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Watershed partnership assisting tomorrow’s leaders

Written for Great River Greening e-news, 2016

Nicollet County’s Seven Mile Creek Park offers hiking, fishing, and picnicking. Seven Mile Creek, flowing through the park to the Minnesota River, is one of very few designated trout streams in south-central Minnesota.

The creek is also the main natural drainage system for 24,000 acres of some of the most fertile and productive agricultural land in the world. While it is often beautiful and clear, the water registers high levels of nitrate-nitrogen, phosphorus, and, during periods of intense rain and snowmelt, suspended sediment.

In recent years, members of The Seven Mile Creek Watershed Partnership have reached out to each of the 320 farmers and rural residents that own land in the watershed to join them in answering a central question:

What can we do together to sustain and advance the long-term economic and environmental health of this watershed?

The responses have been encouraging, said Seven Mile Creek Watershed Manager Susie Carlin. Landowners are coming forward to learn more and take real steps toward land management that has a positive impact on the environment.

“The lessons we learn in this watershed may help solve problems across the region.”
~Susie Carlin, Great River Greening Program Manager

Carlin is on staff with Great River Greening, which joined with Nicollet Soil and Water Conservation District in 2012 to recharge the partnership – a coalition of people aligned with agriculture, recreation, conservation, urban/rural communities, education, and government entities.

Carlin describes the group as unique, “Because the members are supportive of modern farming methods, a vibrant farm economy, and excellent water quality. Too often, agriculture and environmental quality are considered mutually exclusive.”

Examples of projects that landowners have done with the Partnership’s assistance include:

  • Two landowners installed underground bioreactors, which redirect tile water to an underground bed of wood chips where nitrate is removed naturally.
  • Eight landowners installed water control structures and planted hundreds of acres of cover crops that reduce runoff and build healthy soil.
  • Nineteen landowners reduced soil erosion by planting filter strips and using other techniques.
  • Landowners and community members have participated in the University of Minnesota’s GeoDesign workshops and were shown different ways to control erosion. They also discussed ways to maintain high economic profitability while improving environmental quality.

Underground water control structures, like bioreactors, saturated buffers, and drainage water management all result in less nitrogen flowing through drain tile. More years of data collection are needed to determine how these efforts will impact the water quality of the whole creek.

In collaboration with Great River Greening and the Nicollet SWCD, Gustavus Adolphus professor Laura Triplett has been awarded a grant through the MPCA to begin monitoring the effectiveness of these conservation efforts. Triplett is a member of the Seven Mile Creek Partnership. Carlin said they also are measuring the improvements from individual projects, and are hopeful that those will translate into watershed-scale success.

Last year, the partnership began implementing a 10-year strategic plan that was devised with input from 65 members of community. It includes:

  • Facilitating agricultural practices and other land management strategies that have a positive impact on the environment
  • Exploring new crops and markets that generate income and achieve conservation objectives
  • Supporting conservation-minded farmers by increasing their access to education, data, and communication tools

Carlin says what is exciting about this plan is that it takes everyone’s feedback in account. And, it positions visionary farmers to lead, as they gain experience and identify what works. “With their deep and natural ties to the landowners in the watershed, these people are making really good decisions about where we should invest our collective efforts.”


The Seven-Mile Creek Watershed Partnership program is part of Great River Greening’s larger Minnesota River program, a collaborative, solution-oriented approach to water quality. It is founded on a strategy where water resource concerns are addressed locally.

Keeping Lake Minnetonka swimmable

Written for Great River Greening e-news July, 2019

Lake Minnetonka, located just west of the Twin Cities, is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The ninth largest lake in Minnesota hosts a million visitors annually. Unfortunately, one of the few public beaches on the lake, Commons Park Beach, is frequently closed due to high levels of e-coli. This is problematic not only for beachgoers, but also for local businesses that rely on the busy area for important revenue.

FOX NEWS Jul 15 2019 : Fowl droppings could be responsible for High E. coli levels in Minnesota lakes

The problem? Canada geese that forage and nest nearby; their droppings contaminate the shoreline during heavy rains and create unsafe swimming conditions.

To remedy the problem, Great River Greening is working with the City of Excelsior to directly improve water quality in Lake Minnetonka, in a three-year comprehensive approach that includes restoring the beach shoreline.

