Too Much Water, Too Much Sediment

Lake Superior and all lakes are precious, protect them!

This summer I wished I could have given some of our rain to drought stricken North or South Dakota. Everyday on Lake Superior seemed to sprout a rain shower.  When I read the water quality of Lake Superior wasn’t superior to other Great Lakes anymore, my first thought was of this summer’s rain. Because of the rainy summer, the lake level became very high, and this high water caused some of the soft lake banks to erode into the lake causing lake sediment.  The streams running into the lake bring more sediment into the lake.

An unusual fact about Lake Superior: Many streams and rivers drain into the big lake, but only one river drains out of the lake, the St. Mary’s River, and that is regulated at Sault Ste. Marie. I know the water that flows out through the St. Mary’s River is complicated with many factors, but releasing more water from the lake could probably help water quality of Lake Superior. Read at St. Mary’s River.

We can all do better to protect the water quality this magnificent lake, and other lakes also.

Buffer strips along lakes protect water quality.

Slowing down the water flow can help. Buffer strips of deep-rooted plants along streams and along the lake can reduce sediment run-off, and putting in rain gardens and rain barrels can also slow the water.

The below ideas for protecting our lakes is from the Superiorforum.org , Sigurd Olson Institute, Northland college, the EPA, and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative:
1 .Be conservative with your water use.
2. Recycle as much as you can with the 4 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle and repair. And….NEVER burn trash.
3. Curb Yard Pollution. Put your lawn on a chemical-free diet!!
4. Stop aquatic invasives by cleaning plants and animals off your boat.
5. Plant native plants, and reduce turf grass.
6. Plant native trees According to Audubon, oak trees are the best for attracting insects and birds.
7. Install a rain barrel
8. Create an energy-efficient home.
9. Bring hazardous waste to waste collection sites.
10. Love our lakes!

I would add a few more:

  1. Plastics have become a big problem for our waterways.  Reduce plastic use and be sure any plastic-use is recycled. Also remember to say, “No straw please!”
  2. Micro-fibers in our clothes also are polluting our waterways. As of yet there isn’t a good solution. Read about micro-fibers here.
  3. Always pick up litter.

The water we have on earth is the only water we will ever have, we must take care of it!

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How Can We Embrace Water?

Wetlands along the Mississippi River

The earth has a natural balance. The prairies, lakes, wetlands, deserts, mountains and oceans and rivers all work together to provide food and habitat for living things. Unfortunately, some places have gotten out of balance. Some areas are suffering terrible drought, and others have more rain and water than they can manage.

Building cities, driveways, parking lots, and roads changes the earth’s balance. What had been surfaces that were pervious, water drained through, are changed into impervious surfaces, that do not drain.  Wetlands have gotten the shaft the past 200 years taking away the natural healing for our earth. Farmers have drained the wetlands to be used for agriculture and cities have drained and paved over these valuable places that naturally clean our water and provide homes for so much wildlife. When you build a city on a wetland you take away the natural ability to drain the area. You also destroy the dynamic life that lives there.

Houston sits on a wetland. Without any regulation parts of Houston were built on a wetlands. The concrete and asphalt took away the earth’s drainage capacity. The original wetland wants to flood, that’s what it is supposed to do, but all the hard paved surface has left only small patches of ground to drain the water and guess what? You have a flooded area.

How can Houston embrace their water? I hope that as Houston rebuilds from Hurricane Harvey they will work to maximize pervious areas, areas that drain, and limit the concrete and asphalt. It is impossible to plan for a 50 inch rain, but with some good science and skilled planning, some houses and many lives can be saved.  Regulation and good minds are needed instead of a “Do what you want” attitude.  I hope the people of Houston will try!   It is so wasteful and expensive not to try to change the way they do things.

Areas need to be created that capture the water so it drains into the earth not into the rivers and streams. Run-off creates polluted water.  The earth naturally cleans the water as it is absorbed by the earth.  I hope Houston is willing to replace some concrete with renewed wetlands and rain gardens that will keep such destruction from happening again! Homeowners could be required to install pervious or permeable driveways or gardens that absorb water, or some area on their property that absorbs a percentage of water. See permeable driveways for ideas.

