Anoka Conservation District Blazing Trails

Clear lakes. Resilient rivers. Safe drinking water. Abundant wildlife. Great fisheries. Protected greenspace. Outdoor recreation opportunities. Minnesotans have come to expect these. Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), such as Anoka Conservation District (ACD) are one of the primary entities relied upon to deliver these benefits across the state. Each SWCD is customized to meet the needs of their residents, whether in the agricultural south and west, the forests of the north and east, the lakes of the central region, the bluffs of the southeast, or the urban-scape of the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, SWCDs are adapted to help landowners implement conservation. Not only does the approach change from one corner of Minnesota to the other according to the landscape, but it must also be adapted over time to changes in the landscape, and to evolving data, science and technology.

How well has ACD evolved to adapt to the tides of change? What has ACD done to advance the science, practice and policy of conservation? The following list represents activities where ACD took a lead role, was the first, and in some cases the only, special purpose local government entity to undertake them.


Subwatershed Retrofit Analysis – In the 2000s, ACD modified and refined the Center for Watershed Protection's protocol for subwatershed analysis and applied it to meet local needs. The analysis involves detailed field reconnaissance to identify project opportunities; modeling of potential projects to quantify benefits to the receiving water body; cost estimates for design, construction, and maintenance of the projects; and ranking of the projects by cost-effectiveness. This level of analysis has become the standard for identifying and ranking projects to meet water quality improvement goals. With multiple rounds of grant funding to complete analyses, there are currently 17 completed within Anoka County and dozens more across the metro area and in greater Minnesota. ACD staff have provided training on the process to many natural resource professionals across Minnesota.

Shoreland Photo Inventory for Lakes and Rivers – Many have used Google Streetview, where you can virtually transport yourself to any street and take a full circle look at your surroundings. For shoreland management, this ability would be exceptionally useful. Since the photos didn't exist, ACD purchased a 360 degree camera and set about gathering the photos and uploading them to Streetview. With over 500K views, the photos along the entirety of the Rum and Mississippi Rivers in Anoka County as well as many lakes have proven extremely useful, not only to ACD staff assisting shoreland owners, but to the general public as well. ACD was the first in Minnesota to do this.

Riverbank and Shoreland Erosion Analysis – Combining the data in shoreland photo inventories with soil type and topographic contours has allowed ACD staff to develop erosion rate estimates and rudimentary bank stabilization approach designations. This allows for rough project cost estimates and subsequent project ranking for cost-effectiveness. Having identified $14M of riverbank stabilization need on the Rum River alone, ACD has leveraged this knowledge into multiple project implementation grants. Similar analysis has been completed for several lakes and is underway for the Mississippi River. ACD was the first in Minnesota to complete this scope of bank erosion analysis.

Targeted Landowner Outreach – Detailed identification of water quality improvement project opportunities, whether shoreland and lakeshore erosion repair or stormwater treatment practices, along with their likely costs has enabled ACD to implement an extremely targeted approach to project implementation. Gone are the days of broadly advertising the availability of conservation cost share funds. ACD staff now go door-knocking to connect individually with the owners of properties where the most cost-effective project opportunities have been identified. By doing this, we ensure that we gain the most benefit with the limited funds that we have available to us. Property level opportunity identification and direct landowner outreach was spearheaded by ACD.

Campus Groundwater Conservation Planning – ACD led the charge to secure funding and develop a protocol to identify groundwater conservation opportunities on large public campuses in urban areas. This was completed in recognition of diminished groundwater supplies and quality in some areas and the need to develop and implement conservation measures. Campus level analysis completed across the metro area identified countless opportunities to reduce waste, many of which will pay for themselves in a matter of months with savings on water bills.

