2016 Year in Review

Welcome to our 2016 Year in Review! You can read a nicely-formattted PDF version of the review here.

From the administrator

As we celebrate our 50th year as a watershed district, I’ve been impressed with the rich history of this organization. Since I’ve only been here for a fraction of that time, I’m proud to brag a bit about the great work others have accomplished over the past five decades. 

Since its inception, MCWD has been on the cutting edge of protecting and improving our water resources – some of the most popular and valued in the state. Right out of the gate, we focused on longstanding flooding issues on Minnehaha Creek and Lake Minnetonka by building and operating the Gray’s Bay dam according to a detailed plan developed in partnership with our communities.

Throughout the 70’s and 80’s we helped close down the eight sewage treatment facilities that discharged directly into Lake Minnetonka and participated in a groundbreaking study of the value of wetlands that was recognized as a landmark national study by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. 

In the 90’s we were a central player in an award-winning partnership that helped make the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes some of the healthiest urban lakes in the nation. Our work to restore and expand access to Minnehaha Falls and Glen in the 2000’s protected and enhanced one of the state’s most visited attractions. 

Today, we are more diligent than ever in addressing new clean water issues and opportunities. In particular, we focus on integrating our water work with land use planning, and leveraging the inherent value of healthy natural spaces to make our communities more vibrant and livable.

A common theme in the stories that follow is our commitment to understanding the goals of our partners and communities, aligning plans and investments, and working together for shared benefit. This approach is summed up in our motto: “Quality of Water, Quality of Life.”  

Later this year we’ll publish our updated Comprehensive Plan, a road map for the next decade of our clean water work. It will memorialize our collaborative approach and define how we will make this vision a reality. The plan update has brought our many partners together to identify where our plans for water resources can integrate with their goals, and we have already realized enormous value from this inclusive process. 

We are excited to reap the natural resource and community benefits of this plan during the next 10 years (and beyond!) and look forward to working with you to protect and improve land and water for current and future generations. 

- Lars Erdahl January 2017

 

One of the hallmarks of our approach to watershed management is the “focal geography” – a commitment to focusing time and resources in a specific area in order to make significant, lasting improvements. The approach developed from our work in the formerly degraded stretch now known as the Minnehaha Creek Greenway, where we’ve worked since 2010 to build relationships and understand the goals of the communities and landowners in the area. 

In 2015 the MCWD Board of Managers declared the Six Mile Creek-Halsted Bay subwatershed as our next focal geography, and since then we have worked to bring together the agencies and landowners in the area to find out where we can make water quality improvements that align with community goals. 

This approach benefits more than just the residents of the subwatershed. This complex system of 14 lakes and hundreds of wetlands drains into Halsted Bay, which is among the most degraded bays in Lake Minnetonka. As the headwaters of the entire watershed, improvements to this system have benefits far downstream. 

The area also poses great opportunity. It is currently the least developed subwatershed within MCWD but is undergoing rapid change, so the land use decisions made now will have lasting effects on the future of the region. By bringing landowners, developers and policymakers together, we are identifying opportunities to improve natural resources in ways that support vibrant, livable communities and achieve mutually beneficial goals. 

We’ve convened the Six Mile-Halsted Bay Planning Partnership to ensure ongoing communication about plans, priorities and opportunities for collaboration in the region. The partnership committee has been briefed on water resource issues within the geography, have weighed in on local and agency priorities, and have helped shape the plan format and content. 

The partners will continue to be involved as we identify, prioritize and implement projects in the subwatershed. Those projects  may include large scale wetland restorations, carp management, in-lake and watershed phosphorus reduction actions, and others. To learn more or get involved, visit minnehahacreek.org/six-mile

 

Record rains in 2014 pushed Minnehaha Creek out of its banks for much of that summer. One of the trouble spots was at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park where the overflowing stream threatened to cut off access to the loading dock and interrupt the delivery of life-saving medical supplies. Hospital staff worked tirelessly to stack thousands of sandbags into a makeshift levee to keep the water at bay. 

To protect its operations from future flood events, the hospital decided to build a permanent wall between the creek and loading dock. Building a flood wall reduces the amount of “floodplain” – a low-lying area where water naturally floods – which increases the flood risk for other areas.  As a result, the District’s rules required the hospital to make up for that loss by creating a new floodplain. 

Working together early in the design process, the hospital and MCWD found a solution that resulted in a plan that will improve both the creek and the hospital campus. The project will protect the hospital from future flooding, create the needed floodplain storage, restore a wetland, improve ecological diversity, and create another amenity for the hospital campus. 