I heard one Houston homeowner on the radio, his house had flooded 3 times in the past 5 years.  It is insane to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result!  Maybe we can all learn something from New Orleans. See below.

After fighting water New Orleans is starting to embrace their water problem with a new paradigm. I hope Houston can learn from them. Read about it at New Orleans.

Also, Mayors along the Mississippi River are embracing wetlands to improve water quality and this will help New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, also! Read about at wetlands.

Houston, it’s your turn!  Wetlands can soak up lots of flood water. Can you do things differently this time around? Start listening to the scientists, engineers and environmentalists.

Houston helped put a man on the moon. Houston is the leader in the medical field. It could also begin to be a smart, resilient city if it puts its mind to it. That’s all it’s got to do. Read more at Houston.

 

 

 

Scientists, other experts and federal officials say Houston’s explosive growth is largely to blame. As millions have flocked to the metropolitan area in recent decades, local officials have largely snubbed stricter building regulations, allowing developers to pave over crucial acres of prairie land that once absorbed huge amounts of rainwater. That has led to an excess of

The Mighty Mississippi

Leaves pollute our waterways!
Leaves pollute our waterways!

What we do to our land, we do to our river”  John Stein MPCA Commissioner

The Mississippi River, one of the longest rivers in the world begins in Minnesota and flows south into the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi River cuts the United States in half, into the east and the west.  An investigative report by the Minneapolis Startribune.com. reveals the environmental threats to the Mississippi River caused by agricultural pollution  and urban run-off. Many communities use the Mississippi River as their source of drinking water.  If we are polluting this great river at the head waters what is the future for all of us, and for the wildlife that also uses this river?  What is the future of the Gulf of Mexico as the Mississippi River carries pollution during its journey south?  What will be the state of drinking water through the middle of the United States?

 We all need to do better.
We all need to do better.

The storm drains on my street drain into the Mississippi. What we do on the land affects the Mississippi River.  As a trained water steward, I am encouraging urban dwellers to manage the run-off from their yards in a smarter way.  There is a new paradigm. Instead of getting the water off our land we are looking for ways to use water run-off by redirecting our gutters and down-spouts, and building rain gardens to capture the rainfall.

Not using chemicals, sweeping our sidewalks and streets, re-directing our down-spouts, building rain gardens, picking up trash, and recycling are just a few things the urban dweller can do to help the Mississippi River.  Agricultural interests are another thing, and they need to do their part. Part 3 of this series focuses on farmers along the Chippewa River giving hope:

“Raising the amount of land planted in such perennials by just 10 percentage points — from 24 percent to 34 percent of the Chippewa watershed’s 1.3 million acres — would be enough to tip the river from polluted to clean.

Some 25 landowners now participate, and if they can prove its premise — that a farmer can make money without polluting the Chippewa — they could be a model for protecting threatened rivers all across the Midwest.” Read part 3 report here.

A fun video on building a rain garden:

It’s Water Wednesday!

Common_LoonThe below ideas for protecting our lakes is from the Superiorforum.org , Sigurd Olson Institute, Northland college, and the EPA, and Great Lakes Restoration Initiative:
1 .Be conservative with your water use.
2. Recycle as much as you can with the 4 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle and repair. And….NEVER burn trash.
3. Curb Yard Pollution. Put your lawn on a chemical-free diet!!
4. Stop aquatic invasives by cleaning plants and animals off your boat.
5. Plant native plants, and reduce turf grass.
6. Plant native trees According to Audubon, oak trees are the best for attracting insects and birds.
7. Install a rain barrel
8. Create an energy-efficient home.
9. Bring hazardous waste to waste collection sites.
10. Love our lakes!

I would add several more:
1. Rain gardens are excellent for capturing harmful water runoff.
2. Keep leaves and trash out of streets and storm drains-Adopt a storm drain!

Love our lakes, rivers and streams. Take care of them!
Love our lakes, rivers and streams. Take care of them!