Conservation Easements – In a rapidly urbanizing county, with valued open space converting to residential and commercial uses, it was important to provide landowners interested in protecting their property with an alternative to development. In the 90's, ACD began directly accepting conservation easements, which perpetually protect lands from development while keeping the lands in private ownership. ACD now holds easements or fee title interest on six properties protecting 400 acres of high priority habitats, and is one of very few, if not the only SWCD to do so in Minnesota.

Rare Species Salvage – Many may be surprised to learn that the Twin Cities Metro Area is home to many rare plant and animal species. While geology and natural ecosystems play an important role, the primary reason for this is that urbanization of land constricts ever tighter around species fighting to maintain a foothold. Laws designed to protect rare species by keeping their locations unknown and making it illegal to harvest or possess them have had some unintended consequences. A prime example was that when a known population of rare plants was in the way of development and DNR issued a permit to destroy them, it was illegal to try to salvage them. After applying for grants to develop a salvage program in Minnesota and working with DNR staff to create a process whereby a salvage permit could be secured, ACD has undertaken the first two salvage projects in Minnesota and has translocated thousands of rare plants. The success of the translocations will be monitoring to further advance our understanding of these rare species.

Wetland Restoration Management – The Wetland Conservation Act of 1991 requires that draining or filling of certain wetlands be mitigated with and equal or greater amount of wetland restoration. To ensure the timely progress of projects, a market developed to create and sell wetland restoration credits to those who could not avoid wetland impacts. This process, knows as wetland banking has grown in sophistication over the years, and the expectations for the quality of restored wetland has dramatically increased. To assure long-term performance measures are met, state and federal regulatory entities started to require multi-decade maintenance plans with funding mechanisms. ACD was the first in Minnesota to step up to the plate to fulfill this need by entering into an agreement with the owner of a large wetland restoration bank to complete maintenance for 40+ years. The maintenance efforts will be funded by a substantial endowment.

Patented Rain Guardian Pretreatment Chambers – Rain gardens emerged on the conservation scene in the 2000s as a means to add effective stormwater treatment to highly development landscapes. Owners of rain gardens quickly came to realize that their gardens were capturing a ton of sediment and debris from the streets. Removing this material from within and around the mulch and plants was necessary to keep the water soaking into the ground between storms, but it was a lot of work. ACD staff recognized the need for an effective pretreatment device for rain gardens that homeowners could maintain. Standard sumps that required a vac-truck to empty just wouldn't do. So, ACD staff designed and patented Rain Guardian Pretreatment Chambers. Nationwide sales now support local conservation initiatives. ACD is the only SWCD nationwide to hold a patent.


Photo by Mark Bugnaski Photography

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Watershed Based Implementation Funding

A state strategy to move away from competitive grant funding and toward predictable and reliable allocations for water resource management is underway. The concern with competitive funding is the amount of staff time that is dedicated toward the preparation of project applications. With funding requests consistently exceeding available funding by a factor of four, the likelihood of success is slim. This creates a system of feast or famine project implementation, which leads to the highly inefficient cycle of building and dismantling programs and services.

The new approach, called Watershed Based Implementation Funding will eventually allocate up to 80% of available Clean Water Fund dollars to established partnerships that have ready-to-implement strategic plans. After the bugs are worked out, the hope is that water resource managers will be able to predict funding availability more accurately and be able to implement water quality improvement projects efficiently and systematically.

Anoka Conservation District is a member of four of these watershed-based partnerships: Rum River, Lower St. Croix, Mississippi West, and Mississippi East. Each group is in the process of meeting virtually to discuss how to distribute funds allocated to their watershed area. Allocations for watershed areas are based on land area and other factors, and vary greatly.

Funds can be distributed to partners to pursue the projects identified in their individual plans, or to a ranked list of projects compiled and approved by the partnership. Each group is likely to take a different approach. In the Rum River, a project list was developed by consensus of the partners, and was heavily influenced by project readiness. In the Lower St. Croix, there is a single master plan, called a 1-Watershed, 1-Plan that is being used to guide project selection. In Mississippi West, a ranking system has been developed and each partner may bring forward up to two projects for consideration. In Mississippi East, the preference seems to be to allocate funds to the three subgroups (soils and water conservation districts, watershed management organizations, and counties with groundwater plans) and have them work amongst themselves to develop a list of implementation activities.