This project is another example of what sets us apart from other regulatory agencies. We prefer to partner on new construction projects early in the design process, where we can bring our resources and expertise to the table to achieve higher water quality and project outcomes. This approach achieves greater success than the standard regulatory route where we’re among the last to see a project’s design before construction.

The Methodist Hospital flood wall project is one of the many efforts to improve Minnehaha Creek through its most historically degraded stretch in St. Louis Park and Hopkins, an area now known as the Minnehaha Creek Greenway. 

Sparked by a stream restoration on the Methodist Hospital campus in 2010, the Greenway has evolved through a series of projects, including the rejuvenation of Cottageville Park in Hopkins, the creation of the Minnehaha Creek Preserve in St. Louis Park and the expansion of a nearby business. Our recent collaboration on the Japs-Olson Company expansion resulted in more green space for stormwater treatment, a trail connection to the creek and a business expansion that was finished ahead of schedule, under budget and created 150 jobs. To learn more about these efforts along the Minnehaha Creek Greenway, visit minnehahacreek.org/greenway.  

 

istoric Bushaway Road, linking the cities of Wayzata and Minnetonka, reopened in 2016 after a major facelift. Like many projects we are involved in, this one was not principally about water. It was about connecting communities, creating safer roads, providing better options for walking and biking, and highlighting the beauty and history of the area. 

However, by working closely with Hennepin County and the other partners involved with this project to understand the community’s needs and goals, we used our expertise in water planning to add value to the project overall while improving the health of Lake Minnetonka. 

The project involved reconstructing County Road 101 / Bushaway Road, which runs from U.S. Highway 12 to Minnetonka Boulevard and crosses Lake Minnetonka between Gray’s Bay and Wayzata Bay. The project makes a variety of improvements to the road, including adding turn lanes and a bicycle/walking path. 

We partnered with Hennepin County to protect and enhance the shoreline along both sides of the road as it crosses Lake Minnetonka. We used plants and other bioengineering techniques to reconstruct the shoreline, which reduces erosion, infiltrates stormwater, provides habitat and improves the aesthetics of the area. The work also reduces the risk of lake waves freezing on the road during the winter and meets community goals related to views and aesthetics.

Required by permit to make up for the amount of floodplain area within Lake Minnetonka that was lost as a result of the shoreline restoration, we developed on a solution that showcases our collaborative approach to protecting and improving water quality. 

In partnership with the City of Minnetrista, we created a new floodplain area on a city-owned parcel near where Painter Creek enters Jennings Bay. In addition to creating enough new flood storage required to offset the effects of the Bushaway Road reconstruction and another nearby project, we also planted more than 300 trees and shrubs, and stabilized the banks of the creek with 775 new plants. The additional storage also will help the City of Minnetrista meet permitting requirements for future projects. 

The multiple benefits this project achieves are evidence of the success that can be achieved by working together. Our innovative spirit, combined with our technical expertise, can help our partners get their work done and protect our land and water resources at the same time. This philosophy of collaboration is at the heart of our work to bring the national and built environments in balance and create a landscape of vibrant communities.

 

Past MCWD Comprehensive Plans focused narrowly on technical solutions to water quality issues – creating a laundry list of projects we planned to build and pollutant reduction standards we would require cities to meet. 

In the past decade, we have grown to recognize the benefits of a more collaborative approach that integrates water planning with land use planning. As a result, our next Comprehensive Plan will focus on how we can achieve our goals for water in a manner that respects and aligns with the goals of our communities. 


We are now in the home stretch of developing our 10-year Comprehensive Plan. We have been working to put our core ideas into action: bringing our various partners together to identify how we can work in cooperation for mutual benefit. 

In December, we hosted a series of seven meetings with our partners, grouped by geographic location. We invited policymakers, key staff, and community leaders from these areas to discuss the water resource issues they are facing, the overall goals for their communities, and what projects they have planned. We also asked how we can best coordinate with our communities in the future so we can be involved in our partners’ planning processes from the early stages, when we are best able to add value and help co-develop a plan for shared benefit. 

The information our partners have shared with us will form the foundation for our 2017 plan. In the plan, we will highlight the issues and opportunities in each of our subwatersheds and lay out a process for working with our community partners. A draft of the plan will be available for review and comment by early summer. We hope to have it approved by the end of 2017. Learn more at minnehahacreek.org/2017.

 

As most lake lovers know, there’s a lot more to a healthy and desirable lake than how far down you can see or the presence of algae.  Many other questions come to mind - Can you swim and fish? Is it overrun with invasive plants? Does it flood easily? 