3. Never use cleaning products or hand sanitizer with triclosan.
4. Reduce all plastic use–If you must use plastic bags and bottles, be sure you recycle them.                                                  5. Pick up all liter.

What Have We Done To Our Water?

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A buffer strip along Lake Superior

This morning I was walking a bridge crossing the Big Blue River in Nebraska.  Never have I seen a river so full of sediment!  The name “Big Blue” was full of irony for me.  I know many of the local water sources in this area of Nebraska are poisoned with nitrates, and children should not be drinking this water. Farming areas of Iowa and Minnesota are having the same water pollution problem. The major source of nitrates are fertilizers on farm fields, and farmers are not regulated by the Clean Water Act. We are all guilty of dirty water and can do much better at protecting our waters.  The run-off from our houses, driveways and roads are major contributors to our polluted lakes rivers and streams.  Farmers need to better, but so do all of us!

10 actions you can take to improve lakes, rivers and streams from Hennepin County.

When it rains, the storm water that runs off driveways, lawns, houses and parking lots can carry pollutants like oil, paint and chemicals down storm sewers and into nearby lakes, streams and rivers. By taking the following easy, no-cost or low-cost steps, you can have a big impact on reducing runoff and protecting our water resources and wildlife habitat. Hennepin County

 

1. Use your runoff

You can keep water in your yard and reduce runoff by directing downspouts onto your lawn or garden or into a rain barrel. Rainwater is free and naturally “soft,” so it is ideal to use in watering your lawn or garden.

2. Don’t rake grass clippings and leaves into the street

Leave them on your lawn, use them for compost, or bag them up. Grass clippings and leaves left in the street end up in the storm sewer, where they are carried to nearby lakes and streams. Clippings and leaves contain phosphorus and other nutrients that feed algae and other aquatic plants. This can cause excess algae growth that can negatively impact other plants and wildlife and can be unsafe for pets.

3. Scoop the poop

Grab a bag when you grab the leash and pick up after your pets. Pet waste left on the ground can be washed into lakes and rivers with rainwater and runoff. Pet waste contains bacteria that can cause illness in humans and animals.

4. Use chemicals wisely

Read and follow the label instructions when using herbicides and pesticides. Use the minimum amount needed to control the problem. If you can, consider using alternative or natural remedies to control weeds and pests, or remove the problem by hand.

5. Fertilize smart

Sweep up any fertilizer that spills onto hard surfaces. Excess fertilizer washes away into nearby lakes or streams where it can feed algae, causing rapid growth known as algae blooms. Algae blooms stress fish and wildlife and make swimming and fishing unpleasant or impossible.

6. Keep a healthy lawn

A healthy, vigorous lawn needs less watering, fewer chemicals and less maintenance. Aerate your lawn periodically to loosen the soil. Seed bare patches to prevent erosion and soil loss. Mow at a higher setting. Grass mowed to a height of 2 ½ to 3 inches develops deeper, healthier roots and has a competitive advantage over weeds.

7. Plant a rain garden

Rain gardens are depressions planted with a diverse mix of native wildflowers and grasses

Rain gardens collect water run-off
Rain gardens collect water run-off

designed to collect rainwater and allow it to soak into the soil. This will reduce the water running off your property into storm sewers.

8. Replace turf with native plants

Swap some of your high-maintenance lawn for low-maintenance native ground cover, plants or grasses. Many native plants develop deeper root structures than turf grass, which reduces runoff by allowing for better water infiltration.

Deep-rooted plants absorb more water than turf grass
Deep-rooted plants absorb more water than turf grass

9. Reduce your footprint

Replace some pavement – such as a walk, patio or driveway – with pavers or pervious pavement. The porous surface will allow water to seep through.

10. Adopt a storm drain

Keep neighborhood storm drains free of leaves, seeds and grass clippings. Storm drains are directly connected to nearby water bodies. Water running into storm drains can carry with it anything dumped nearby including leaves, grass clippings, soil, oil, paint and chemicals. Keeping storm drains clear will protect the water quality of nearby lakes, streams and rivers.