How ever we get there, it will be exciting to see what projects and programs come to fruition through this new approach. 

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Buffer Law Update

Erosion along streambanks causes pollution and loss of property for the landowner. Current development practices often leave streambanks bare and without vegetation. These conditions can lead to erosion occurring on the banks since there is no longer plant material holding the soil in place.

ACD is continuing to work with landowners in 2020 to help bring Anoka County into 100% compliance with the State Buffer Law. The law that was passed in 2017 requires a perennial vegetated buffer along waterways across the state:

  • 50' average and minimum of 30' along designated public waters.
  • 16.5' minimum along designated public ditches.

The goal of the law is to improve water quality in Minnesota as these buffers help filter out phosphorus, nitrogen, sediment and other pollutants.

With the growing season underway, ACD staff is actively checking properties for compliance and providing direction to landowners.

As of July 2019, the state was 98% compliant but this is an ongoing effort and will continue to update and develop as local land use changes.

The next phase, includes another professional review of properties throughout Anoka County to identify non-compliant parcels. This review will be based on 2019 aerial photos that will be released later this year.

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A Decade of Competitive Clean Water Funding: How Do Local Partners Stack Up?

The voter approved Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment increased sales tax in 2010 to create a constitutionally dedicated funding source so we could manage our natural resources for the enjoyment of current and future generations. The funds are distributed through the Clean Water Fund (CWF) to improve surface water and groundwater, the Outdoor Heritage Fund (OHF) to improve habitat, and the Parks & Trails Fund to improve local and regional parks. The amendment expires in 2034, 25 years after it was passed. Of the three funds, the Clean Water Fund is the one most relied on by local government units to implement locally important projects and programs. During the first 10 years of competitive Clean Water Fund awards, 582 local government units submitted 2,064 successful project proposals and secured over $279M in funds to make our water resources better.

In the first decade of Clean Water Fund awards, Anoka Conservation Districts comes in at a respectable 7th of 582. With 18 successful grant applications totaling just under $4M, we've been able to do a lot of work for those who live, work and play in Anoka County. Details of all CWF projects can be found at Legacy.MN.gov.

Of course, that is only a small part of the whole story. ACD works in tandem with many partners wholly and partially within Anoka County who have also been very successful securing CWF funds and putting water management into action. You may have noticed that three of the top ten recipients statewide serve all or portions of Anoka County, including the City of St. Francis and the Rice Creek Watershed District. In total, twelve of the twenty-one cities in Anoka County, along with three of the seven water management entities have all secured CWF funds to manage surface water and groundwater resources. Many of those not listed were critical partners in project funding, installation, and maintenance. We are all working together to ensure our water resources have a bright future.

Outdoor Heritage Funds have also been a critical source of funds to support habitat management in Anoka County, but that's another story.

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Take a Kid Fishing

This past weekend (June 5-7) was the MN DNR's annual Take a Kid Fishing Weekend, but if you missed out, it's not too late to introduce a kid to the outdoors! Fishing is a great way to get kids off the couch and outside while also being a great family bonding activity. Kids under the age of 16 do not need a license to fish, and very little equipment is necessary to get started.

Anoka County offers many locations and opportunities to fish from shore, fishing piers, or other structures in all of its regional parks. No boat required! Additionally, the MN DNR's Fishing in the Neighborhood (FiN) program offers easily accessible fishing for kids and families at many other locations. All of the FiN lakes and rivers in Anoka County can be found online at: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/fishing/fin/anoka.html

Fishing is a relaxing activity that can get kids interested in the outdoors, and teaches skills that can be used for a lifetime of enjoyment. Even if you don't have a boat, you can spend sunny, summer days reeling in supper for the evening, or the "big one" for a picture. Either way lifelong memories will be made.

