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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Minnesota: Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III

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Story Separation Bar North St. Paul Urban Ecology Center:
Wetland Improvements Needed to Control Storm Water


Cliff Aichinger
Ramsey/Washington Metro Watershed District
Primary Source of Pollution:

storm water
Primary NPS Pollutants:

Project Activities:

construction of multicell wetland treatment system

storm water filtration

increased wildlife and plant diversity

education center, research site for invasive species studies

In 1994 the City of North St. Paul identified a potential wetland restoration project and nature center, the Urban Ecology Center. The project site was a 20-acre remnant of an old farm that had last been a sod farm in 1950. The area had once been part of a much larger area of seasonally wet wetland of approximately 150 acres.

The Ecology Center site was also identified as a good location to provide water quality improvement for the 420-acre watershed, which had been severely affected by storm water leaving the site. In addition, project managers planned to include the restoration of a diverse wetland and upland plant and animal community that could be studied by students from the four area schools.

The project involved a unique partnership of local, regional, and state government that provided funding and technical assistance. The total cost of the 5-year project was about $397,000. The project was funded in part by $210,000 in grants from four different agencies. The remainder of the project funding was supplied by the City of North St. Paul and the Ramsey-Washington Metro Watershed District. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency 319 Program provided a $40,400 grant in 1997.

Water quality improvement and environmental education

The restoration plan included modification to the existing wetland to construct a multicell wetland treatment system. The overall objective was not only to improve the quality of storm water leaving the site but also to design and develop the site as a wetland environmental learning center. Environmental changes would be monitored and information used to make future improvements on this site, as well as on other wetlands in the watershed. The project would serve as a model for other metro area communities and school districts.


Before the restoration effort, the site was a sod farm located on an area that had once been a seasonal wetland.

Using city and District funds, two additional parcels of private land were acquired as essential environmental education and water quality elements of the project. A trailhead parking lot was constructed on one site, providing convenient access to the Urban Ecology Center for schoolchildren and other visitors. A wetland boardwalk, trails, and an educational display were constructed, providing information on the history of the site, water quality improvement, and habitat management. A section of the display was set aside for school classes to present their environmental monitoring and research results to the community.

District staff, school classes, and sentenced-to-serve crews completed restoration of all disturbed areas with native vegetation. Some schools helped by growing some of the native grasses and wildflowers from seed in their classrooms.

Water quality improvements

Project leaders report a number of improvements as a result of the project. The first basin is collecting significant sedimentation, and the material is removed every 2 years. Site observations have documented a dramatic increase in use of the site by wildlife. Plant diversity also has increased, reflecting a good water quality condition.


Both plants and wildlife continue to thrive at the site, reflecting good water conditions.

Continuing benefits

Although completed in 1999, the project continues to involve several local governments and state agencies in management, monitoring, and research. The site is now being used for a research project on control methods for reed canary grass funded by the District, the Department of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the University of Minnesota. Reed canary grass is an invasive plant that spreads very quickly in seasonally wet areas and crowds out most desirable plants. Reed canary grass is the dominant plant in the Urban Ecology Center. The primary challenge to increasing vegetative and wildlife diversity will be controlling the reed canary grass and successfully reestablishing a native habitat. This project will continue for several years.


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Prior Lake/Spring Lake Improvement Project:
Long-Term Implementation Strategy Off to a Good Start

Paul Nelson
Prior Lake/Spring Lake Watershed District
16670 Franklin Trail, Suite 110
Prior Lake, MN 55372
Primary Sources of Pollution:

urban runoff (new development)

Primary NPS Pollutants:

Project Activities:

wetland restoration

streambank stabilization

storm water treatment systems

removal of dissolved phosphorus

Over the years, a combination of factors had been compounding, relentlessly contributing to the water quality problems in the Prior Lake and Spring Lake Watershed District. In addition to the impacts of the agricultural community, new development was taking its toll, along with the constant adverse effects of failing septic systems in the watershed. Both Spring Lake and Upper Prior Lake were found to be hypereutrophic, while Lower Prior Lake was mesotrophic. A reduction in phosphorus levels was necessary to improve the quality of Spring and Upper Prior Lakes; phosphorus concentrations needed to be maintained at their existing levels to preserve the quality of Lower Prior Lake.

Based on the recommendations of a Clean Lakes Study completed in 1993, the Minnesota Clean Water Partnership Project commenced. The initial phase was designed to reduce nonpoint source phosphorus loads to the lakes. Funding and implementation assistance for this 6-year effort were provided through the section 319 grant program.

Phase 1: A comprehensive approach to restoration

During the first phase of the project, a number of projects were successfully completed, while relationships were built with other agencies, citizens, and organizations. Several projects aimed at controlling storm water runoff were accomplished, including the construction of the Iron (Ferric Chloride) Runoff Treatment Facility and installation of storm water treatment devices with road improvements. Wetland restoration projects also occurred, including the construction of the Highway 13 treatment wetland and conversion of the Sand Point Park dry basin to a water quality pond. In an effort to control the increasing threat of sedimentation, several shoreline stabilization projects were conducted. Among them were projects to stablize the eroding channel in Fish Point Park and to improve the desiltation basin adjacent to Spring Lake. The community was also involved in septic system education workshops, yard waste management workshops, and soil testing programs. No-till farming assistance was provided to help encourage the adoption of such practices.

A successful first phase

Both citizen observations and monitoring data indicate that the water quality is improving. Monitoring data show that the ferric chloride system is operating as designed with respect to the removal of dissolved phosphorus. In recognition of these successes, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources named the Prior Lake/Spring Lake Watershed District the 1998 Minnesota Watershed District of the Year. Most importantly, trust has improved between the agricultural constituents and the District.

These successes enabled the District to convene another partnership for the second implementation phase. This phase builds on lessons learned in the first phase, as well as some new efforts focusing more specifically on the lakes. Continuing efforts include providing incentive payments for conservation tillage and nutrient management, as well as conducting additional wetland restorations and constructing more water quality basins. In-lake efforts will aim to control internal recycling of phosphorus and manage submerged aquatic plants with changing water clarity.

Additional benefits

The project's initial successes have translated into water quality management efforts beyond those initiated by the grant program. These efforts include regulatory responses, such as the passage of a "no phosphorus fertilizer" ordinance by the local city, and revisions or improvements to the Watershed District's rules regarding new development and redevelopment. Agricultural improvements, participation in the cropland filter strip program and supplemental payments for participants in the Conservation Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, continue. Wetland restoration efforts are ongoing, and sewer lines are now expanding into previously unsewered areas around the lakes. Efforts to sustain the progress continue, with completion of macrophyte surveys and whole lake management plans.

In for the long haul

Overall, the District is pleased with the results to date. Grant assistance allowed much more to be accomplished than the District could have achieved on its own. The District would have preferred more immediate visual improvements of the lake's water quality. However, scientists involved in the Clean Lakes Study had stated that although only limited visual improvements would occur as a result of the first phase, these efforts were a necessary first step in achieving benefits in subsequent phases. The District and its partners realize that sustainable improvements will come from a long-term implementation strategy.

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