Column: Conservation can start in your own backyard

By Dawn Doering
Coon Creek Watershed District

Welcome to our first conservation column. This new column is focused on local conservation, right here in Anoka County. The goal is to give you a behind-the-scenes look at our natural resources management so that you can make informed decisions about the environment, including your direct interaction with it, related agencies, and policies.

The column will run every other month. We will start with water issues since water is a top environmental priority and also our focus here at the Coon Creek Watershed District. The hope is to expand the conversation to other natural resource managers like the Anoka Conservation District, cities, perhaps some relevant state folks.

Groundwater, of deepening concern

Managing for healthy watersheds is a balancing act. We have seen a trend in declining surficial groundwater, those aquifers located within 100 feet or so of the surface, not the usual drinking water aquifers (unless you have a shallow well). These upper aquifers provide the base flow for our creeks, ditches, lakes and wetlands. This is not a red alert, but more of a yellow alert, a “heads up.”

This decline was one of our top three issues of concern in our resource assessment for our recent 10-year comprehensive management plan for 2013-2023. We are concerned about the potential impacts on wetlands, lakes, and streams and their ecosystems. We are already seeing some wetlands going dry. While some folks might see that as potential land for development, wetlands play important landscape function such as “sponges” of floodwaters, filters of water pollutants, and habitat for wildlife. Not all wetlands are cattail ponds or even have water year-round; that is a topic for another column.

Part of the reason for the decline is related to changing precipitation patterns (another column topic). Part of the decline is related to increased use by humans. The impact of our increased use seems to be exaggerated by the change in rainfall patterns. The result? Less groundwater recharge.

There are two basic ways to help “Mother Nature” renew our groundwater: infiltrate and soak in rain and runoff and conserve water so that we don’t have to pump as much drinking water.

Within the CCWD, we have requirements for developers to deal with the water that comes off their site. This is to help prevent flooding and water pollution. Developers have choices in how to meet those standards. Some standards require infiltration. The future may call for standards on water conservation, but not here, so far.

These standards have to meet or exceed state standards. So, we are accountable to the state for the stormwater runoff that comes out of Coon Creek and into the Mississippi River. Since all the land that drains eventually into Coon Creek is in the Coon Creek watershed, it is also our responsibility (think of a pet shedding hair; the land that ‘sheds’ its water to Coon Creek is in the Coon Creek watershed).

The cities also have to meet these standards. The difference is that the CCWD takes a larger, multiple-city scale because water flows across city boundaries.

We are in an important area. Coon Creek joins the Mississippi River just a few miles upstream of the drinking water intakes for Minneapolis and St. Paul. What runs off our land needs to be as clean as possible because once it goes into a storm drain it does not go to a water treatment plant. It can go right into the gills of the fish in the nearby pond, ditch, lake or creek. Unless, we can soak it into the ground.

Anoka County is important for another reason. The sandy soils are great for soaking in the runoff and rains into our groundwater aquifers. These aquifers can provide the basic flow for our creeks, ditches and wetlands. This works as long as the soil is not compacted or covered by hard surfaces like roads and buildings and the water is free of pollutants that can also go into the ground. Plant roots and certain soil microbes are great water filterers, so that’s why we often require strips of plants to buffer a pond or creek bank.

But, we can’t do it alone. We also need your help.

1. Having a healthy, aerated lawn with good soil is good for groundwater recharge. This includes leaving the grass grow 3 inches tall before mowing so that the roots will grow deeper, taking the rain down with them. You can also plant long-rooted plants. Try a butterfly garden, hummingbird garden, native wildflower garden, pollinator or rain garden (http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/).

2. If you belong to a homeowners association, find out if the landscape contractor aerates the turf annually, saves on fertilizer by ‘grasscycling’ (Anoka County website), and uses smart soil moisture sensors on the irrigation systems. Some sensor suggestions from the University of Minnesota are at http://bit.ly/1Degd6D.

3. Conservation can be done using more efficient products, such as a WaterSense products or through using less water such as limiting lawn watering to once each week, deeply. Or, use rain barrels to water gardens between the rainstorms. You can find them at local stores, or online, including the Recycling Association of Minnesota, www.recycleminnesota.org

4. Make sure your downspouts go to your yard downslope from your house, and not onto your driveway, patio, or sidewalk.

These yard practices can help groundwater recharge and with flood prevention. Remember, managing healthy watersheds is a balancing act. Please do your part to help recharge our aquifers.

For more information, contact the Coon Creek Watershed District office at 763-755-0975 or check out our website at www.cooncreekwd.org.

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