The fun doesn't have to end with summer! Fishing can be great through the fall and winter from shore, or on the ice. Fall hunting seasons in Minnesota offer up extensive outdoor recreational activity as well, with many publically accessible areas all over the state.

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ACD Receives Aquatic Invasive Species Behavior Change Grant through DNR

Anoka Conservation District, in partnership with Anoka County Parks, received a MNDNR behavior change grant in the amount of $4,992.74 to pilot a strategy to reduce the spread of aquatic invasive species. The pilot behavior change intervention strategy will be delivered to the target audience of boaters and anglers through the installation of new boat cleaning equipment at 5 high traffic boat launches and education provided by on-site AIS inspectors. The project will influence positive behavior change in boaters and anglers by removing barriers such as lack of access to tools/equipment for properly cleaning boats/trailers, lack of space to clean boat or pressure caused by high-traffic boat launches, and lack of knowledge of how to use cleaning tools/equipment. We will lay the groundwork by conducting research on baseline boater behavior this summer, install the weed removal stations in spring of 2021, and collect observational data on weed removal station use and commitments to use the stations from boaters throughout the 2021 boating season. The results of the pilot study will be used by the DNR in future AIS behavior change strategies throughout the state.

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Spurge Euphorbia esula MN Noxious Weed: Prohibited – Control

  • 1-2 foot tall
  • Greenish-yellow flower bracts
  • Simple and opposite leaves
  • A white, milky sap exudes if the stem or leaves are cut
  • Grows in full to part sun in range of soil types and moisture

If you see leafy spurge, please report it on EDDMaps: www.eddmaps.org/

For more information and control methods see:

https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/invasives/terrestrialplants/herbaceous/leafyspurge.html

https://www.mda.state.mn.us/plants/pestmanagement/weedcontrol/noxiouslist/leafyspurge

Biological control is an option for reducing large infestations of leafy spurge. Adult leafy spurge beetles (Aphthona lacertosa) feed on the leaves and lay eggs at the base of spurge plants. Larvae feed on the roots over the winter until they pupate and emerge as adults the following summer. See: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/plants/pestmanagement/weedcontrol/noxiouslist/leafyspurge/leafyspurge

Photo at Anoka Nature Preserve. 7.3.2019
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Clean Water Begins at your Curb

ACD, as a member of the Metro Watershed Partners Steering Committee, collaborated with Twin Cities Public Television to produce a 90 second interstitial to promote the Adopt-a-Drain program about how our storm drains and waterways are connected. This animated video, "Clean Water Begins at your Curb," first aired on TPT LIFE on April 24th and will continue to air throughout the summer.

Watch the video online here: https://www.tpt.org/clean-water-begins-curb/


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2020 St. Croix Virtual Workshops on the Water - for local community leaders

REGISTER TODAY

We'd like to invite you and your local community leaders to join us for a series of short educational webinars during the month of June. Presentation topics will include lakeshore and riverway rules, wildlife of the Lower St. Croix watershed, and policies to protect pollinators. Our partners in Washington County partners have collaborated to hold an annual St. Croix Workshop on the Water for the past 10 years. In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they are offering this year's workshop as a series of free webinars instead.

This year's St. Croix Virtual Workshops on the Water are offered in partnership by EMWREP, MN DNR, Washington County, and St. Croix River Association.

