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Everyone can get involved in preserving regional water quality. (Photo by Beth Carreño, Rice Creek Watershed District)

This is the sixth in a series of monthly columns by local water experts. These columns on local rivers and land use are a collaboration between the League of Women Voters Upper Mississippi River Region and other environmental groups in Anoka County. To learn more about the League of Women Voters, check out our website at lwvumrr.org.

I was born in northern Minnesota to parents that owned a seasonal business. Their livelihood depended, in part, on the health of the area’s lakes. They worked with other businesses, organizations and individuals in the area to find a solution to water quality concerns including raw sewage coming from a nearby city. A solution was found, but it took commitment, knowledge, compromise and money. This solution ultimately served the entire community and the entire watershed.

My parents’ “activism” balanced the needs of their business, their desire to have clean water for all things and an understanding that their neighbors also had opinions and needed to be heard. They would shake their heads to be called activists; they would say they were just citizens and concerned business owners. Regardless, they were a part of a community that made a choice to get something done.

I now work for the Rice Creek Watershed District (RCWD). The District is 185 square miles and covers parts of four counties, including Anoka County, and 28 communities. We work with residents, businesses and community leaders and staff in Blaine, Centerville, Circle Pines, Columbia Heights, Columbus, Fridley, Lexington, Lino Lakes and Spring Lake Park. We also work with the residents, businesses and community leaders in 19 other communities.

The watershed district is a separate local government entity with the mission to manage, protect and improve the water resources of the district through flood control and water quality projects and programs. It is authorized and overseen by the State’s Board of Water and Soil Resources. Watershed Districts were given the authority to manage water resources in the metro area because of the challenges of managing the resource across traditional political boundaries.

Water flows from and through White Bear Lake, Roseville, Forest Lake, our Anoka County communities and everywhere else in our 185-square-mile area into Rice Creek and finally into the Mississippi. It flows across land and through creeks, lakes a public drainage system, storm drains and wetlands; it connects everyone in this area; and its quality and quantity are affected by the behaviors of everyone in this area.

I am challenged by the “us versus them” dilemma in watershed management. I have heard our work compared to that of referees, but that would imply winners and losers. There are solutions to the complex water issues we are facing, but those solutions need to be achieved together. Just like the solution found in my parents’ community, it will take commitment, knowledge, compromise and money. The shared benefit comes with a shared cost. Those shared costs are spread across an entire watershed; the district’s dollars must be used effectively and efficiently to target priority water quality and flood control projects for the benefit of all the district’s communities, residents and businesses.

I encourage all residents of Anoka County and the Rice Creek Watershed District to get involved in managing our region’s water resources. Don’t sit on the sidelines:

• Apply to be on the RCWD Citizen Advisory Committee (this group provides critical input to the District’s Board of Managers) at ricecreek.org.

• Identify your neighborhood storm drains and adopt one to keep it clean of leaves and sediment (adoptadrain.org).

• Attend a program or workshop led by Anoka Conservation District or Blue Thumb (bluethumb.org) on how land care choices affect water quality.

• Become a knowledgeable water ambassador by going through the Minnesota Water Steward program (minnesotawatersteward).

• Take a paddle down the Rice Creek with Friends of the Mississippi.

There are so many ways that individuals can participate in the conversations that are taking place. Share your ideas, listen to others, be prepared to compromise and be amazed at the positive outcomes we can achieve together.

Beth Carreño is the Communications and Outreach Coordinator at Rice Creek Watershed District (RCWD). The boundaries of watershed districts follow those of a natural watershed and includes the land where all water flows to one common water body. Coordination across multiple jurisdictions is critical to manage water resources such as Rice Creek. The RCWD website is ricecreek.org.

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