In my post last month I discussed my plan to profile local solutions to fix our state’s water problems. And, I’ll focus on the East metro, since that’s the area I work in.
The first project I will highlight is a stream restoration project on the Oak Glen Golf Course, in Stillwater. This is a restoration project for Brown’s Creek, which is one of only two trout streams in the East Metro, and is considered impaired by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. How did Brown’s Creek come to be impaired? Unlike other areas of the state where farming is a main contributor to water impairment, urban development is the main threat to Brown’s Creek; development threatens trout populations by increasing warm, sediment-filled water runoff into the stream after summer storm events. Additionally, in the most impaired area of Brown’s Creek, there was over-wide stream width, slow water current, and too much vegetation maintenance of the shoreline (it being in a golf course). This all led to increasing sediment, or turbidity, and increasing water temperatures, making the stream uninhabitable to trout.
The yearlong restoration project was completed in 2012 and it included about 1,300 linear feet of Brown’s Creek. Restoration involved planting 12,000 native plants and adding more than two acres of native buffer along the stream bank. The result? Narrowing and deepening the stream, as well as improving shade from added vegetation, resulted in clearer water and stream temperatures that will be six degrees cooler on the warmest days. We don’t often talk about temperature when we discuss water quality, but a decrease of six degrees has a huge impact on wildlife. It will bring the water climate from lethal to tolerable for trout reproduction.
Aside from the measurable successes of this story, there are a few additional reasons why it’s noteworthy. First, this is a beautiful example of what can happen in a successful private-public partnership. Oak Glen Golf Course was a happy and excited partner for Brown’s Creek Watershed District, and golfers are now enjoying the benefit of the diverse plant landscape along the stream. Second, this project took $220,000 to complete. The money for this project came from Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment funds, proving how valuable those funds are. This was one body of water out of thousands in Minnesota. We need to celebrate and protect our Legacy Amendment funding, and we need to ensure that it doesn’t just become a replacement for an operating budget. These projects are expensive, and our state needs to protect the funding for them if we want to get serious about improving our waters.
Throughout the state we are faced with the question of how we will continue to develop our land in a way that is sustainable, and it seems that one of the first signs of unsustainable development is water impairment. Our watersheds rely on a complex system of water exchange that happens naturally with deep-rooted plants, landscape variation, and healthy shorelines. When we flatten land and make runoff happen more easily by adding streets and parking lots, the waters around us can become impaired. I’m certainly not saying that development is bad, but we need to make sure we do enough to help our waters with restoration projects to counter the effects development can have.
Do you have any questions about this project or others in your area? I’d be happy to try to answer them or direct you to someone who can. Email me at Julie@conservationminnesota.org.
Note: I found the information for this piece by referring to the MPCA’s Impaired Waters map webpage, as well as the Minnesota DNR, and of course Brown’s Creek Watershed District. Special thanks to Karen Kill, of Brown’s Creek Watershed District, for helping me learn about this project.