Lake and Shoreline Management: June 3, 2-3pm

*Offered in place of the June water consortium meeting

  • Who's in charge? Understanding the different roles of state and local government - Jay Riggs, WCD
  • Common scenarios: Can I do that with my property? - Angie Hong, EMWREP
  • Vegetative removal and land alteration standards along shorelines - Matt Bauman - MN DNR

Landscaping and Habitat: June 10, 2-3pm

  • Planting for clean water and wildlife - Angie Hong, EMWREP
  • Policies to protect pollinators - Laurie Schneider, Pollinator Friendly Alliance
  • St. Croix virtual wildlife safari - Greg Seitz, St. Croix 360

St. Croix Riverway: June 17, 2-3pm

  • St. Croix Riverway land use regulations – Dan Petrik and Matt Bauman, MN DNR
  • Ideas for innovative local shoreland, floodplain, and St. Croix land use ordinances – Dan Petrik and Matt Bauman, MN DNR

Register online to reserve your spot.

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Save Money and Water!

Spring is here. If you have an irrigation system for your yard, you likely already have it up and running or are considering doing so within the next month. Now is the time when you're setting the watering duration and frequency for each zone in your yard. These settings often remain unchanged throughout the season, which typically results in over-watering. Over-watering wastes drinkable water, and assuming you don't have a private well, it also wastes money.

This year, in addition to following city restrictions (e.g. odd/even watering schedules), try actively managing your irrigation controller. Active management consists of adjusting run times based on local conditions. For example, during periods with sufficient rainfall, watering duration and frequency can be reduced. During these times, you can simply turn your irrigation system off. In contrast, during periods of extreme heat and drought, supplemental watering may be necessary. Watch your yard for signs of drought before turning on your irrigation system, and rely on rainfall as much as possible. When you need to use your irrigation system, water your lawn one time or less per week with a good soaking to encourage deeper root growth, and schedule watering times in the morning to reduce evaporation associated with midday heat and wind.

An alternative to active management is a smart irrigation controller. Smart irrigation controllers use an internet connection to actively monitor local precipitation patterns and automatically adjust watering frequency and duration accordingly. Regardless of whether you choose active management or a smart irrigation controller, both are effective options for reducing water use and saving money.

Visit the University of Minnesota Extension's Lawn Care website for additional lawn management resources.

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The Season of Spring Erosion (and Help for Those Experiencing It)


The excitement of spring often comes with high water, ice, and waves. This spring is no exception. Owners of property on lakes and rivers are quick to take note. And sometimes, feel a bit helpless. The Anoka Conservation District offers help to those landowners. We've got technical know-how to fix the problems. We focus on approaches that are lasting, create habitat, and improve water quality. The advice is free. As a bonus, financial help in the form of grants are often available.  During the COVID-19 pandemic, our staff are most easily reached by email, however, we are also checking voice messages. For contact information see https://www.anokaswcd.org/index.php/about-us/staff-directory.html

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Rain Guardian Pretreatment Chambers Featured on LIDBIT Vlog

Rain Guardian pretreatment chambers were recently featured in a new vlog focused on low impact development (LID).The vlog is called LIDBit and is coordinated by Rob Woodman with ACF Environmental.In the Rain Guardian episode, Rob interviewed Anoka Conservation District Stormwater and Shoreland Specialist, Mitch Haustein, about Rain Guardian pretreatment chamber functionality, configurations, installation, and maintenance.Check out the Rain Guardian episode and others on the LIDBit Video YouTube channel (https://tinyurl.com/vfmm9fc).

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Sheet Mulching

Sheet mulching – saves time, builds soil, and smothers existing weeds or lawn without using herbicide.

Sheet mulching is an excellent way to convert lawn to garden beds without using herbicides or excessive labor. Meanwhile it can build soil and be accomplished with readily available materials.

Begin by mowing grass or other vegetation in the area you want to convert into a new garden bed. It can be as simple as layers of newspaper or cardboard topped by four inches of mulch to smother grass and weeds underneath. If this is started in the spring, the underlying plants will have died from lack of light and the garden bed will be ready for planting in the fall.A more diverse layering of material will produce a compost that will break down and build your soil. For this, layer:

  1. Soil amendments if soil test results recommend amendments (lime, greensand, etc.). Recommended if you are creating a vegetable garden.
  2. Thin layer of compost.
  3. Wet newspaper or cardboard, 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick.
  4. Thin layer of nitrogen source such as manure.
  5. Layer of straw or leaves (carbon source).
  6. Continue to alternate layers of nitrogen and carbon sources.
  7. End with a top layer of mulch.

