It takes a neighborhood to save a lake

The rains held off Aug. 15 and residents of Stillwater’s Croixwood neighborhood stepped out to tour three new clean water-planting projects in their backyard.

Built in the 1970s, Croixwood is a typical suburban neighborhood with winding streets and shaded yards along the east side of Long Lake. Although the lake isn’t visible from the street, there are several public accesses leading to city-owned shoreline, and it is possible to circumnavigate the lake using a combination of neighborhood roads along the south, east and north and a path through two newer developments on the lake’s west side.

When it rains, storm-water runoff from virtually all of Croixwood’s streets eventually ends up in Long Lake, carrying with it an unhealthy mix of phosphorus, sediment and other pollutants. The Brown’s Creek Watershed District (BCWD) has completed several large-scale pollution prevention projects to help clean up Long Lake, but because Croixwood is already developed, the district is now seeking help from local residents to further restore the lake.

Co-hosted by homeowners Kathy Klonecki and Margaret and Robert Boettcher with the BCWD, the Aug. 15 neighborhood tour showcased two different styles of residential rain gardens and a massive shoreline-planting project on Stillwater park property. BCWD officials hope that after seeing examples of attractive clean-water planting projects and learning about available grants and design help, more Croixwood residents will be inspired to their own build lake-friendly gardens.

The Boettchers began their front yard transformation two years ago when they worked with the BCWD to build three rain gardens to capture and filter storm water runoff from their roof and street. Planted with a mix of plants native to Minnesota, common garden flowers and shrubs, the rain gardens connect seamlessly with the Boettchers other gardens.

Part of what makes their project unique, however, is a low spot at the curb that directs storm water from the street into one of their rain gardens.  Called “curb-cut rain gardens,” these gardens are the most effective and cost-efficient strategy for reducing storm water runoff in neighborhoods like Croixwood that were built before storm water management practices became commonplace. The BCWD provided the Boettchers with a cost-share grant to cover the plant costs and other materials for their gardens. The Washington Conservation District provided a free project design and the city of Stillwater completed the curb work.

A few blocks east of the Boettchers, Kathy Klonecki embarked on a similar project at her home earlier this summer. Roof runoff from the downspouts on the sides and front of her house now empty into concave gardens that hold the water long enough for it to soak into the ground and evaporate. Although the Klonecki rain gardens are only a few months old, flowers were blooming during the Croixwood tour and bees and butterflies found their way to her yard, proving that if you plant natives, pollinators will come.

Like the Boettchers, Klonecki received grant funding and design assistance from the BCWD and WCD because her project will help to clean up Long Lake.

Along the edge of Long Lake, BCWD has taken a different approach towards improving water. A few years ago, the watershed district worked with several private landowners to restore and stabilize portions of the shoreline by planting native flowers, grasses and sedges in place of turf and weeds. Last summer, the watershed district followed up with a similar project on parkland owned by the city of Stillwater, planting 31,000 plants, 12 pounds of native grass seed, and 12 pounds of native flower seed across 3.5 acres of land.

Prior to last year’s planting, BCWD had spent two years removing the primary invasive species in the area to create a more hospitable environment for the new plants to grow. Eventually, the watershed district hopes to create a buffer of deep-rooted, native vegetation at least 25 feet wide along the entire length of Long Lake to reduce shoreline erosion, create habitat for turtles, frogs and birds and help capture pollutants before they reach the water.

A 2011 study conducted by BCWD identified 71 homes out of 500 in Croixwood where residential rain gardens like those built by Klonecki and the Boettchers would help to keep polluted runoff out of Long Lake. The watershed district is prepared to offer homeowners funding and design assistance to make projects happen at any of these locations. District board and staff know it takes a neighborhood to save a lake, but they are also open-minded.

Said BCWD administrator Karen Kill: “We’re looking at tree trenches as well [to infiltrate storm water from the neighborhood]. Some people might not want the maintenance of a rain garden, but they would be willing to plant a tree.”

If you live in the Croixwood neighborhood and are interested in helping to restore Long Lake, contact Kill at 651-275-1136 x.26 or karen.kill@mnwcd.org to learn more about what you can do.

 

Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water – www.mnwcd.org/cleanwater – which includes Brown’s Creek, Carnelian Marine – St. Croix, Comfort Lake – Forest Lake, Middle St. Croix, Ramsey Washington-Metro, Rice Creek, South Washington and Valley Branch Watersheds, Cottage Grove, Dellwood, Forest Lake, Lake Elmo, Stillwater, West Lakeland and Willernie, Washington County and the Washington Conservation District. Contact her at 651-275-1136 x.35 or angie.hong@mnwcd.org.

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