Washington County Projects Cut Flow of Contaminants

Posted in: Crisis Response, Ground Water News, United States Water News, Water Contamination
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Article courtesy of Kevin Giles | October 11, 2014 | Star Tribune | Shared as educational material

Watershed districts are countering phosphorus contamination in Washington County with dozens of projects to prevent runoff, monitor groundwater and restore prairie.

One of them was the Colby Lake rain garden project in Woodbury, which County Commissioner Lisa Weik said already is improving the lake’s clarity.

“It comes down to these neighborhood projects where citizens are really proud of the effort,” she said during a budget presentation to the County Board last week.

The watershed districts have an increasingly visible role as water quality becomes a more urgent public issue. Phosphorus and sediment are the leading causes of water contamination, said Jessica Collin-Pilarski, a senior planner in the county’s environmental division.

One pound of phosphorus can grow 300 to 500 pounds of algae, she said.

Projects this year target those problems, ranging from new stormwater systems to planting trees and improving drainage for big-box retailers.

Another priority has been the removal of aging septic systems, hundreds of which are leaking into groundwater supplies.

“We’re out there advocating on a daily basis for clean water,” said Jay Riggs of the Washington Conservation District, which works with the county’s eight watershed districts. More than 70 percent of land in the county is privately owned, he said, and conservationists hold workshops to help landowners improve their water resources.

In the Carnelian-Marine-St. Croix Watershed, reconstructing a ravine will sharply reduce phosphorus and sediment flowing into the St. Croix River, Collin-Pilarski said.

In the Middle St. Croix Watershed, a rain-garden project involving partners Valley Ridge Mall and nearby employer DiaSorin Inc. will improve water quality in Stillwater’s Lily Lake, she said.

That $248,450 project, completed this year, will reduce phosphorus runoff by 13.2 pounds a year and stormwater runoff by 11.6 acre-feet a year, and significantly lower the use of groundwater for irrigation, she said.

In the Rice Creek watershed, a water quality treatment project on Clear Lake will remove up to 83 pounds of phosphorus. That’s as much as a 60 percent reduction of the total pollution for the lake.

Another project, in the South Washington Watershed District, involves restoring 200 acres of prairie to improve infiltration and groundwater discharge.

Conservationists have said that it will take hundreds and possibly thousands of smaller projects to improve water quality in the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers and area lakes, as sources of contamination are so numerous.

“This is one part of the government that gets no recognition,” Commissioner Ted Bearth said of watersheds.

“People don’t understand what you do or why you do it,” and yet, he said, the work is vitally important to environment health.

Proposed budgets vary at individual watersheds. Money for their operation comes from levies, business partnerships and grants. Since 2009, the districts have obtained $7.4 million in grants, Collin-Pilarski said.

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