This type of bed is finished when these layers have decomposed. It may take the entire growing season to decompose sufficiently. If you start in the spring, the bed will likely be ready to plant in the fall.

See the Xerces Society Organic Site Preparation for Wildflower Establishment publication for more organic site preparation methods and directions:

https://xerces.org/publications/guidelines/organic-site-preparation-for-wildflower-establishment

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Trees for Bees (and other pollinators)

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Oak Wilt

Oak Wilt is becoming an increasing problem throughout the State and kills off a large number of oaks every year. Even though oak wilt is active in a large area of Minnesota, effective management techniques exist.

Oak wilt in a healthy tree will begin wilting the canopy. This usually starts at the top of the tree and spreads downward. The tree then sheds leaves, which will begin individually wilting at the edges and spread towards the midrib of the leaf or at the leaf tip and wilt towards the stem. A discoloration or streaking of the wood just below the bark may also be present.

In Red Oaks, the deterioration process can take as little as 4 weeks. In White Oaks, the disease may come back every year but death of the tree could take up to 5 years or longer after the initial symptoms appear.

Healthy oak trees are usually infected by the fungus's ability to move underground through the roots of nearby trees that have grafted together. In general, trees more than 50 feet apart are less likely to be infected through grafted roots. Sap beetles also transport the disease above ground by moving from an infected tree to a healthy one.

Stopping the spread of oak wilt is possible. Breaking root connections between closely spaced oaks will reduce the chance of the disease spreading from infected trees to nearby healthy ones. This takes a specialized piece of equipment and can be difficult to achieve. This is way preventing infection in the first place is the recommended best management practice.

Even though the nice weather makes you want to head outside and work on your property, you should avoiding pruning and wounding healthy oaks in the spring and summer. Between April and July, oak trees are at a much higher risk of infection by sap beetles who are attracted to fresh wounds in the bark of oak trees and may be carrying the fungus. Oak trees should be assessed for storm damage and any wound should immediately be sealed with a water-based paint of another type of plant sealer.

Other techniques to stop the spread of oak wilt include; avoid moving firewood from known infected areas, timely removal and disposal of infected trees, and the use of fungicide when necessary. Many times multiple approaches are necessary to slow or eradicate the problem. Meeting with a local tree care providers can help create a management plan that will be effective on your property.

If you have more questions or are concerned about Oak Trees in your area, contact a local professional to inquire about what can be done on your property. Early detection is still the best method of control.

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Trim Oak Trees now to Prevent the Spread of Oak Wilt


Oak wilt is caused by the fungus Ceratocystis fagacearum. Oak wilt can be spread in two ways: 1) fungal spores travelling tree to tree through grafted roots, and 2) fungal spores spread by sap beetles that fly from infected trees or wood to healthy trees. The beetles are attracted to fresh wounds in healthy trees, and these wounds offer an introduction point for the fungus.Trimming or cutting healthy oaks from the months of November through March helps to prevent fresh wounds in healthy trees when the beetles are active. Trimming away dead and dying branches during this period can help prevent oak wilt spreading from neighboring areas to your trees. If your oak trees still need trimming before this spring, be sure to do it before the end of March. April 1 through July 15 is considered the high risk period, and all trimming of oaks should be avoided. July 15 through October 31 is considered low risk, but spread is still possible. Red oaks and pin oaks are especially susceptible to oak wilt, and once infected, a healthy tree is killed within ​months.

Unfortunately, oak wilt is very common in Anoka County. More information on prevention of the disease in your yard can be found at https://extension.umn.edu/plant-diseases/oak-wilt-minnesota
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