Now celebrating its 50th year, the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission continues to collaborate with its nine member cities and multiple partners across the 40 square mile watershed. Originally formed to help reduce flooding, the commission also works to improve and protect the quality of water in its lakes and streams. A large part of that work involves the construction of significant projects implemented through its capital improvement program.

Before implementing an improvement program to protect and improve area waters, proper assessment is key. The commission partners with its cities, the Metropolitan Council, Three Rivers Park District, Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, Westwood Nature Center and citizen volunteers to collect lake and stream data to track trends in water quality and quantity, detect new aquatic invasive species and assess overall habitat health. These data help determine which capital improvement projects should be implemented to best protect or restore area waters.

Since 2004, 33 water quality and flood control projects have been constructed through the program. Examples of these projects include restoring stream banks to reduce erosion and improve habitat (5.7 miles restored in total), creating new storm water ponds or improving existing ponds, creating more flood storage space, capturing storm water for reuse in irrigation and reducing nutrients in lakes with alum. During the last 15 years, these projects have totaled $15.6 million funded by a tax on watershed properties levied by Hennepin County. The commission has successfully leveraged those funds with state and local grant dollars totaling $2.4 million.

The commission’s capital projects have resulted in a significant reduction in phosphorus entering our lakes and streams. This leads to clearer water, less algae growth and increased oxygen for aquatic organisms. In fact, creek monitoring shows that certain pollutants have decreased significantly since 2000.

Approximately 1,900 pounds of phosphorus and 644 tons of suspended solids are diverted from area waters annually due to these successful projects. When considering that one pound of phosphorus creates 500 pounds of algae, it’s encouraging that to realize that the commission’s pollution prevention efforts have stopped nearly a million pounds of algae from forming in our waters.

Although strides in flood control and water quality improvement have been made by the commission and their partners over the last 50 years, new challenges have emerged. Excessive chloride (mostly from winter road salt and deicers) and the spread of aquatic invasive species are new problems that the commission is focused on addressing. The commission will continue to work with its partners and residents on its mission to protect and enhance our waters and communities.

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To increase efficiency, the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission partners with many organizations. Water quality data collected includes:

• Water clarity and suspended solids

• Nutrients (especially phosphorus and nitrogen)

• Chlorophyll-a (a measure of algae abundance)

• Chlorides (road salt)

• Dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature

• Zooplankton and phytoplankton

• Aquatic vegetation

• Macro-invertebrates (water insects) and habitat quality

• Water levels, flow and volume

To see the specific data and reports for lakes and streams in the watershed, visit bassettcreekwmo.org/lakes-streams. For water bodies outside of the watershed, visit the Minnesota Department of Nature Resources website and search “lakefinder.” (state.mn.us/lakefind/index.html.)

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Dawn Pape is outreach and education coordinator for the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission. Comments are welcome at dawn@lawnchairgardener.com. Get information at bassettcreekwmo.org.

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