***If you own property on a lake, pond, river or stream you should install a tree and plant buffer strip to keep pollutants from running into the water.

Minnesota Public Radio is doing a fabulous series on protecting our water. More from MPR here.

Another list of ways to protect our water from the NRDC.

The sun makes the Big Blue look blue. It is thick with sediment.
The sun makes the Big Blue look blue. It is thick with sediment.

Fall Gardening is for the Birds

Dried up cone flowers are a gift to the birds but not to the human eye. I took this picture in July
Dried up cone flowers are a gift to the birds. I took this picture in July

As I write this the goldfinch are eating seeds from dried up purple cone flowers, and hummingbirds are still flitting around for nectar.  Below is an excellent article on fall gardening by writer Val Cunningham.  My suggestions follow.

“As they fly around your neighborhood, birds won’t be attracted by gardens with flower stalks cut neatly to the ground and plant debris raked up and removed.” V Cunningham .http://www.startribune.com/leaving-your-garden-a-little-untidy-this-winter-helps-birds/327498161/

My additional suggestions for fall gardening are:
*Pull out all the invasive and bad plants
*Plan for next year. What worked and what didn’t work? How can you add more native

Hummingbirds and bees love this red menardia nardia
Hummingbirds and bees love this red
menardia

plants ?  (My favorites are milkweed, Liatris, cone flowers, bee balm  hyssop, wild geranium and asters)
*Plan where you can add a rain garden next year to capture the rain from your house, driveway or yard. http://bluethumb.org/raingardens/

011Birds love driveways with seeds and leaves, but please keep our waterways clean by sweeping sidewalks, driveways and street from leaves and debris.

 

Sick, Unhealthy Lakes

Buffer strips along lakes protect water quality.
Buffer strips along lakes protect water quality.

Minnesota is home to over 10,000 lakes. We love our lakes. Unfortunately, we don’t take personal responsibility for protecting the beauty and health of our precious lakes. One of the most popular lakes is covered with trash, and it has become impossible to educate anglers (Are they listening?) of the invasive species their boats carry from lake to lake.
In late June, I was biking through southern Minnesota and was appalled to see algae and milfoil covered lakes. Sometimes they look weedy in August, but this was June?

The largest Minnesota newspaper published an opinion piece about what is happening to our lakes. The authors think the lakes of southern Minnesota are a lost cause, but they think more should be done to keep northern lakes clean.  I think with tougher rules and strict enforcement all lakes can be kept healthy and usable. It is a matter of political will and setting priorities. With tougher rules and strict enforcement all lakes can be kept healthy and usable. At the bottom of this post there is a list of things I do on my lake property to protect water quality.

Unfortunately, agriculture was given a pass on the Clean Water Act and they should be better regulated.  Agricultural run off is a real problem, but everyone needs to do better.  This is the only water we will ever have and we should respect and value every water body.

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Brian Peterson • Star Tribune If 75 percent of lakeshore remains mainly forested, the chance of maintaining lake quality is good, said Peter Jacobson of the state’s Department of Natural Resources. But when natural cover falls below 60 percent, lakes begin to deteriorate.

The opinion article:  “There is no mystery about what is needed: a built environment that harmonize with nature rather than defying it”  http://www.startribune.com/from-runoff-to-ruin-the-undoing-of-minnesota-s-lakes/321099071/

Is this how lakes should look?
Is this how lakes should look?

Requirements all lake shore/stream property owners should follow:

*Buffer strips of plants and trees along the shoreline. Absolutely no mowing down to the water.

*If there is no sewer available, lake shore properties should be required to maintain a sewage holding tank.

*Wash boats and equipment with hot water before entering a new lake with your boat.

*Reduce or eliminate the chemicals you use in your home, yard and water.

*Recycle, pick up trash and never litter.

*Never never burn garbage.

Two letters from the editor on the same topic: http://www.startribune.com/readers-write-aug-16-minnesota-s-lakes-planned-parenthood-payday-lending/321926671/