Dear Sustainability Sam,
I love living so close to Minnehaha Creek and the Chain of Lakes, but as I hear about flooding, erosion, algae blooms and invasive species, I worry about how to maintain their beauty for the future. What can a local resident do to protect water quality for our local bodies of water?
I love this question because Minnehaha Creek and the Chain of Lakes are real treasures that we South Minneapolitans are lucky to live close to and we reap the many benefits they provide on a daily basis. We use them for quiet walks, long bike rides, canoe expeditions, get-in-shape runs, picnics, you name it. But in order to keep them beautiful and healthy, we must also do our part to protect them.
As users of these waterways, we can help keep them healthy by staying on the paved trails. Too much foot traffic off the trails leads to erosion. We should always clean up any litter or trash we see. Trash clogs drains and pipes, causing flooding. Also, clean up after your dog (and other dogs, too while you are at it!). Dog poop carries harmful bacteria that leeches in the waterways when it is not picked up and disposed of properly.
Additionally, as homeowners, residents and neighbors in this community, we can take several steps to ensure the winter snowmelt and rain and storm runoff that ends up in our local waterways stays as clean as possible. Clean water runoff helps to maintain a high level of water quality in the Lakes and the Creek, ensuring algae blooms occur less frequently and that the fish, birds and wildlife that depend on these waterways stay healthy as well.
One of the largest contributors of pollution to the water that runs off into our lakes and streams comes from road and sidewalk salt. Use it sparingly throughout the winter months! One teaspoon of salt pollutes 5 gallons of water permanently. There is no way to remove salt from the water so the only way to prevent rising salinity in our waterways is to stop adding salt to them. Salt is also ineffective when the temperature falls below 15 degrees. Use sand instead. Always cleanup excess sand and salt and reuse it.
One great way to contribute to cleaner local waterways is to adopt a storm drain. Minneapolis streets have storm drains at regular intervals to collect water run-off from wet weather and snow melt from the winter months. The drains in our Tangletown neighborhood run directly into Minnehaha Creek, Diamond Lake and the Mississippi River. Regularly cleaning up the debris around the storm drains near your house has a direct and positive impact on the cleanliness of the water flowing into our beloved lakes and creeks. It takes just 15 minutes a few times a year to ensure higher water quality in our waterways! Easy, right? You can officially adopt a storm drain online and they can help you track how many pounds of debris you collect. Once you sign up, let us know and we’ll set you up with free tools and supplies!
Another way to contribute to cleaner local waterways is to make sure the landscaping in your yard promotes less runoff. For example, install a bioswale or plant a raingarden in your yard. Bioswales are designed to capture storm runoff and have it be absorbed into the ground rather that run into waterways. The ground acts as a kind of filter filtering out pollutants from the water as it is absorbed. Similarly, raingardens are shallow depressions that are planted with native plants and grasses that are strategically placed to catch runoff from driveways, roofs and sidewalks. Bioswales and raingardens are excellent ways to prevent excess polluted water runoff into our lakes and creeks. Consider planting native plants which have deeper root systems which aid in decreasing runoff. And as a bonus, they are beautiful and create a habitat for bees and butterflies as well. The Tangletown Environmental Committee is hosting a virtual workshop, How to Achieve a Resilient Landscape on June 3 which will give you more information on how to get started. On June 5 and 6, we’ll be offering self guided tours of resilient yards in our neighborhood. Learn more about both events here.
Be sure to spread these suggestions around to your friends and neighbors. Keeping the Chain of Lakes and Minnehaha Creek beautiful and healthy for years to come is everyone’s responsibility. These tips are a great way to start. Thanks for the question!