On top of that, lakes aren’t the only water bodies that matter. The eight major streams and thousands of wetlands within our watershed are also important parts of the communities built around them. 

To better gauge the health and quality of our watershed’s ecosystems, we’re preparing to transition from our traditional lake grades system to a more detailed and holistic reporting system called E-Grade. While annual lake grades summarize clarity and the content of phosphorus and algae, E-Grade incorporates other indicators of a healthy ecosystem, like flood control and habitat diversity. E-Grade also considers the interaction between lakes and other ecological features like land use or the streams that feed them. 

Collecting this extra data will require us to focus our time and resources. Because lake conditions change very little year to year, we will be phasing out annual reports and providing more detailed information on a rotating group of subwatersheds every three years. This cycle will take seven years to complete across the watershed, which is sufficient time to document changes in a water body’s health.

For people interested in the health of their favorite lake, stream or wetland, this new system will provide much more detailed data. As importantly, it will be more useful for the District and our partners in developing solutions to water quality issues. 

We’ve worked with a variety of the state’s leading technical experts over the past three years to develop this system and hope it will become a model for others to follow. We plan to publish two papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, demonstrating approval from the greater scientific community. Learn more at minnehahacreek.org/e-grade.

 

Science is the often slow-and-steady endeavor of learning about the world through observation and experiment. Action is what we take to solve problems, and we’re usually bound to the time limits dictated by the problem. 

In the right combination, science and action can lead to sudden leaps forward in our understanding of a problem. Since zebra mussels were discovered in Lake Minnetonka in 2010, we have pushed to better understand how these invasive species work and how we can best manage them. 

In the fall of 2016, a pressing problem presented itself in the form of zebra mussels found in Lake Minnewashta, a clean and healthy lake just south of Lake Minnetonka. The circumstances were ripe for action: only 14 zebra mussels were found, all were concentrated near the boat launch, and the launch itself is in a small bay sheltered from the rest of the lake. 

In the hope of preventing a full-blown infestation, we worked with Carver County, the Lake Minnewashta Preservation Association and Minnesota DNR to quickly respond to the discovery. In addition to eradicating the mussels within the treatment area, we also meticulously documented our process and findings along the way. A full report from the response was released in early 2017. This data helps us understand what worked and what didn’t, and serves as a model for future responses. 

Armed with lessons learned from a similar response in Christmas Lake the year prior, we cordoned off the 29-acre bay in September and treated it with the copper product EarthTecQZ. It was used at a much lower concentration than at Christmas Lake, which saved costs and helped reduce impacts to other species. It was the largest known open water treatment for zebra mussels in Minnesota history. 

It will take several years of monitoring to confirm whether any mussels spread from the area. However, close inspection at the end of 2016 suggest the treatment killed 100 percent of the invasive mussels within 10 days of its application. If successful, it would be the first known eradication of zebra mussels in a Minnesota lake.

Learn more about the project and read the final report at minnehahacreek.org/minnewashta

 

Our watershed contains some of the state’s most iconic waters – Minnehaha Falls, Minnehaha Creek, the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and Lake Minnetonka. 

We are also fortunate to have an abundance of another valuable resource: residents who are passionate about protecting these waters. This can be plainly seen in the high rates of participation in our Master Water Stewards program, citizen monitoring, and events like the Minnehaha Creek Cleanup. 

It’s also on display in our Citizens Advisory Committee, made up of nearly 20 residents from across the District. The group meets monthly to discuss clean water issues, review MCWD projects and policies, and recommend actions to the Board of Managers. They also bring messages about clean water and the District’s work back to their communities. 

To learn more about the committee’s work or to apply to serve, visit minnehahacreek.org/CAC

 

We celebrated our 10th annual Minnehaha Creek Cleanup in 2016, setting records for both attendance (2,000 people) and trash collected (five tons)! 

Since the event’s humble beginnings in 2007, the Cleanup expanded from a small gathering of volunteers at Lake Hiawatha in Minneapolis to a creek-wide event stretching from near the headwaters in Minnetonka all the way to Minnehaha Falls. During its ten-year history, more than 7,500 volunteers collected nearly 20 tons of trash from around Minnehaha Creek and area lakes. Thank you to everyone who took part in this amazing event!

As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the District’s founding in 2017, we are planning a new slate of events across the watershed for community members to get out and help protect the lakes and streams they care about. We’ll have more details soon at minnehahacreek.org/50