecting trees for your property.

https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/treecare/best-native-yard-trees.html


McKenney DW Pedlar JH Lawrence K Campbell K Hutchinson MF. 2007. Potential impacts of climate change on the distribution of North American trees. BioScience 57:939-948.

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Minnesota's Changing Climate

Flooding in a Southwestern MN Ag. Field

Minnesota is one of the states most impacted by climate change. Official precipitation and temperature data has been collected in Minnesota from 1895 through today, showing some striking statistics about our changing climate:

  • 13% increase in the size of the heaviest annual rainfall.
  • Since 2000, rains of more than 6" are four times more frequent than the previous 30 years prior.
  • 65% increase in the number of 3" rains.
  • Average temperatures in Minnesota have warmed by 3˚F since 1895.
  • Overall, Minnesota's climate is warmer and wetter.


These changes are impacting Minnesota's wildlife, forests, water quality, infrastructure, and outdoor recreation (especially winter sports). Below are some links to MN DNR infographic GIFs that shows the change to our 30-year average winter temperature and 30-year average yearly precipitation:

 

Sinkhole in Duluth Following a 7"+ Rainfall
As you can see, Minnesota's winters are warming dramatically, with the 9˚ contour moving  north by as much as 150 miles. Similarly, the 26" contour for precipitation has migrated roughly 100 miles to the Northwest.

We witnessed the impact of elevated precipitation in 2012 when the most damaging flood in Duluth's recorded history began when heavy rains fell over already saturated ground on June 19th and 20th. At the Duluth National Weather Service (NWS) the rainfall total for those two days was 7.24 inches. A NWS volunteer observer in Two Harbors recorded the storm's largest value of 10.45 inches in 24 hours.

The aftermath included millions of dollars of insurance losses to repair roads, bridges, homes and businesses. Many homes foundations were damaged extensively and the houses were razed. One state highway (MN 23) was closed for 3 years while it was repaired. The City of Duluth has had to adapt their stormwater infrastructure to withstand events that 30 years ago were considered 500-year events, but now happen regularly. In June 2018, just southeast of Duluth, the area received up to 10" of rain and once again damaged Highway 23.

Here in Anoka County, we've witnessed a similar story in 2019, with all of the monitored lakes, rivers, and streams in the County reaching historic water level averages for the year. This increase in precipitation only solidifies the need for comprehensive watershed management to make sure that our infrastructure and waterways can handle the increased erosion and flow produced by this additional rain. 

 Interested in learning more? Check out MN Pollution Control Agency's Climate Change in Minnesota webpage or the MN Department of Natural Resources Climate Data

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