Natural Approach to Filtering Lake Minnetonka

Revegetating the Lake Minnetonka shoreline with tall, native grasses will prevent geese from accessing the water and beach area. It also provides a natural buffer against sediment runoff into Lake Minnetonka resulting in cleaner water and a reduced risk of frequent beach closures.

GRG Ecologist and Operations Director Todd Rexine said there are many environmental and recreational benefits to this project:

“Lake Minnetonka is a household name in Minnesota; it’s a lively and beautiful destination for thousands of visitors across our state. We’re working to improve the quality of the water and the beach to ensure visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience. ”

Great River Greening’s work at Lake Minnetonka generously funded by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, The Outdoor Heritage Fund, RBC Blue Water Project, and Patagonia

Pollinator recovery in Central Minnesota

Written for Great River Greening e-news, May 2019

Great River Greening is partnering with key pollinator experts and landowners on plans for a 19-county pollinator recovery project along the Mississippi River, anchored by Hastings and St. Cloud.

The plan, titled “Pollinator Central”, focuses on improving food access and shelter for winged pollinators, bumble bees in particular, that are crucial to our own food production and currently in steep decline. The rusty patched bumble bee, for example, has been added to the endangered species list. Just 20 years ago, this native pollinator was a common sight across eastern United States, Upper Midwest, and Canada. In that time, it has declined by 87 percent.

Pollinator Central restores and enhances 18 traditional and non-traditional sites, to achieve a 430-acre “hopscotch” corridor; pollinator charging stations that wind through a variety of settings, from populous urban neighborhoods to rural stretches in Central Minnesota.

The two-fold plan also incorporates community stewardship by engaging citizen monitors to assist in monitoring and evaluating the project’s impact.

A vision in line with the state’s top priorities

Great River Greening and its partners, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, the University of Minnesota Bee Lab, and several landowners, are hoping the Minnesota Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund will provide funding to support the plan. The Pollinator Central proposal was submitted this spring to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which will meet over the summer to make funding recommendations for the ENRTF.

Much of the plan was developed in utilizing recommendations from a pollinator task force convened by former Governor Mark Dayton and recently endorsed by Governor Tim Walz. Recommendations from the task force’s report call for replacing or enhancing turf with flowering habitat in urban, suburban, and rural nonagricultural lands. The non-traditional habitat sites in Pollinator Central include turf along state highways and other small areas. To boost the impact of turf conversions, the plan includes traditional habitat cores, such as prairie, wetland, shoreline, and woodland.

The 18 sites in the first phase of this plan comprise regional parks and nature centers, city basins and urban parks, spanning several counties, including Liberty Glen Park (Sherburne), Woodbury basins (Washington), Lebanon Hills Regional Park (Dakota), and Crosby Farm Regional Park (Ramsey).

We’re very excited about the vision this proposal holds. Each science partner brings a unique and crucial expertise. Bringing together so many different land owners in Central Minnesota magnifies the impact. And there really is no better way to teach people about pollinator recovery, and get them excited about it, than through hands-on restoration and citizen science.

-GRG Ecologist Wiley Buck

Connecting to the environment through science

Central Minnesota is one of the few regions where the rusty patched bumble bee can still be found, with concentrations at either end of the Pollinator Central corridor. Buck said restoring sites in this part of the state, and monitoring each one for success in food supply, nesting, and overwintering habitat, will add crucial data to the research needed for best restoration practices.

Xerces, in tandem with the GRG and Bee Lab, will oversee 450 volunteers, some as citizen scientists who will monitor pre- and post- restorations, to learn what benefits Species of Greatest Conservation Need. They will determine the value of the sites, the enhancements, and the vegetation by looking at micro-habitat success, and counting three categories of winged pollinators, in timed intervals.

Great River Greening will also train skilled volunteer photographers in methods that will provide the best visual monitoring, host community restoration events and Bumble Bee Surveys, where volunteers will work with experts to catch and release pollinators for identification.

Ensuring our food supply concerns us all. Citizen science is a fantastic way to engage people – it provides a rich learning environment and the opportunity for everyone to make an impact. It can be collected in so many ways –during a single event, or in an ongoing way, through photos, or taking notes during a hike. The data is invaluable to researchers, land managers, ecologists, and all of us who want do the best we can for pollinator recovery and restoration.

-Wiley Buck

The LCCMR will meet this summer to begin the process of evaluating project proposals. We’re hopeful the commissioners will see the value in supporting this important effort to restore critical habitat for pollinators in communities across the state.


Learn how you can benefit our winged pollinators in your own gardens