Grant to be used to improve water quality in Long Lake

A historic aerial photo from 1938 shows a straightened Rice Creek as it flows through what would later become the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, with its former meandering path still visible. The road running north/south through the photo would later become Interstate-35W. (photo courtesy of the Rice Creek Watershed District)

The Rice Creek Watershed District (RCWD) recently received a $3 million grant from the Clean Water Fund which will be used to improve the water quality in Long Lake.

The grant, which comes from the Minnesota Legacy Fund, will be used for various projects intended to curb pollution entering Rice Creek and surrounding waters that feed Long Lake, focusing on sediments and phosphorus, which cause algae blooms. The long-term goal is to reduce the pollution in the lake by 40 percent.

In fiscal year 2012-2013, the state Legislature appropriated nearly $180 million in Clean Water Funds to be used for projects like the RCWD’s.

Work would be done primarily in Arden Hills, New Brighton and St. Anthony. The RCWD includes several local cities such as Arden Hills, Falcon Heights, Lauderdale, Mounds View, New Brighton, Roseville, St. Anthony, and Shoreview.

“All of the homework has been done for a decade,” said Jessica Bromelkamp, education, outreach and communications coordinator at RCWD, noting that now that money is in place, final planning can move forward.

Reworking the waterway

The first phase would be the Middle Rice Creek Meander Restoration project, aimed at restoring Rice Creek to a more natural meandering path and reducing erosion and sediments entering the creek.

Bromelkamp said the design phase of the Rice Creek project could be completed by winter, and construction could begin in the fall of 2015. The new turns would be kept dry for an additional year for vegetation to take hold, before Rice Creek is returned to its historically ‘twisty’ norm, in the fall of 2016.

“The idea is that it’s basically a more stable system, with less erosion,” Bromelkamp said.

The second phase in the project would focus on managing carp populations, which feed on the bottom of waterways and can stir up sediments and free up pollutants. This could be achieved by erecting barriers, such as grates or bars, or by removing the carp.

Another option is winter aeration, which can prevent winter kills of other species of fish, such as sunfish, which eat carp eggs, keeping carp populations in check.

The carp targeted in the project are not the oft-mentioned Asian carp, but the common carp, another non-native species of fish introduced to the Americas in the late 1800s.

The third and final phase of the project would be dredging stormwater ponds for sediment so they can act as better filters for pollutants, as well as installing man-made filtering systems, such as iron-enhanced sand filters, which remove phosphorus. Water from the ponds could also be used to irrigate city sports fields.

“[The ponds have] been in existence for so long,” Bromelkamp said. “They’re full of so much sediment that they’re no longer good at what they’re supposed to do.”

Bromelkamp said that much of the later phase plans were still in the conceptual stage, while the overall goal, no matter what form the projects take, is “phosphorous removal for the least amount of money.”

What to expect

Matt Kocian, a lake and stream specialist at RCWD, said the immediate effects of the project may not be obvious at first, and the project’s goals are the long-term conservation of the Rice Creek Watershed and Long Lake.

“You wouldn’t expect to see an immediate response in Long Lake, though there’s going to be a huge reduction of phosphorus going into the lake,” Kocian said. “In certain cases the carp management can have faster impacts,” he added, such as greater water clarity and better aquatic plant growth.

“All of these projects are critical to the long-term improvement of the lake,” Kocian said. “The point of the whole grant is targeting a couple of water bodies and creating a change for the future.”

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at or 651-748-7824.


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